Monday, February 9, 2009

Whose job is it to teach you what you need to know?

So I was conversing with my sistren on her blog entitled "I'm Confused" about the current economic times and possible solutions. As we discussed, she brought up a very valid point: "Our education system sucks. We don't teach financial literacy in schools."

I wonder when parents send their children to school what they think the school is responsible for doing. I had a professor once who likened school to an emergency room. You, the injured person should not have to be a doctor to get world class, professional treatment. Likewise, parents shouldn't have to do anything special to get their children a world class education. Back then I totally agreed. These days, however, I am more inclined to think that school is more like going to your regular doctor and not the emergency room. I personally believe that if you are ill, you should have at least some idea going about what it could be. When you are diagnosed, you should be very aware of the treatment options and the side effects of each option. You should be free to say this is not working or I'm not comfortable with that treatment. And you should be free to go to another doctor without penalty or guilt fairly easily. You should have a say and power in your own health and treatment.

The same goes for education. Most of us don't vote on curriculums or dictate what should be taught. Even though so many of us agree that having Black history relegated to the shortest month of the year is an affront, we can also agree that unless we're willing to go to Albany with a brand new curriculum we drew up, that's not going to change. If you want your children to know Black history or any other history aside from the standard spiel, you're going to have to do it. Now, I will say that many parents do take an active stand to ensure the quality of children's education. In poorer neighborhoods, however, this is rarely the case. I know, I know, these parents sometimes work 2 and 3 jobs. Many mothers are single and all that. I get it. But I'm going to be a little hardline here and say one word: priorities. You may not be able to make every single PTA meeting but you can make some and you can call and ask for the minutes of the meeting. You can drop in every once in a long while or call or e-mail to let the teacher know, "Look, I'm busy but I care." My local school here of over 500 students has a hard time pulling 25 parents for the PTA. Will my sons be going to that school? No way. But I digress.

What exactly do we expect schools to teach our children? What did it teach you? Yes, I learned to read and write but not everyone who graduated with me could. Did I learn to think critically? No. Did I learn any valuable life skills? No. I graduated from high school to go to college. Graduated from college to get a job. When I didn't get a good enough job, went back to school to get another job. Even graduate school where I was supposed to be getting trained specifically to be a teacher did not prepare me for teaching. I would have been much better equipped to have spent those years learning from a master teacher. Because there's more to teaching than curriculum and lesson plans. How does your child psychology class translate to when you're in front of 30 kids?

So, it's safe to say that school kind of prepares us to get jobs. That's it. The rest, well, it's up to you.

I'm not the originator of that idea either. If there's nothing else I got out of graduate school, it was that public schools were originally conceived as places where everyone could get blended into the fabric of American society, in other words, Americanized. Get with the program. Being Americanized meant embracing the American dream, the idea that you work hard, so hard and then you enjoy. We all know that's not necessarily true but it keeps the system running nicely. Keeps those on top securely on top and those on the bottom securely on the bottom. School has always served a political purpose. And politics go hand in hand with economics.

So why would schools then start to teach us financial literacy? We can't even get schools to teach the histories of all peoples, to empower students in that way. If schools all of a sudden started teaching people how the economy really works, how to be financially literate, how to make sound money decisions, who would this system prey on? Whose blood could it suck? If we all knew a couple of years ago what a bubble we were in and all decided back then to remove ourselves from the bubble, start spending real money, start sowing in order to reap, it never could have gotten so out of hand. But we didn't. Most of us have never learned because that's not what school was set up to do. And we've never critically looked at the school structure to determine exactly what the point is, to realize what it can't and won't do for us.

I don't believe that school truly educates. We learn there. We learn facts. But we are not educated to become thinking, critically thinking adults. It's why Fox News exists. It's why all news that shamelessly distorts the truth or makes glaring omissions still exist. And why most of us suck it all in without a second thought. We've never been educated to understand that everything, big and small, needs a second thought.

I'm certainly not anti-school because my sons may need to go to school one day. I'd prefer a charter school or another type of private school with a different focus and a different, clear mission that I agree with. But if it is that public school ends up the only option, I know that I have my work cut out for me in terms of educating my sons. I tend to think that folks who never did well in school didn't do well because they couldn't be boxed in, couldn't get with factory schooling, i.e. put "x" into a child and get "y" out. For young Black boys, especially, this formula has been failing over and over again. I cannot simply depend on schools to teach them what they need to be successful in this world. No one should, really.

So whose job is it to teach you what you need to know? It seems like today we are realizing quite painfully that ignorance is not an option anymore. Each one of us is responsible to a very large degree for getting and assimilating the information we need to make it. We know we've been used as pawns in this system. And we've allowed ourselves to be for the promise of the American dream. But today we have to refuse to be victimized anymore, look at everything with intense scrutiny, open up our minds and for once, not be afraid to think. Not be afraid to embrace critical thought. Even if it's painful and even if it hurts our pride.

It's our job to teach ourselves what we need to know to survive.


80sBaby70sSoul said...

I agree. I didn't learn much of what I needed to know in school. And even now, after having gone to school to become a doctor, I am still rather unprepared regarding the logistics of running a practice (ie. the business/finances of it all).

When I got old enough to realize that I would need to pay taxes, I had NO idea what to expect. I didn't know how I would "do" my taxes and how/where I would ever learn this skill. I didn't know that you could call a credit card company and ask that they lower your interest rate. I didn't know that you could TELL the student loan company "hey, I ain't got it right now so go ahead and put my payments on hold." This is information you just kinda "bump" into along the way...or not.

I'm not trying to make excuses for the ignorant. I'm just noting that there is a system in place to keep us uninformed. Thus, why should the people solely be punished for their lack of knowledge?

There are things that you know you don't know. But there is an even larger realm of things that you don't know you don't know. Where do we begin to educate ourselves on things that are hidden from us without knowing they even exist?

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Public schools need to provide top-notch educations to everyone. I agree with the first guy.
The vast majority of people can not afford for their children to go to anywhere but the local public school. There is no reason why, with the money we spend on education we can provide world class educations. You walk into many schools and they've got every piece of technology junk in the world laying around. Their gym floor is polished and new, they've got a cafeteria is outfitted with master chef kitchen and hi-tech brand new seating (of course the feed they serve is canned crap).
I say get back to basics. Quit the pandering to every individual. Stop the insanity of making sure everyone gets an A and they all get a prize. Let the brilliant be brilliant and let the poor students like I was at least get a good foundation they may someday be able to build upon.
I'm suck and tired of hearing teachers whine about low salaries and unfair promotion practices, complain because they don't have the highest tech device that would "make their classroom perfect" and then wonder why the local booster club isn't providing enough resources.
Nope, strip down the schools, sell off the waste and start paying teachers decent salaries based upon measurable competence.
We've got to make teaching a profession that people WANT to go into, not a profession that people who can't do anything else go into.
When I was a kid teachers were the elite of our society. Today they are . . . not the elite.
We need to change that back.

Anonymous said...

Amen. Reading your post reminded me of a conversation I just had with my son the other day. He is a HS junior and was meeting with his guidance counselor who told my son it was his (the counselor and the school) job to prepare my son for the real world. My son replied, I thought that was my parents job.

The counselor had no quick reply but it brings home the point that most parents do delegate for any number of reasons these duties to ill-prepared schools.

Chi-Chi, The Original Wombman said...

Nya, you asked: There are things that you know you don't know. But there is an even larger realm of things that you don't know you don't know. Where do we begin to educate ourselves on things that are hidden from us without knowing they even exist?

Excellent questions, girl. You know my struggles. I wish I knew the answer.

SH, you said: "The vast majority of people can not afford for their children to go to anywhere but the local public school. There is no reason why, with the money we spend on education we can provide world class educations."
Very true. When I found out how much public schools use to educate kids as opposed to how much parochial schools do, I was flabbergasted. Parochial schools use at least 1/3rd the money and often do a better job. The solution is not to throw money (technology) at the public schools but to dismantle it and re-build a public school system that's in step with the times and that works. Like you said, to make the profession a PROFESSION not something you do when you can't do anything else.

BGIM, it's insane to place all this responsibility on schools when they've shown over and over that they can't handle it. Glad your son has parents who know this.

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