A Civil War Battle!
Well, the PISA scores came out yesterday, and I was unimpressed, as I usually am. As usual, the United States only made a mediocre score, as we’ve done for the past thirty or forty years. Why? We’ve spent plenty of money on education, our teachers are probably the highest paid in the world, I’m sure our administrators are. Why then do we continue to fall short of our educational objectives.
The main reason is that these tests are not administered on a level playing field. I don’t know which country scored highest on the test results, and I don’t really care. What I do know is that many of the countries administering the tests, are administering them only to their top students. If the United States did this, our scores would jump dramatically. But in the United States, we attempt to educate everyone, and that’s exactly as it should be. Everyone, deserves a chance to improve their minds, and we’ve done reasonably well at this.
About twenty years ago, I picked up a student at his apartment complex to come do odd jobs for me. It was the only time in my teaching career that I brought a student to our house, and it was the only time I paid a student to do anything for me. I don’t think that’s a good practice, but I trusted this student as I have few in my life, and he proved to be just as trustworthy as I thought him. Going to pick him up was an education in itself.
I found his apartment complex, and after I parked the first thing I noticed was that a neighbor was sitting outside his front door drinking. It was eight in the morning, so that was unusual, but this was Las Vegas, and he might have been up all night working and was having a few before he went to sleep. He was friendly and convivial and spoke and waved, and I responded. I went upstairs and got my student and left with him.
Downstairs, his neighbor came over and talked with us. I think seeing my student gave him a little more confidence. He was a very friendly drunk. He patted me on the back and wished me well and called God’s blessings down on me. My student was greatly embarrassed, but I told him not to worry about it, and that I wasn’t in the judging game. (There is no telling why the gentleman was an alcoholic. Until you’ve walked in his shoes, you shouldn’t say that you’d never do it.)
Then, as I pulled from the parking lot onto a back street, I saw a Mexican gang. Now, I use Mexican on purpose to shock anyone who might read this. I was raised in white projects, and I saw plenty of white gangs. Anyhow, these boys, young men, were standing in a large confluence, just staring, not really doing anything. I would imagine that there were twenty or thirty of them, and not one made any kind of a hostile gesture, none of them said or did a thing as I drove past them.
My point is this: Those kids and that the drunk gentleman were doing the best they could. Those Mexican/American teenagers didn’t know anything else, and had very little opportunity to find anything else. It was what they were born into, and all they had ever known. I could almost feel their need for companionship; their belief that their gang members had their back, and they were doing the same for them.
These were the very same kids who took PISA tests along with students from Singapore, Japan, China, and Germany. And these kids have very little chance to excel academically. Deny them an education like they would be in Singapore, not a chance. But let’s try to give them an education that will be more meaningful for them. Let’s teach them thinking skills and learning skills and explore with them the ways they learn best. You know, we don’t have to teach political history, we can teach cultural history, sports history, movie history, musical history, there are many types of history to be taught, and we only teach one kind, the kind many children find most difficult to identify with.
The same holds true with many subjects. Some children come to school so disturbed that they can’t possibly focus, and they’re taking the PISA tests too. Students from higher income families are usually from families that value education and engender those values into their children. That’s a bit different from standing on a street corner with your gang, probably getting high with them at night, and wondering just what the hell your history teacher is talking about.