Friday, April 26, 2013

What's Really Wrong with Education?

The powers that be keep trying to fix the education system in America and it isn't even broken. Sure, there are improvements that could be made. But the problem we are having with education isn't the educational system. It's American culture. And, unfortunately, that is much harder to fix, especially when no one is trying to fix it.

There are parents who understand the value of a good education and do all that they can to instill those values into their children. There are also parents who couldn't give a rat's ass about education, except that school is a good place to send their kids to get them out of the house and from under foot. Or it's a cheaper alternative to hiring a baby sitter. There are far too many parents who fit the second category. Their priorities are messed up. They can't see the value of making sure their children get a good education because, too often, they don't have a good education themselves.

Sure, I know; it's easy to place blame. But way too many American kids are not getting a proper education, especially in math and science. That is why we rank toward the bottom when compared to other industrialized nations. Countries that consistently rank near the top have a culture of education. Their governments place a high priority on educating the masses.

Part of it might stem from the fact that America's education system is too disjointed. States and local school boards run the show. That is what most people seem to want. But is it really the best way to educate our kids? It doesn't matter whether a student graduates from a school in Massachusetts or Mississippi; they still need to compete in the global marketplace for jobs. They still need to be able to get into a good college or trade school, and that means they all need to have the same high-quality education. How can a student who graduates from a school district that still teaches creationism, for example, compete in science with a student who graduates from a science prep school? There needs to be national standards, and they need to reflect what the students are going to need when they graduate. And they need to be developed by educational professionals, not politicians.

More importantly, though, the best place to spend education money is on developing a plan to increase cultural acceptance of a high-quality education system. Education should be the top priority from the Federal government on down through the states and into the living rooms of parents. I've been a teacher since the mid-1970s and every couple of years the school district or the state comes up with some kind of program to improve education. Most often it centers around improving test scores. This does not improve education; it hinders it. Teachers spend most of their day preparing the students to pass the next major exam and they don't have time to actually teach what's important. Millions of dollars are spent every year on professional development programs that try to teach teachers how to teach. With minor exceptions, teachers know how to teach. The best thing a principal can do for a teacher is to give him a room with decent equipment and tell him to teach. Hold accountable those teachers who don't do their job and let the rest of us handle our classes as we see fit, as long as we follow the mandatory national curriculum.

As far as throwing money at education, that's all fine and good. But it needs to be spent improving the culture of education in this country, not on mandatory programs like No Child Left Behind or ISTEP+ testing. Schools are wasting too much time doing nothing but teaching kids how to take a standardized test. I waste 35 minutes every day in a class called Success, when a better name for it might be Sucks. It is a useless, horrendous waste of my time and the students' time. It's basically drill and practice on taking the ISTEP test or the End of Course Assessments. Divvying that wasted time up among the other real classes during the day would be a better use for that time.

Of course, it's far easier for a politician to come up with another educational program to fund than it is to tackle the real problem. The socioeconomic status of families is probably the biggest indicator of how well their kids will do in school. Bad parenting or deficient parenting due to family structure or single-parent homes plays a huge role. These are the things that need to be fixed. I don't have all the answers; if I did, I would get funding. But then again, maybe I wouldn't, because my answers would address the real problem with education, the problem the politicians aren't brave enough to even admit exists, let alone do anything about.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It's NOT News, Folks!

There is no denying that the Boston bombings are news - big news. But not everything that can be said about the bombings is news. And, like with every other big story, the TV news media kicked into overdrive when reporting this story, resulting in the usual overkill. So what is and is not news as it relates to the Boston bombings? What should and, perhaps, should not be reported?

Rather than go into a long dissertation on what should be reported and what should not, let me resort to a simple list and then an explanation. Here is what constitutes actual news and should be reported by the electronic media:

- The fact that the bombings actually occurred, of course, is news.
- How many bomb blasts there were is news.
- What kind of bombs they were is news.
- If there were any unexploded bombs is news.
- How many people were killed or injured is news.
- The extent of injuries is news.
- Police or FBI updates are news.
- Interviews with people on the street about the facts relating to the blasts, such as whether any suspects were seen, etc. is news.
- How someone can send help is news.
- How many of the killed and injured are children is news.
- Whether or not the bomber or bombers were acting alone, as a small group, or part of a terrorist cell is news.
- Evidence gathered about the motive for the bombings is news.
- Whether or not there are any suspects or persons of interest is news.
- When a suspect is caught will be news.

As Sgt. Joe Friday was so fond of saying, "Just give me the facts, Ma'am." That's what the news is. So what is NOT news, but what is being reported anyway? Here's that list:

- What the marathon runners were thinking when they crossed the finish line is NOT news.
- Whether or not people are being asked to pray for Boston is NOT news.
- A father's letter telling about his poor dead son and how he will be missed is NOT news.
- How people are grieving about the incident is NOT news.
- How an elderly runner fell down and was then helped up so he could cross the finish line is NOT news.
- Street interviews about how people are coping, what their thoughts were at the time, or how it made them feel are NOT news.

Yet, in viewing the TV news coverage, probably 70 to 90 percent focuses on something in the "NOT news" list. The reason is simple enough: Once the initial round of real news was reported, that's really all there was to report about it until the police or FBI discover something new. Until then, the news shows should either stop reporting about it and move on to other news of the day, or they should perhaps produce a human interest show that reports all the other, more emotional bits of information.

It's not that everything in the latter list should not be reported at all, or that it should be ignored. It's simply not hard news. When I turn on to learn the latest facts about the bombing, that's all I want. I don't want heart-wrenching stories about people with courage coping with a terrible ordeal. It is best to collect all that information and turn it into a special program, or at least a special human-interest segment on the news shows and then label it as such. But don't call it what it isn't and don't use up most of the broadcast time focusing on it. It's NOT news.

One thing is certain, if the bomber's motive was to garner attention for himself, the wall-to-wall coverage of the incident is giving him what he wants and then some. If there is nothing new to say about it, then just move on.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

From My Cold Dead Hands?

Our struggle in this country to limit and control citizen weaponry has taken a turn to the right over the years. Back when Nixon was president (and he was a Republican, remember) his administration was trying to ban even certain handguns, known as Saturday Night Specials. It didn't happen, but there was serious debate over it. A similar debate today would be thought ridiculous. We can't even get military assault rifles banned. It's probably not even possible to get something as simple and common-sense as background checks passed. What will the future hold, a serious debate on whether or not bazookas or rocket launchers should be for sale to anyone?

The Second Amendment is, unfortunately, still a part of our Constitution. It is an amendment that is archaic and should be thought of as, to use a technology term, deprecated, much like the Third Amendment. But since it is alive and well, the gun nuts are having a field day, thanks mostly to the NRA. But what most people don't understand is that, even without the Second Amendment, most people would still be allowed to buy and even carry most of the same weapons they do now. Without the Second Amendment, states would have to pass laws banning certain guns. Most of the red states would never pass such laws, and that's where most of the gun owners live. And even the blue states would still probably allow hunting rifles and shot guns, which is all anyone ever really needs and only then if they are hunters.

But we do have the Second Amendment and that's why it is so hard for me to understand how the gun nuts are fearful that by passing common-sense restrictions that it means the government is coming to take away their guns. It isn't so and it can't happen.