Friday, April 03, 2009

Our Educational Sytem

Lorraine Kashdan got me started this morning on this educational memory lane tangent. I have a long history with the old Board of Education of New York City and the new Department of Education of New York City. Different names to feed us a new line of shit. I don't know how the educational system is in the UK but as the mom of an LD son and also because I worked (past tense) in our school system here for 21 years, I can tell you a lot. The system is a lot of bullshit and does not work to help you get what you need. Lorraine you touched a nerve! Ouch!
Our schools here in New York City have experts from UK visiting here to rate us and tell our administrators how to improve - but are UK success rates that much better? Not really if you do some research.
Our system here is about paperwork - not children's needs. Here you have to be an advocate for yourself and your children's needs. If you’re not – your children will fall through the cracks. Been there and done it and glad to be out of it on all counts ... professionally and personally - well not quite yet – as being involved with DubbleX means being involved with his son’s educational needs too.
I’ll give some history here then come back to my original thesis of how educational values are going down the drain and statistics are the on board values of the day and how now, raises will be given to those who have good statistics.
Back in the old days with the old board, my son was given several labels and diagnoses. As his condition changed and improved over the years he outgrew his diagnoses. The point is these diagnoses are all bullshit. The things to think about and work on are the child’s deficiencies. Once you have a clear idea of these deficiencies, it is easy to devise or find someone who can devise a series of instructional lessons developed to meet these deficiencies. My son’s educational deficiencies were in reading/ writing and math. My help came from an older sister who told me to use phonics to treat the first and gave me specific instructions. She said start with the letters AT then move through every letter of the alphabet and put it in front of the AT. This was only for starters. Eventually through this system you’d work your way through every vowel. OT, OB, OD. The point of this is that I sat with my son with a notebook. I divided the pages into 4 columns. The other first columns are the original columns we created together and afterwards he copied each word to the other three columns after we had practiced saying them several times.
Following is a short example of how my son and I worked together. I’d sit with him. We’d both have our own notebook and I’d kick off our learning session, “AAT is not a word, what about BAT? And I instructed him on sounds of each letter. After I wrote it on my own pad I’d wait while he copied in his first column. Then we’d go to C. CAT, etc. No doubt this was tedious but by the end of a summer following this routine my son’s grade level went up over 2.5 years. I also bribed him with whatever he wanted. Sometimes it was a special treat like burgers and fries at the local diner. Sometimes it was a comic book from the store. My sister ridiculed me when she found out I supported his love for comics and insisted he needed to read the classics. I read him Treasure Island. Honestly I didn’t remember this detail but my son happened to remind me of this the other day.
The math thing was very similar, beginning with the number 1 and adding 1, then 2 then 3 to the number 1 up to number 10 and copying it over 3 times. Eventually we got to 10 plus 10. The minuses go the same route. 10 minus 1, 10 minus 2, 10 minus 3, etc.
There was a clear parallel development between my inner growth and development and his. The more I learned about how I could parent him without losing my temper and by using a series of tactics and maneuvers to get him to do what I wanted the more I could move things along for both of us. I developed as a parent as he grew and developed.
Later when he was older we memorized the times tables with great difficulty and eventually he was permitted a calculator in high school. He was permitted to substitute a computer course for Spanish since that seemed to be undoable for him. Strangely, he took a liking to sign language and learned some from a friend of mine quite easily. Pity, that wasn’t an option for him. Obviously his mind works differently and he has developed a different pattern of intelligence.
My son not only graduated
high school with honors, when he was in 7th grade, his nation wide testing scores proved how much this had helped him. His reading level tested at 12th grade level. Comic books are a mother to read – try it yourself sometimes – comic book writers have a great vocabulary. My son is a college graduate. We accomplished this with the following tactic. He dictated while I typed. It worked better this way for the papers he was required to write on various subjects.
I am very disappointed in the value of the educational system. A close friend, a history teacher, told me the other day that he was put on the carpet about his regents stats not being high enough. Even when students come from another school and he has never met them before, or students he hasn't taught for several years, show up and take the regents in his school he is responsible for their grades on the regents. Tell me anyone – does this make sense?
After this, his principal met with him and wrote him up for not having high enough pass stats. This teacher wrote a reply saying that his scores were 15% higher if you took out the children he never met before. When you took out the children who he met but it was over a year ago, then it came up another 5%. Still 68% rate is not good enough. These are children who may miss a day or 2 or more each school week.
Then the principal followed this up with that he has to see every test this teacher gives the class at least a week in advance. This particular history –social studies teacher makes up weekly quizzes for each class. He was further instructed by his principal to write every question on any of his quizzes from recent regents exams given over the last 2 years. This teacher went and bought half dozen regents prep books and began reading them so he could do as he was told.
This high school social studies teacher couldn't believe that the word holocaust is never mentioned or that it is only called World War II and makes no written mention of the word Nazi. This teacher really lost his mind when he saw that none of these books made any written mention regarding the 6 million Jews who were killed. What is written instead is "many people were killed". Yes indeedy, many people were killed along with 6 million Jews, gays, Asians, Gypsies and all ethnic types mixed race/religion bloods. Our educational system is becoming a system of systemically fed mistruths or partial truths feeding our children a very watered down version. Teachers are going to be rewarded for good statistical reports - not well educationally rounded children. Our educational system is turning our future, our children; into insipient, easy to control robots while the rich and powerful continue take control. Our children won't know our past, which is necessary to creating a new future. Those who are in charge - including Obama - don't have their children attend our public schools! Our entire educational system is a political challenge to an endangered species - us.


  1. The educational system in the US sounds like it is governed by very similar bodies and measures as that of the UK, we do have OFSTEAD requirements to meet and what is taught must be according to the National Curriculum. My mother is a teacher and she also became very disolutioned by the system a number of years ago, she was even instrumental in project managing an alternative education project for the children with extreme cases on non-system compliance but like most of us the mortgage kicked in and the family debts etc, etc and the enthusiasm and fire that the innitial indignation created wore off.

    I also have had some very rewarding experiences of teaching my son at home. In fact everything he has ever learned has been from home and the basic literacy and maths skills I sent him to school with have mysteriously 'disapeared', yet somehow it's my fault, or his fault and of course not the worry of a possibly highly neglegent school system.

    My son attends a specialist school which has only very high functioning children on the autistic spectrum (75% of the students) or children with a non-specific language delay and to all intents and purposes it is like any other school in terms of targets and reports etc but with less children per class. How you can 'loose' two years of maths and literacy in a class of only 8 children defeats me and what concerns me more is the possiblity that the only reason for wanting my son to leave now is that it could affect the schools reputation for turning out exceptional figures.

    Canterbury has three universities here so many of my friends are either teachers or studying to become teachers, yet all of them seem to convey at least some sense of dismay in the National curriculum and the heavy burden of having to meet stats.

    As for the history thing, when you send children to school they automatically become subject to the systems interpretation of itself, it's not uncommon for this to be in conflict with the overal world view of that same period. When I was attending my son's school on a regular basis (because he was so 'badly' behaved that they wouldn't let him stay without me) I noticed how outrightly racist the teachers were in their portrayal of 'cultural' studies and how evidently ignorant they were being in bringing the class across, it was the most I could do not to jump up from the class mat and shout out - no! that's not right.

    Even in adult education where it seems that there should be a less confined view of things there are sometimes oversights, recently I finished a course in music technology, in the first year we were taught 'music in context - the history of music', I was indignant when I noticed that the content of the course was actually the history of Western music! as if music began with western culture and that the rest of the world did not exist! My teacher thought she could placate me by first saying that she was not racist as she had played in many parts of Africa during her time as a musician and that the course was indeed a study of western music. However, I remained indignant because even still the course should have been entitled 'A history of western music from a western persective', in fact it was at that point that I realised how arrogant the whole concept of teaching 'history' per sey is. It think we should be honest and say that we are teaching the history of x, y or z from the perspective of x, y or z, rather more like philosophy than fact because quite honestly history is subject to so much interpretation and misinterpretation that it is rather more like philosophy than a fact...

    er, actually I think I might write about that next!

  2. very in depth Joy. The last portion I have heard about and am completely flabbergasted. Just 'many people died' is not telling the truth. Any case, a lot of histories is not represented well in several parts of the world, for example, the colonial history. In the south asian subcontinent, you'll be amazed how so many school text books are being subverted in favor of rank rightwing propaganda...

    And agree on the stress on statistical success. An education reporter where I worked was always flummoxed about this. Do you have anything to write about the No Child Left Behind program? personally, I think it is a load of trash and does no good to the all-round developmetn of kids.

  3. It's hard to know A) what to teach and B) how to teach it because so many jobs that we have today were not around even five years ago. I agree that we are too focused on standardized test scores in our schools. I like the idea of teaching creativity from a young age. But how? And, since no one wants to be expected to be creative every minute of every day, we need to teach students in groups, as we do now, and we need to teach reading, history, math and science, as we do now. I also think we need to teach personal finance. And we need students to be able to think clearly about choices they will make in life.

  4. I feel that this is crucial stuff for all our futures and for our childrens futures for sure... I feel lots about the placing of teachers in the control of such hardened bureaucracy that they are, in reality, following orders, on threat of dismissal. I do not believe for one moment it is anything less than intentional, from the systems perspective, at least.

    John Holt and others point out that children have innate learning abilities that are NOT catered for in Compulsory State Education. I think of it like this : we are nature first and foremost, being in bodies, that is; and in nature all beings born into life have the innate self-driven learning abilities to become competent and to thrive in the natural world.... so why are 'we' any different?

    Why this intervention in childrens lives?

    For jobs? Thats not meeting the childs needs as a person. Thats training, a different thing altogether, and training ought only be taken up as a free choice of the child. It ought never be imposed. Thats a form of conscription.

    Education, that is the exploration and integration of mind and reality, through shared experience and learnings has to be naturally self motivated, self-organising and rational in terms of the natural childs expectations as a living natural being in context of his/her complete environment; and each childs learning is in many ways unique, it's their exploration, their meanings that matter to them. What also matters to them is how do they become competent as who they are, in this world.

    Stats, exams and mistakes (the concept that one can get something 'wrong', and that attached to that possibility is a sanction, the potential for humiliation or indeed the threat of future poverty) causes most children to seek to avoid making mistakes. Obviously.

    This is fatal in learning for it blocks the feed-back loop of exploration, observation, learning (integrating what has been observed) and moving further on with the learning and exploration; expoloration that is at it's best when the experience is joyful - very young childrens 'play' is a deeply intelligent exploration of the strange new world they find themselves in.

    The History of State Education by John Taylor Gatto looks at those people and philanthrophists and institutions who set up Complusory State Education, and delves deep in to their archives, to reveal the true agenda of State Education. They wrote one side for public consumption, and in private they described in detail their intentions, and how they designed their project to 'educate' the 'masses'.

    And the childrens true interests and natural needs were nowhere on their list of priorities, other than being given lip-service as a fig-leaf for 'voters' assuage parents natural concerns about sending one's children to the care of strangers.

    John Taylor Gatto looks at the whole subject of the science and psycholoigy of education, it's roots and philosophies.

    He looks too at the huge bureaucracy of education and deconstructs it - what he reveals is a gravy train of easy money for hundreds of thousands of people who income derives from confining our children, which 'hardens' the system, and forms a potent informal lobby group that will vote to keep their jobs and businesses...

    All of which are reflected in comments above.

    Well worth a read, John Taylor Gatto...

  5. I rarely post comment but I feel more is needed here. I forgot to mention my son had hearing deficiencies as well, and couldn't hear until he had surgery at 6 years old. I didn't realize he had a problem because he over compensated with a series of behaviors adapted to communicate his needs which I learned to respond too. After he had his Bilateral Myringotomy. The doctor told me his delayed speech patterns were because he couldn't hear. Makes sense, right?