Text for above from Opt Out Orlando (not an exact transcript).
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Albert EinsteinJoshua Katz is a high school math teacher in Orange County, FL.
So, there I was, working with a student, Natalie, on solving equations. She had to multiply 2 times 9 and was stuck. No joke, my students get stuck on that. So, I decided to go for the teaching moment. 2 times 9. All she had to do was count by 2, nine times, that was it. She tried and failed three times, on paper and on fingers, in both English and Spanish, her native tongue. THREE TIMES Natalie is 16. In the ninth grade. And she is NOT ALONE. NOT BY A LONG SHOT.
I teach at a high school with a student population of over 3,000. It is only one of over 30,000 high schools in the United States. You have to somehow begin to wrap your head around the enormity of the number of Natalies in our schools, in our country, in our future.
I’ve seen the best of the school system. I can honestly say that our best students can compete with the best students from around the world. In fact, when looking at the data from PISA results that compares our students to other countries we rank in the 20’s, BUT…if we separate it out by district poverty level, and look at the US districts that have comparable poverty rates to the other countries, it is clear that our students are at or near the top in the comparisons. But our highest performing students are only a small percentage of our overall population, even in the honors classes.
But what about the Natalies?
I have specialized in teaching Algebra to the lowest-ranked 25% of high school students, and I work mostly with THOSE students.
The best of THOSE want to do well, but when they finally realize how capable they are, they find themselves either stuck in a path of academic mediocrity or they are so close to graduation that all they need is their credit to pass. It’s a scene of wasted potential.
The worst of THOSE have had no education of character, common decency, appropriate language and behavior, or right from wrong. By high school, they are so ingrained in their behaviors of laziness, disruption, disrespect, and defiance that any measure of guidance is completely lost on them. These are the students on the path of dropping out, of incarceration, and abusing social welfare.
Parents will talk their children into purposefully failing tests so they can qualify for social security benefits, up to $800 per month per child. And these families find other sources of untaxed income, in the way of pharmaceutical sales. There is a LOT of abuse of social welfare, and the parents know how to milk the system for all it’s worth. This abuse is happening when people TRULY in need can’t get the help.
What’s out there waiting for THOSE students? Jobs? College? They are in an educational system that says “if you don’t go to college, you have no worth” so their alternative is to be underemployed, find illegal work, or abuse social security.
THOSE students are marginalized by what I call our “Toxic Culture of Education”. It doesn’t matter if a student is a gifted artist, a loving caretaker, a poetic writer, or a talented musician. THOSE students are the fish being measured on how they climb trees. We say the be all end all is college, or we leave students to the lowest skill level work (which, more and more, is being occupied by college educated people). Even with the honors students, they are, in general, too worried about grades and results, and not interested in true learning, which affects their performance in college. I don’t want to talk about the college student loan debt crisis.
But you have to believe me, I am not placing blame on them, yes they can take credit for who they are, but this is about something much larger than them. Our Toxic Culture began with a classic Super Villain Archetype. Recall any Super Villain, I focus on Syndrome from The Incredibles. The villain’s plan is to unleash a doom onto the world, and the villain is the only one that can stop it. Thus gaining all the desired power.
This is exactly what began before the 1980’s and culminated in No Child Left Behind. Private companies realized they could utilize the education system (at the time a $750 billion industry) to create a nearly endless stream of taxpayer funds. They channeled millions of dollars into lobbying efforts in order to create two buzzwords that put everything in its place: “Accountability” and “Rigor”. State statutes were passes, district rules were put into place, and No Child Left Behind was finally passed. But don’t get me wrong about politics, these efforts were underway long before they were passed, and both parties can take full credit for their disastrous results.
They decided to take the education system that produced the individuals, that put a man on the moon with technology less powerful than the phone in my pocket, and paint a picture of “failure” using the word “accountability”. You see, we only have one way to address accountability: Standardized Testing. So, we implement standardized testing, and it shows that schools are failing, teachers are failing, and students are failing. And when everything is failing, guess what we need? We need new textbooks, we need new resources, we need new training, we need charter schools, we need private schools. And who creates all these things we need? Private businesses. The only way to feed the business model in our Toxic Culture is to perpetuate the picture of failure. In fact, I’d LOVE to see any education company that has a business model that is built upon success. There is no money in student success.