Chemistry in Education

So I’m lying half-awake the other night in the middle of a fever-dream… no lie!  I’ve had a fever for (lemme see…) 4+ days!  Thankfully, it’s finally gone (I think).  But back to the point…

I’m thinking to myself that education can be compared to a chemical reaction, where the student is the active ingredient.  A perfectly ready, able, and prepared child could be considered refined, without impurities (for the record, I don’t like that word in this example but can think of no other way to describe it) – while some children (most, in some sense) are distracted, brought down, made careless, etc. by their surroundings, upbringing, … and so on.  These latter ones are therefore not ‘pure’ and therefore will not react ‘perfectly’.  As I hopefully already alluded, few if any children are likely to be ‘pure’ and of the sort that educate to their utmost potential, but I would like to claim that the inner-city student is (on average) more distracted, more brought-down, less motivated, etc.

So, to my point.  As John Q. Public, what should our attitude be toward these students?  If you disagree with me that this disparity exists at all, well that is a subject for another blog perhaps.  I am mostly interested in how we deal with this problem if it does, in fact, exist.

You see, I am a high school teacher (and therefore completely biased in this matter) and it seems clear to me that these inner-city (or for those who don’t agree with that term, less-advantaged…) students do not measure up pound for pound with their suburban, upper class, more privileged counterparts.  I’ve taught in both strata for many years and seen the difference.  Am I saying these students are less talented, less capable, less intelligent…?   NO!  I’m saying they are distracted, naysayed (if I spelled that right), ignored, etc.  They are ‘less reactive’, to continue my previous analogy.  The point is they are not given as many advantages at school OR at home, but given plenty of disadvantages.

So what does the state of Michigan do about that?  Interesting that you ask.   🙂

It passed a law stating that it’s okay that richer districts get more money per student.  Well, let my ignorance be clear – it either passed a law saying it’s okay or it failed to pass a law saying that it’s not okay.  Either way, the disparity is allowed!  I don’t really feel like footnoting this at this point of the evening.  And if you want to show me the error of my ways, feel free to footnote the info in a comment (and be sure to attach the info that shows equal funding per pupil…  because that is – I know for a fact – NOT true).

Yep – that makes sense.  Sounds like equity to me!  The Good Lord helps those that can already help themselves!  I used to teach in XXXXXX – they had this odd idea that rich students get the same funding as poor ones…  call me crazy, but I thought that was the way it was supposed to work!  I guess as a math teacher I need some further education….. (sure, wealthier districts still got more donations from their residents – but at least things were CLOSER!)

But politically speaking, it does make sense.  The rich have all the voting power (well, at least lobbying power and advertising power – and I’m sure they’ll send up no end of misleading ads if this ever comes up for another vote) and what they want goes…  and why should they want equity?  They live in a $500,000 (officially VERY NICE HOUSE!) home in the Detroit suburbs and their children are entitled to the obscene amount of tax dollars they must pay every year.  You see, this whole idea of equity is great for other people, but not for the mayor of M______ sur M______. (ok – dumb reference, forgive me!)

Some will cry foul!…  the less-privileged districts get MORE funding because they get earmarked ‘Special Ed’ dollars above and beyond the standard government funding…  only they neglect to consider that those dollars are necessary because districts like mine (XXXXXXX) have (compared to some wealthy districts) at least twice as many registered special ed. students who have specific requirements that cost the district extra!  Like much lower teacher:student ratios, extra aides, altered schedules, extra materials/equipment.

And my favorite of all… we’re coming up very soon on standardized testing season!  (Okay, I’m fudging a bit… these days the state seems to think it’s year-round.  We don’t generally go more than a month or so without some kind of testing*)  But anyway, the Michigan Merit Exam will soon be upon us and our (not so very rich) district is one of those struggling to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) .  But the state understands that we don’t get as much money as other districts, so they don’t feel we need to meet the same standards right?  Whoops – I must’ve been eating some day-old food!  Funding doesn’t need to be equal, but testing does!  That makes a lot of sense!  I wonder who made that decision…  oh yes…  the politicians, the rich, better-off, white guys who are lobbied by loads of other rich, better-off white guys!

Yes, pretty soon (I don’t recall exactly when, but in less than 10 years I think) we’re supposed to meet the very attainable goal of 100% pass rate on standardized tests.  Now I fully realize that in many cases that’s like a 9th grade level (used to be 7th or 8th, but the state figured students weren’t doing well enough so they upped expectations… another smart move**), but again, if some ‘better-off’ students actually fail to reach that level what do you expect of the ‘lesser-off’ with lesser funding?  Does that really sound like we’re comparing apples to apples? (Sorry, my inner math teacher coming out)

Whew, I’m sure there’s more I’ve inwardly ranted at for years, but that’s all that I have in my brain at this moment.

* seriously – does it make sense to take 180-day school year (one of the shortest among advanced nations) and devote something like 20 days to standardized testing of some sort?

** wouldn’t you think it’d make more sense to make sure everybody was passing the “old” standard and then raise standards? Hmmm

***Whoops, one more whine – block schedule.  We currently only see our students approx. 4 hours a week (used to be 5 when I was in HS) but we must actually cover MORE since they’ve accelerated the standards (that’s meant, I believe, to increase student achievement… still don’t get that one) and every now and then we lose a day to an emergency assembly (last year we got to see some guys tear open coke cans and a guy even blew up a hot water bottle!  It was sweeeeet!  And I’m sure it convinced many of my students to try harder in my math class).  Sometimes, we have a snow day that prevents us from seeing half of our classes (the block schedule is a tricky thing) and instead of correcting the schedule so our classes are balanced, the district says it’s too complicated.  What that means is that teachers must either 1) tell the kids that missed class to do 90 minutes of work on their own, or 2) waste a day of class with the other kids until group #1 catches back up.  (Basically, the computers are just really tough to control, I think)…  Funny, I remember a year or two ago we did it all the time….

****And lastly, for those of you who’ve stuck through this till the bitter (yes, very bitter 😉 ) end, I’ve decided to go back through this whole thing and edit out my specific school district (even though many could probably figure it out) because just on the slim chance it got back to me, I actually need this job and enjoy working with kids and teaching math….  it’s just the murky, tunnel-visioned bureaucracy that drives me nuts!    Ciao!

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2 Responses to “Chemistry in Education”

  1. Wow–somebody woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Just kidding–glad you’re back at the blog. All perfectly sound comments, unfortunately, they just don’t jive with political reality.

    Take two gross measures: economics and education. In Europe, it is widely recognized that they have a superior education system, because they have a socialist approach–ie, more money going to it. This has not lead to widely democratic levels of eduacation, however, just better education to those who get it.

    On the other hand, economically, they have some rather high unemployment–all those weeks of vacation, long lunches, and 32 hours work weeks.

    The US has opposite problems. We have a widely, yet relatively poorly, educated population, because we don’t invest enough into K-12 education.

    However, we are really hard workers–long hours, very industrious. Keeps unemployment down and the economy up. As we have become primarily a service-based economy, this works well.

    It’s all about values. The US values money, hard work, wealth, and more money–this is our Puritan heritage. European countries are more distributed in their values: education, money, leisure (actual leisure–not just having fun), and social welfare.

    I find the Puritan vs. Reniassance/Protestant/Catholic milieu demonstrated most dramatically in the difference between countries that support the capital punishment versus those that don’t.

    I really don’t have a thesis here–just musing.

  2. Good to have your take on things, as always!

    Definitely like the reference to Europe – true they have a different take on work-ethic (which isn’t entirely bad to me!). But their take on education sounds like a more honest approach than ours… they say “if you want to get into a good school, prove it through your school achievement” and the students who don’t achieve it don’t get in. In the US, however, we claim to want to educate everyone (even force some students to take unnecessarily difficult classes), then give those who already have plenty even further advantages, praise them highly for doing so well (as if we hadn’t largely stacked the decks in their favor), and then talk out of the other side of our mouth when saying that we attempt to educate all students equally.

    I appreciate your comment about values – and agree with it generally. I’m just concerned that the current (in my view, shortsighted) approach to education is hastening a schism in socioeconomic classes that will be near-impossible to mend once it is there. We are on a collision course for a caste system… being born a have or a have-not.

    Hmmm, maybe I should start work on a sci-fi novel about that. (as if it hasn’t already been done) And then when it happens, I’ll be, like, prophetic!!! Whoah! 😉

    Thanks again for your comment!!!!

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