I keep reading about funding cuts and teacher shortages and problems with the budget. I read blogs written by bewildered, frustrated, overworked teachers. I hear horror stories about bullies on the bus and teacher misconduct from my own children.
Someone told me yesterday that Illinois is pushing for a 4 day school week to save on gasoline.
Clearly we have problems, and although I understand the frustration that brings parents to home school their children, there is something in me that resists–something that whispers, Cheater! Sure, save your own kids. What about all the rest?
Their peers–the ones they will attend college with employ and be employed by–these people will be a product of the current system and if the system is so bad that I won't trust my own children to it, then how can I sit silently by and watch it sweep away an entire generation?
Two possibilities exist:
Possibility #1: It isn't as bad as it seems:
I taught high school last Friday. My daughter's teacher went to see her son off to Iraq and needed a substitute. I have always thought I'd like to teach the older grades and so I made arrangements with all the families to whom I provide childcare and tested the waters with four hours in an honest to goodness high school classroom.
Okay, so it wasn't your typical classroom. I was teaching seminary; probably a lot of "troubled" teens aren't interested in what the Bible says about adversity in our lives.
But they were public high school students. And they were polite, respectful and engaged; in one class we ran out of time for all they wanted to discuss. And after each class, they came up in pairs or all alone and said thank you.
Are all 158 of these students enrolled in the Moses Lake seminary program truly so abnormal or are the horror stories we hear–like the couple caught doing it on the cafeteria stairs last semester–are those the minority?
Possibility #2: It is as bad as it seems:
Let's say those 158 students are extraordinary, that the rest of the students are hell-bent on ruining their lives and the lives of those who teach them and America is on the fast track to disaster when this generation gets their hands on the reins of power.
Then explain to me the difference.
Explain to me why a class about ancient history and how it relates to our lives is the highlight of these students' day, every day.
It isn't the length of the class–90 minutes, same as all the others. It isn't that that the material or attendance policy or discipline is less demanding–if anything, it is probably more so. The class fills no graduation requirement that brings students there. The teacher isn't paid, so she's not there for a paycheck.
Could the difference be nothing more or less than that (for whatever reason) they want to be there?
And can that possibility translate into something helpful for the public school system at large? Aside from permitting children just attend the classes they want to attend, of course–unless we could induce them to understand that taking chemistry really is in their best interest.
But then again, maybe it isn't, you know? Not for every kid.
What would happen if we no longer defined a high school education as a list of compulsory credits and standardized test scores?
I know, I know. It sounds terrifying. I can imagine the truly educated aristocracy that might evolve and the students who would fall through the cracks and a million other problems.
I just cringe when I hear the horror stories and I think maybe I'm completely out of my mind to pursue this teaching degree I'm signed up for. But then the naive little imp at my core says, But what if….?
What if students could want to show up to school every day? What if we could crack the problems that besiege our public education system as it now exists? What if we really could change things?
I know, all the veteran teachers reading this are shaking their heads and smirking.
But it has to be possible; I refuse to believe the problems are beyond repair or worse yet, inherent in the genetic code of the rising generation.
And if the problems are a result of the children themselves, then our generation is to blame. You and me. And it's up to us to do something about it, isn't it?
How can I not?
(And where do I come up with the tuition…?)