Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What if some kids can't be taught?

There have been lots of stories recently about terrible schools and terrible students. First, we have a school in Missouri that closed HALF of its public schools. Then a story about the so-called "Worst school in the nation," in Central Falls, Rhode Island, that closed because fifty percent of its students failed EVERY CLASS.
Let that sink in a second. All F's. Half the student body got all F's.
OK, now I know Central Falls - it is an economically depressed area in Rhode Island with a very high Hispanic population. High unemployment (10%+), poor public works and terrible public transportation. Obviously, neither the kids nor the school are sitting on mountains of cash.
But still, if half your students are failing, the problem most likely extends beyond the students to the community, the economy, the family, and probably the underpaid and maybe underqualified teachers as well.
But forget about that for a second. If I was a lawmaker and looking at a school where half the students were failing every class, I might think that the kids and the school were both hopeless.
Even if you take into the account of the difficult factors of poverty that impact a child's education - lack of food, occasional homelessness, domestic violence, lack of school supplies, working after-school jobs until midnight on a school night - the fact still remains the students haven't learned much of anything, at least in classic educational sense. The money spent trying to educate them has essentially been wasted - if the goal in educating someone is for them NOT to get F's, and they get all F's, haven't you literally failed to educate them? Or, by the same token, haven't they failed to receive an education?
So what do you do with this population, where higher education is impossible and minimal wage the expected norm? Obviously both poor and rich people have the biological ability to learn, but nature is practically moot in these circumstances.
Yes, everyone deserves an education in this country, but what if some people just can't be taught?


shesthesheriff said...

Whoa there! (coconuts stop)

I just had a pretty long talk with one of the people CF brought in to fill a gap on their staff.

Here's what I hear across the board from this person and other forward thinking public school teachers in depressed areas. If you meet the kids where they're at, and focus on shit thats important to them, they feel challenged/engaged. If you teach algebra and classic english lit, prepare for a full scale mutiny.

Seems simple, yet the public school system continues to insist that everyone be taught the same--with good reason I guess they are all now scared out of their mind of being shut down. I think the problem rests with whoever is setting these dumb standards.

I just heard of a charter school-Urban Prep-in Chicago, which serves a low income community (students are picked randomly in a lottery) that is sending 100% of its graduates to a 4 year college this year.

So it can be done-and I don't think charter schools are the answer either-they are mostly small and do not impact the large scale. Much bigger conversation I think.

Jonathan Rubin said...

Great points, Sheriff. I hope you're right. But will "shit that's important to them" help them get jobs / advance economically? Or does it become a race to the bottom - they are interested in a finite number of subjects - say cars - so we teach them about cars to the exclusion of all else, perpetuating the lack of well-rounded education. Or does there need to be some sort of "Urban School" curriculum? That's starting to sound too much like Ebonics to me.....

shesthesheriff said...

I think you'll agree that usually we don't learn something until it becomes important to us. And that sometimes, in the midst of learning this important thing, we pick up other useful nuggets. Someone who learns one skill very well tends to be empowered in their learning to pursue other areas.

So you used the example of cars. What's wrong with starting with pictures of cool cars-and then after a couple days or a week asking a question like-how does the gas you put in your car translate into movement? Right there is a GINORMOUS lesson that integrates chemistry, engineering, and physics. A kid who really gets into this lesson-and moves on to study boats, planes trucks etc. will learn accidentally what science/math teachers bang their heads against the wall trying to teach us. And will probably be able to choose which military contractor he wants to work for.

I never understood why the fundamentals are taught first amidst such stiff resistance. Its like, we're telling the students--just keep your chin up for 16 years and the benefits will be revealed when you've done enough math homework. Seems more like mind numbing than education.

Bringing in the urban thing adds such a wild card to this whole situation though-it becomes harder to meet them where they are at, but with what we are doing failing so miserably I'm just so surprised that the formula hasn't been altered hardly at all.