Thursday, January 17, 2008

A perspective from a former soldier

Scenes from the Battleground is a very well done blog for those of you who find education and mild schadenfreude entertaining. Oldandrew describes in gory detail what happens when the culture of ignorance and apathy go unchecked in British schools.

Anyone anywhere at this point should know that American kids (and adults, and Congresspeople) share in this same culture. I went to a poorly-funded small suburban school district outside Pittsburgh, and reading the Scenes definitely reminded me of my time on the front lines. There were plenty of kids who had no interest in learning, no forethought aside from tomorrow night's party, and no consideration for others.**

The problems at my school were far less pervasive, though, and the more I read and think, the more I realize that we had a lot of safeguards in check to keep us in line, which never really struck me as 'disciplinary measures' until now.

One example I wanted to write about came into my head because of Zen and the Art of Going to the Lavatory: my school had Hall Passes. For a while, we had paper ones that we were responsible for carrying around with us, with a little form on them that you used to mark down the time you left the classroom and a space for the teacher's signature. Any teacher in the hallway would send us back to class if we didn't have one of these (though if you carried a blank one around and didn't look shady, you could totally get away with it). It at least had the effect of preventing students from going to the bathroom every half hour, since teachers could look at your pass and see how often you've been out. Later, we switched to a different system, where each classroom got its own large wooden hall pass, with the room number carved into the side. If you wanted to go to the bathroom, you had to lug the piece of wood with you. If ten people wanted to go to the bathroom at once, tough cookies. You had to wait for the person to bring back the hall pass.

During secondary school, I was increasingly isolated from the 'problem' kids as I stayed in the 'AP' (advanced college-preparation) track, which I think is also a good thing as far as discipline goes. Kids who are ready to write sonnets are unfettered by jealous and destructive classmates, and kids who have a rough time with the five-paragraph essay have smaller classes, more thorough explanations, and less issues that lead to disturbing others' learning.

The strictly-enforced detention/suspension system and policeman patrolling the corridors also cut down on overt classroom disruption, I'm sure. But in the more general, 'blow-off' courses, where lots of kids at different ability levels are taught by a 'lenient' teacher, I've seen a lot of BS. My 6th grade band teacher once broke down in front of our class because of seemingly-unstoppable poor behavior, threw pages of musical score at the auditorium full of kids, and stormed out of the room for the rest of the period. Thankfully I didn't see this anywhere else.

** Side-note: To be fair, my high school served a fairly lower-class demographic, and most of the 'problem' kids in my school were of the most humble family situations while most of the 'good' kids had less modest upbringings. It's not entirely the kids' fault that they were brought up with low expectations and low discipline, and it's not entirely the parents' fault that their lives are full of the types of challenges that make raising a child difficult.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, that seems to roughly describe high school for us, doesn't it? Though, it's always nice to see a teacher who hasn't given up and is actually trying to improve his/the students lot, instead of the mass of mediocre ones I seem to have run into at the old battlefield.

    Keep up the blog