Sunday, March 8, 2015

Killing them Softly: Expecting better-than-adult reactions from adolescents.

Last night, I had a visitor. A friend and former coworker, Thomas Gardiner, brought his young daughter over to the house to play with my two youngest criminal minds, while Thomas and I talked about work, old colleagues, and our children.

At some point, we began to rant about the problems we had with our own attempts at parenthood and how we negotiate the education system from the perspective of parents. We lamented our abilities to have patience with students in the school setting and expect our own children to not have the same brain patterns as the children we show so much empathy towards on a daily basis.  The very behaviors we take so much time to understand in a work setting are the behaviors we chastise and try to fix in the kids we are supposed to paternally love. It brought us to some interesting discussion which will be the focus of this blog for the near future. 

Thomas has escaped and now works  as the Recreation and Education Support Supervisor with AK Child and Family. Every day, he works at bringing play and learning to emotionally troubled youth. He tirelessly coordinates active and community-based experiences that help young people develop appropriate communication and social skills. As a non-profit in Alaska, his work also leads him to work with the community to secure funding for the programs to continue. Thomas finds a level of satisfaction in his work that many educators are missing, which is one of the catalysts for the conversation that ensued. 

I say Thomas escaped, because the current state of education in our nation is a draining mental and emotional prison for people who care about kids as people. That sounds nice and cheesy, but some of us actually acknowledge that kids are self-determining, conscious beings that deserve at least some level of respect, and yet, due to pressures we have no say in, we make decisions every day that completely counter that acknowledgement. The larger system and ideas about education tend to force us to view students and teens as two dimensional icons we need to push through a machine at a steady speed which will grind them into the three dimensional, logical thinkers we so nostalgically think should come out of the system. In our nostalgic blindness, we simply continue a system based on power structure and conformity rather than learning. 

This is usually the point where the blogger places blame. Some reformers blame old teachers or teacher unions. Some reactive teachers and union communications folks blame the testing culture brought on by over-zealous politicos and administrators. Some people, whose only interaction with the education system is their time as a student, make wild claims about the reality of education woes. Some on one side of the political spectrum claim that an atheistic, socialist plot is being hatched in dark rooms where educators are planning to reprogram our public education students into an army of globalist brown shirts. To find the page above, all one has to do is search "Common Core, Socialism" and find thousands of pages decrying the death of America by setting standards. On the other side of the political spectrum, we see fear that schools will become a place where science is ignored for political reasons. Again, I only place these here to see the discussions and blame that surround the act of teaching kids how to read, write, add, subtract, and reason. It is all smoke. It keeps us all distracted from the real fire which gorges itself on our children's childhoods. 

The blame game doesn't need to end, but instead must be turned into an introspective experience where we as a nation ask some simple, yet serious, questions about what we think is the point of public education and what we want from our students. 

The next post will focus on the misuse and misunderstanding of Maslow's hierarchy of needs (video explanation) in the current system and how parents, even ones who are also educators, are caught up in perpetuating a myth of human development. What should be a useful  tool to help guide discussions on learning has instead turned into a flashy graph placed on powerpoint presentations to give the illusion of understanding while being ignored in practice and in society. 

I must acknowledge that I do believe that most of the people involved in any part of this debate actually have the best of intentions. I just don't think the parts being debated on the public scene really matter. The problems with our system can only be fixed by discussions on what education means to us as a nation and what we want our youth to experience in childhood and adolescence and what they can manage as people, real people. The very problems we see with burnout in the greater American work place are the realities we put adolescents into every day and expect to handle better than top executive adults getting paid for their work.  

Out of respect for the digital audience's need for short blog entries, I will cut this discussion into smaller pieces. Please leave comments which will lead to a dialogue. I am not too worried. As I told Thomas, nobody will read what I have to say. I am only a teacher, which immediately disqualifies me from discussing education. 

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