Monday, August 19, 2013

Runnin against the Wind

This morning I had to go to the pharmacy for allergy pills. I saw a school bus in the parking lot that had the name of my Vo-Tech on it. I thought the placement of the bus curious but didn't give it much more thought.

Driving home I have to pass through a county park that has a lot of running trails. As I was driving, I saw a bunch of girls running along the street. "Oh!" I thought. "That looks like Kay'sha!" And then I saw another girl who I recognized.

So, quick as a wink, I pulled over and cheered them on. They were the girls' cross country team from my school, out for a run before it gets too hot!

My girls. The other ones. The ones who don't live in my house.

Kay'sha was out in front. She's the best runner on the team. Last year her brother was shot and killed in a drive-by. Crystal, who stopped briefly to say hello to me, has a sister who is battling lupus with inadequate and indifferent health care.

Last spring, Clarissa had a baby and fell short on the high school proficiency test. We all thought she would pass. She cried. Today she was out running with the rest.

The world is arrayed against these young women. As I prepare for a new school year, in which I will be teaching to a national proficiency test that I have not yet seen, I think about all the smackdowns challenges my girls face. Even their African American president is making the test standards tougher, making it harder if not impossible for them to earn that essential high school diploma.

The new high school proficiency tests are being designed by college professors, based on the skills these professors think are lacking in students who get high school diplomas. My students start lacking skills the minute they walk in the door in kindergarten. They never catch up. In the case of the Vo-Tech, my girls are learning trades like nursing assistance and medical record keeping -- making them employable right out of high school, so long as they get their diplomas and pass proficiency tests in their trades. Yes, you are reading right. My students, all of them, have to take two tests: one for academic high school, another for the trade they've studied.

I would feel more zealous about the new, tougher high school standards if I hadn't been in a group this summer that toured businesses and industries in my area. It is still possible to get an entry-level job with a high school diploma (good attendance, no tattoos) where one can learn the skills necessary for the business in-house and move up through the ranks. My students have done this at the fancy grocery stores too. Even at Home Depot. But they all needed that high school diploma.

This is so blatantly unfair, it makes me want to weep. We expect our most disadvantaged students to be bright enough to compete not with China's worst (Flower Lace Bra; see below), but with China's best. You know what happens in the inner city schools? Kids turn 16 and drop out. "I wouldn't pass the proficiency test anyway," they say.

Stop this madness! Find a way to educate and train all children, without trying to fit them all into a single mold! Does my auto mechanic need to have read Ovid?

I'm repeating myself. Guilty as charged. It just fills my heart with ache to see my girls out running in the park. What is waiting for them at the finish line?


Anonymous said...

My daughter is a college professor. It is apalling the number of students who do not possess basic skills when they start college. We need to raise the bar... or at least not lower it. That being said, not everyone is college bound. So why can't there be two tracks? One for the future college students, one for everyone else? Or would we then be accused of creating a second class? This makes my head (and my heart) hurt. Some of my gkids are in the same boat as "your girls". I feel your pain.

Lucretia said...

I work at a state university in the Financial Aid office. We see SO many students come through who can barely read or write, don't know how to fill out an application, and can't understand basic questions. We do the best we can without talking down to them, but how can they possibly pass their classes?? Honestly, many don't. It's really sad watching them struggle when we really DO want them to succeed.

I like what Anonymous said. In Germany, there DID used to be two tracks. If you wanted to go to university, you took one group of classes and one test; if you wanted to go into a trade, you took the other test and group of classes. By the time those kids graduated, they were ready for university or an apprenticeship. I wish we could do something like that here.

Davoh said...

What is waiting at the finish line?

Dunno yet, but have to say that my 68 2/3 year old legs remain active (so far).

Anonymous said...

Rodger C: There used to be two tracks in this country too, before it was declared undemocratic (fair enough) and then everything was leveled in the wrong direction (ref: JT Gatto).

Anonymous said...

I have to say, too, that we need to really look at why our children are failing. High standards, in and of themselves, are not the issue. Being poor, or from a broken home, or having crappy things happen to you does not make you stupid. These kids can do it if they really want to. IF we provide the teachers and tools to teach them. On the other hand, a kid with no drive, who doesn't care, isn't going to learn no matter how much money or how many tools you provide for them.

bluets said...

My mother taught public school in Canada. She used to have near-shouting matches with my sister's godfather, a university professor. HE would rant on and on about how illiterate his students were. Mom was teaching grade 1 at the time. Her response: "The university gets to be selective. Public schools do not. Universities see only 10% of the students that public schools see in grade 1. Let me know when you want to come sit in on one of my days."

BBC said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anne Johnson said...

I went through the two-track system, and I don't see how it is undemocratic. You know what I think is unfair? Expecting a poverty-stricken student to pay tuition for courses they won't be able to pass. That's theft.