This week the viral sensation of a high school student telling his teacher off made the rounds on the interwebs. Many with comments in support of him for pointing out that his teacher was giving the students busy work, as well as comments from others saying he should sit down and shut up as adolescents have been doing for decades.
These issues aren't new, right? Headline: Student isn't interested in what is being assigned. Stop the presses. But this particular student has a unique story that gives this issue a twist. He was a high school drop out who realized the value of education, and came back. Now he's being subjected to what he thinks is pointless busy work. He wants to see teachers engage students, have conversations, talk about issues, challenge them to think, not memorize, and he hurls this advice at his teacher as she sends him to the principal's office.
When I saw the headline I was excited. As someone who inherited her challenge to authority from her father at a very young age, I wanted to cheer him on. Damn the man! Fight the system! But the system he has a problem with, isn't the teacher's fault. See.... our rebel with a cause is in Texas. That's right, y'all, that Rick Perry lovin' state that has cut its public education budget to bits and pieces so while the number of students in public schools in Texas have exploded, costs haven't kept up.
In elementary school they teach you this nifty thing called "cause and effect." What's it look like when you live in a state where the cost per pupil gets cut? Well, you get a dive in graduation rates for one. Hey 42nd in the nation isn't too bad, everyone will always be better than Mississippi!
This is the day to day representation of No Child Left Behind and "teaching a test." This is what happens when you tie someone's job to a performance by a student. Work packets that teach the test. Not to think. Not to learn. Not creativity and engagement, but memorize the information. Rinse and repeat. At the same time, they've been in fierce arguments over curriculum standards where the religious right wants to demand that science teach religion and the earth is only a few thousand years old. But at the end of the school day, the fault doesn't lie only with Rick Perry's bad governing, or even local school boards run amuck. It's part of a much greater problem we have in the United States called governmental preeminence discombobulation. In south speak we'd say "y'all, ain't right."
This is a photo of President Barack Obama sitting at a Bar-B-Q joint in Austin, Texas after a speech he gave on Thursday to a crowd at Manor New Technology High School. See those folks sitting with him? That one woman... is Caroline Sweet an educator talking to the President about Charter Schools - photo by White House Photog Pete Souza and meme'd by Education Austin.
Our entire education system is so messed up and the President is just compounding the problem. At Manor New Technology High School the President said (these are excerpts of his speech):
"Every young person in America deserves a world-class education. We've got an obligation to give it to them. And, by the way, that helps the whole economy. Every business in America we want to draw from the world's highest-skilled and most educated workforce. We can make that happen. But we're going to have to put our shoulder against the wheel and work a little harder than we're doing right now as a nation.
"We've also got to start rethinking and redesigning America's high schools. That's part of what's happening here is there's innovation going on that equip graduates for the demands of a high-tech economy. There's a lot of hands-on learning here. People aren't just sitting at a desk reading all the time."
"And finally, we know that even with better high schools, if you want a good job and work your way into the middle class, most young people are going to need some higher education. Unfortunately, in recent years, college costs have skyrocketed and that's left too many students and their families saddled with a mountain of debt. So we've worked to make college more affordable for millions of students already and families through tax credits, grants; more access to student loans that go farther than before. We've reformed the student loan process by putting students ahead of big banks, providing options to make it easier for young people to repay these loans. "
Here's my question: What legislation has the White House come out in supportive of or actively lobbied for since 2009 that would achieve this rhetorical bloviation? Well... let's use ObamaAchievements.org
- "Enacted largest reform of student aid in 40 years" - Right so you basically didn't make education cheaper you just took over taking my payments. Cost didn't change, accessibility didn't change... just who I write my check to did. Ok. Check.
- "Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010" - Here's the description. The Affordable Care Act. So basically you won't have medical debt and student loan debt at the same time. Doesn't stop Philly from closing 47 schools or 50 in Chicago. Or college more affordable or create more jobs for new graduates or pay interns for their work. But, you don't have to file for bankruptcy at 23 if you're in a car wreck.
- "Established President's Advisory Council on Financial Capability to assist in financial education for all Americans." - Was Google down in the office or something? You gotta have a "council" to figure out about how much it sucks to try and pay for school? What's next a blue ribbon commission on how school doesn't prepare you for life?
- "Increased funding for land-grant college." - Which is awesome because that funding was about to get cut by their states who would rather give tax cuts. So did it really go up? Or just did we just shift responsibility to the federal budget?
- "Provided means for students struggling to make college loan payments to refinance." Sorry Timmy, you still own $120,000 for that Art History degree, but now we can refinance it so suicide doesn't look quite as appealing as it once did.
- "Expanded Pell Grants for low-income students." - Cost of college has increased 1120% in the last 30 years are these Pell Grants even keeping up needs? #JustSayin. Look, this is good, it really does help, but it's a band-aid on a blown off leg ten years too late. There is an entire generation of young people who needed help then and who are working more than full time and can't pay their bills. I work with some, I use to live with one. What can be done for those who graduated between 2000 and 2010.
Rhetoric is all well and good, but let's talk about the reality. The President has no power to control the budget for Texas high schools or state funding to higher education to decrease contributions required by students and/or their families. The only bills that can make it better come with a dead president's pictures on them. You gotta show me the money. Instead.... all we do is what Caroline Sweet pointed out. We create the Two Americas where if you can kick in some extra money for a charter school you have a fancier education even if it doesn't result in better test scores. Maybe that charter school can afford to pay a college prep person who can help students apply for the coveted public/private partnership so the 1% can bless us with their trickle down scholarships. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren's bill, which is awesome and wonderful and hey she's from my home state, really only seeks to reduce the interest rate on student loan payments, because she knows she's powerless to reduce the high cost of education or lack of education funding. What she's doing, is realistically all she can do, and bless her for it, but we need Elizabeth Warren's in state houses across America.
So, Mr. President, can we cut the BS and talk about truly reforming education? No. Actually, we can't. Because that reality would cost this country more than we're willing to spend and there is no way we'd ever get the 113th Congress to agree to prioritize young people over
tanks and missiles defense contractors. So.... we give speeches and we talk about how we want to have high standards and don't want to pay for it, and then we blame the teacher and the student for complaining. We publicly humiliate educators who could make more working less at Starbucks and we punish the student who sees tests for what they are.
So what do we do? I actually think closing the school district in Michigan was a good idea. The students walking out in protest in Philly is a better one. I think regardless of which of these options is preferred we as students, teachers, parents, community allies we just stand up and walk out. We say stop. Until elected officials develop the political will to create lasting and meaningful education reform that works and prioritizes learning and not just facts and figures and "sit down and shut up" I think we stop school. Time for some tough love. Walk out of your class rooms and straight into state houses across the country and say no more.