Sunday, June 10, 2012

Such a Shame

This morning, a work friend sent me this LA Times article written by columnist Steve Lopez.    California’s budget crisis continues to slash education funding and of course the arts are (and have been) hit the hardest. 

It’s so unfortunate that while those making the decisions for education don’t take the research on arts education into consideration.  They continue to bash education and educators, but they cut the very thing that could make it so much better.

A student arrived in my classroom just before spring break this year.  Relocations, due to divorce, made me his third teacher this school year.  He is not a very happy boy.  His negative vibe is apparent in his classroom behavior and dealings with the other students.  His cumulative record noted that he qualified for additional support (resource) for a learning disability.  Nowhere was it stated what this disability is, but I suspect he was labeled due to his lack of focus and effort in class.  He’s quite bright, learns new things quickly AND retains the information – not really the M.O. of someone struggling with a learning disability.  Instead, he doesn’t do his assignments and disturbs others during lessons. 

Unfortunately, he arrived just before the 4 weeks of intense test prep that we are required to do in order to keep our test scores high.  HE WAS MISERABLE during those four weeks.  I didn’t blame him, but I also struggled with his negative behavior.  Even though he fought me every step of the way those four weeks, he aced the 10 days of testing.  After it was over, I was not so thrilled about 6 more weeks of him being a jerk to me and the other kids.

Since testing is over and administration doesn’t give a f&%$ what we do for the remainder of the year, we’ve been putting more performing and visual arts into our day.  I’m such a proponent of it, and I try my darnedest to fit it in as much as possible during the year but at the end of the year there is time to pull out all the stops.

This kid is a completely different boy when we are painting or acting or singing or thinking.  It’s truly astounding.  He’s pleasant, focused, and animated during the times of the day we are creating.  What an a-ha that was for me.  You better believe I’m using that information to my (and his) advantage to get us through the end of the year. 

What an a-ha that should be for the people who make the decisions to cut arts education.  There is a very good chance that as this boy gets older and wiser and possibly angrier his poor behavior will become unmanageable in the traditional test prep-heavy classroom.  Money, resources, and time may be spent trying to control this kid and trying to get him to reach his full potential.  If he’s at my school, his lack of performance and poor behavior will result in him NOT participating in the extra curricular activities such as art and music.  What a shame when that is the very thing that seems to make him most successful. 

18 comments:

  1. The Greeks had it right so long ago...and we of course know better and try to cram just learning/testing down the kids' throats whether they can do it or not...some kids need to dance, paint and sing along with the 3Rs...but what do teachers know?!

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    1. @marey - exactly! Our test scores are always compared to Japan's and Finland's but their philosophies don't ever seem to be investigated further. Instead, our policy makers think testing is what's going to make them smarter.

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  2. This made me sad. I hope his parents will realize this about their child. Perhaps they will be able to put him in a school that has more focus on those things. I wanted Kaishon to go to a school like that. It cost $15k which is just about half of what I earn as a social worker. I would have gladly paid it but he did not get accepted. I often wonder how much happier he would be now as a student if he was at that school.

    I am glad you were able to give this difficult child a few moments of joy during his tumultuous year.

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    1. @becky - that's another thing...the one size fits all approach. While going through my credential and masters programs child development and the various learning types were just about beaten into our heads. Then we go out in the real world and none of those research-based approaches are used. Kaish is such a sweet kid and it kills me that he's having a hard time of it. I hope the teacher is doing all he/she can to make school good for him, but if his/her hands are tied like ours are it can feel downright impossible. I know you do a lot to make his away from school life amazing though. That is so great.

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  3. We've the situation where private schooling gets a tax allowance, and has the trenchers salaries directly from the state like any other. The latter to the tune of $150m. The tax, there is no knowing but it's suspected to be of like. This, where we've a left wing Minister of Ed. While simultaneously cutting teacher-student ratios and removing support teaching for those that need it. To be clear ALL kids are main streamed here. We had 'special' schools but they were deemed anti-something or other. The whole thing makes me spit feathers. This especially so when those making these decisions haven't been next or near a State school ever.

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  4. @Vince - We mainstream here too for the same reason you mentioned. Parents had advocates that demanded their kids be treated and educated like everyone else. I get that to a point, but when a child who has emotional, behavioral, and/or health issues enters the regular classroom, the classroom becomes about them. The amount of time the teacher/school spends on that one child exponentially lessens the amount of time the teacher is spending with the remaining 25-30 students in the room. That isn't ever taken into consideration either when the scores are being compared with other nations - nations who track their kids. And you are exactly right about those making decisions having never set foot in a classroom. Even our school and district admins, who did come from the classroom once upon a time, seem to have forgotten what it is we do in there every day.

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  5. You are what is right about our system. I love this post.

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  6. @cheri - thanks stranger! But these are the very reasons that make more and more days the kind where I wonder if there's something else I should be doing. I drank the test prep kool aid for a few years but I'm so utterly opposed to it going to work from August to May is almost painful. Changes for next year will hopefully make it pleasant again.

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  7. @Jason - Yep! Three more weeks left...let's just create the entire time to get us and them through it :).

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  8. I'm sorry to say this but the days when what was developed in grad schools would be deployed in main stream state schools are long gone, if ever they were here at all.
    If you wanted to use what you studied you would need to enter private schools where you would act much as a therapist with ones own clients. And as hard as it is for me to say it but the kids you are educating are not heading for Berkeley. In that the reality is that the convent high school down the road from me have better chance of that occurring.

    It is more than one hundred years now that there has been ample evidence that sending kids to a kindergarten type preparatory pays huge dividends. Problems are picked up well before they become a handicap and solved or a solution found. So why are we still trying to get kids to run before they can walk.

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  9. @vince - I know you're right, but wouldn't you think of all places for child development to be involved in the process it would be school!?!? It's idealistic, I know, but still. I will disagree, to a point, that our kids aren't going to Berkeley and the like. As much as I bitch about the test prep mentality, our school district turns out some pretty educated students and our high schools finish them off nicely. Could it be better? You bet, way better. Even though there are some top quality private schools in Los Angeles there are many that aren't. I could debate their lack of requirements that make them less rigorous than even public school, but that's opening up another can of worms. Being a product of the local districts myself, we have a lot of kids going to good universities. My students in particular, which is who you were likely referring to, will have a much tougher time because education is not a top priority in their families when wondering where the next paycheck will come from takes precedent. College attendance will certainly be fewer and farther between, but everyday my expectation is that they should have every opportunity to go, if they want to. I just wish we could do more things to make school more engaging to catch those kids who will probably fall through the cracks. Running before they can walk is the case a lot of the time. There's nothing wrong with high standards and expectations because it's my experience that when you have them kids usually rise to them. But to make it quantity over quality, mastery is very difficult to attain, especially in the primary grades when they still need exploration and play time.

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  10. The Irish State will support any citizen that can get into university without regard to where. At least, for the moment. That's my point about Berkeley. The good derived is seen as worth it. But what with the changes afoot over your way, UC,B will be well beyond the reach of many Cali natives financially speaking.
    And I know there is a thin difference between state and most religious/private schools. However, there is a number that fit with what we call Grammar schools which ARE profoundly good and were they on the east coast would be Ivy Prep.
    Have a decko at this place http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marymount_High_School

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    1. @vince - I was thinking notre dame hs and chaminade as good high schools in LA, but holy cow, that one you linked has a tuition on par with Harvard and USC. I bet those families have no problem with the college tuition. The rest of us, yes, the financial burden of college - even our state schools with their huge tuition hikes over the last few years - is becoming increasingly prohibitive to say the least. Kids are graduating with so much debt it hardly seems worth it. They could get a job at McDonald's and stay debt free and it might be a wash. How socialistic of Ireland to take care of its students that way. :)

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  11. Utter rubbish, socialistic my eye. The cash is simply used elsewhere. Private high schools for instance or more likely the professional schools after that now charge an arm and a leg for each Board Exam.
    There are less from the lower socioeconomic group taking part today as a % than when the rich paid.

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  12. I love that you made a difference in the life of this sad boy. You may the teacher he remembers his whole life long.

    Divorce is so terrible on little ones. Their little worlds just crumble beneath them. :(

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  13. @Crystal - That it is, and it sounds like it was a rough one.

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