Posts Tagged ‘technology’

When did we stop teaching children humility?

I distinctly recall having it drilled into my head as a child that “children were to be seen and not heard” during events where adults were gathered. I recall the sting of shame if I dared to become too familiar with an adult and refer to them by their first name without the proper title before it.

So many things. These things created a social ecosystem which we understood as children, as it primarily established the boundaries of respect between us snot-nosed kids and adults.

But it has changed.

I recently had the chance to work with a small group of kids aged seven through twelve on some techniques for the hottest toy/fashion accessory for kids called the Rainbow Loom. Our family had discovered it months before the craze hit the world and I advocated for it strongly for it’s excellent non-digital occupation of time, fine motor skill learning, mathematical reinforcement, etc. Youtube (an amazing learning website!) offered a plethora of bands to make, from beginner to advanced. Fantastic!

What I thought was going to be a fun, relaxed environment of like-minded aficionados of the Rainbow Loom turned into an uncomfortable scenario as I was confronted with elitist show-offs who had apparently never been taught respect in their young lives.

The children — not one in particular — called out questions randomly. They expected to be waited on and catered to, even if it meant neglecting the other child being helped. They didn’t listen to the proper instructions, choosing to do it “their” way, causing the technique to fall apart. They mimicked and blatantly laughed at my hand gestures and comments.

I felt like an aging grandmother (which I’m not yet) at a Skrillex concert in the park. Suddenly Rainbow Loom and it’s ingenuity felt stale and lifeless.

How sad to see bright young children with such poor social skills. Even more disturbing is the thought that if you multiply them by 100 or even 1,000, these are the faces in classrooms across the country. The faces of kids who don’t have a clue what the causes of World War II were but are certain that they know more than my careful instruction could provide because they glanced at a video for a few minutes and after all, aren’t they the generation of uber-technology and at-your-fingertips information?

As I reflected on my distaste for the situation and made another glance upward in gratitude that I no longer teach, I wonder if we even know the damage we are inflicting to our country’s future. I also remembered a great read called There are No Shortcuts by a Mr. Esquith (I think), a teacher in California (I think) who made tremendous strides with his elementary school kids in education. These fourth and fifth graders were studying Othello and other Shakespearean plays, concepts and literature far beyond their years, and the author/teacher’s basic foundational premise was that there were no shortcuts in life, as the title offers. I wonder whether our youth today will one day realize the same.

Perhaps there’s something to be said for the old school methods after all.

Happy Veteran’s Day.

20131111-202819.jpg

Many years ago, after having my fourth child, while living in an often overlooked state known as Rhode Island, I hustled  waited tables in a restaurant and eventually had the enviable task of training new take out employees.  They were usually teenage girls, incessant gum poppers, with too much gel in their hair (a Rhode Island thing).

I’ve forgotten many things about my time there, but what really struck me was that these employees didn’t have the slightest idea how to count change.

It’s fairly simple really.  It involves beginning with the lowest monetary value, which is the penny.  So, if a patron bought a slice of cheesecake for $2.84 with tax, and he gave her a $5.00 bill, then the cashier/take out girl would start with the pennies and slide out one penny, then a nickel, then a dime, and work her way upward to the five dollar bill.  Seems simple, yes?  It is.  I tried to train them NOT to depend upon the cash register to tell them the amount of money to return to the customer, primarily because it made for much better accuracy for everyone involved.

You would think I was asking them to perform delicate spinal surgery on their grandmothers.

The bottom line is technology has turned all of us into self-gratifying, spoiled little darlings, but the ones it has really done the most damage to is the young generations.

I used to spend hours in the dungeons of the Brooklyn Public Library where they stored the microfiche machines to do research.  I will never forget the power of the book, Night, by Elie Wiesel.  In my little slice of life, I had never heard of such atrocities as the ones he describes.  Consequently, I did my senior thesis on the book, as well as one other.  I felt consumed by the flames, certain that in another life I must have been a victim of the Holocaust, because the horror resonated so deeply within my soul.

Anyway, I spent hours on Saturdays down there, lost in a world I had never known existed at one time in another place.  I love libraries.  They are home for me, the smell, the dust, the knowledge of all the pages contained in such a place, comforting and warm.

Teachers, ask your students today to do a research paper and where do they immediately go as soon as you enter the “media center?”

1. Wikipedia

2. Google

3. The teacher, to tell him/her, “I couldn’t find nothing.”

Ahh, yes.  Nothing.

It would take thousands of words to try to express the gut-twisting frustrations I have felt HUNDREDS of times, as I have heard the very same words from teenage mouths who hail from all walks of life.  Unless it slapped them on the forehead, leaving a dull red impression, the research I wanted them to uncover simply didn’t exist.

My point?

Students today scare me.  The ramifications of the children raised in this dysfunctional education system over the last thirty or so years is stark and frightening.  The small numbers of children whose parents demanded more, expected more, and pushed them for more is just not enough to counter the millions of kids who grew up expecting life to be handed to them.

The teachers they like the most are the ones whose study guides are the actual test and they’re all getting A’s.  The only advanced classes they take are the ones that will get them into the best college, which will get them the best job, which will provide them with the expected lifestyle, where they will live the inevitable meaningless, superficial consumer-crazed lives that everyone wants in America.

When I asked them to think and eliminated the option to cheat, do you want to know what happened?

They froze.  They became afraid but covered it up well.  Then they began to scheme and tell mom a different tale, shed a tear or two about how “hard” the teacher is, how much “work” they’re getting, how “stressed out” they are.

Then they slide into their seats the next day or week, certain things will be taken care of, get their restroom passes per class so they can take another swig of vodka, with a Xanax chaser and make it through another day.

As our nation is embroiled in battles over standardized testing, teacher merit pay, charter schools, funding, or the lack of, I wonder why nobody is asking what the students think.  At my former school in Chapel Hill, the superintendent meets regularly with a student council to try to improve education, and the local paper reported some of their comments in the meeting.  Their comments ranged from student apathy to “our parents have no idea how good we are at lying.”  They claim to only take advanced placement classes to look good for colleges, and that they really don’t care about the learning.

Encouraging.

I gave up a home phone years ago, when I, along with other brilliant Americans, realized that there were far too many taxes on a home phone bill, and anyone who really needed to reach me would find me via the cellular phone.  I was paying a fortune for several lines for my children so communicating with them as I was the chauffeur extraordinaire, was not an issue.

Not all six children!  Of course not.  In my household, a child became eligible for a cellphone if they met both of the following criteria: straight A’s on their report card upon entering 9th grade and well…being a ninth grader.  This might seem archaic to some of you who give your offspring a cellphone in utero, as I was the supreme goddess of my house, I made the rules.

Since 2003, I gave each of my classes my cellphone number.  Gasp! goes the crowd of teachers, shaking their heads in staunch disapproval.  It was modestly featured on my course syllabus at the beginning of the year, adjacent to my classroom number.

My rationale is simple: eliminate excuses.  If a student had a question about their homework, or essay, or studying for a quiz or test the next day, they could text or call and hear the information/get the help from the source: the teacher.  Students are notorious for providing their peers with erroneous information.  I recently concluded that it must be subconsciously intentional.

This helped my case when it came time to speaking with parents as well.  It solidified my case.  When we sat down at any given parent conference, I would whip out the student’s grade sheet with all or some of the homework assignments marked as “missing,” widen my eyes in feigned innocence (as students do) and casually explain my confusion because if there was a problem with any assignments, Bobby could have called or texted me.  At that point (the best part of the conference) Bobby would sink lower into his seat, knowing his life had been clearly shortened.

Over the years I have given out my cellphone number to thugs, schizophrenics, students with a rap sheet longer than my daughter’s chain of dirty diapers that are encircling the globe as we speak, destroying the earth for her great grandchildren.  I’ve given my cell phone number to students who sat in class and never spoke a word until the bell rang, when they would quietly announce as I passed, “I’m gonna fuck you up bitch!”

But I never flinched.  I’ve given my cell number to students who hated me, loved me, and used my face for their dartboard entertainment matches on Friday nights.  In all those years (well, it’s not that many), I’ve never had a problem with harassment of any kind, until this past year, while working in affluent, white bread Chapel Hill.

See, I also liked to use technology to teach or reinforce learning in my classroom.  So every now and then, usually just once a year, I play a cellphone game.  The premise is simple: for a major unit test, like the Middle Ages, I offer extra points on the test and students whip out their cellphones and have to text me the answer to the questions I shoot out to them in class.  If a student does not happen to have a phone (exceedingly RARE) then they team up with another.  In general students love it and it’s always a refreshing change of pace for a stodgy old literature class.

Well, after several classes of this, I was wiped out.  I sat at my desk, too numb to move.  Suddenly, a text message popped up on my phone.  I knew it was a student number.  When I opened the message, it was a picture of…well, it was a pornographic position on a desk in the school.

Shocked? Horrified? Disgusted?  Yes, all of the above.  I felt violated and taken advantage of.  I felt demoralized and angry that my honest attempt to teach with enthusiasm and energy was so callously and immaturely thrown in my face.  A few hours later, I received another equally disgusting photo via text message.

Aren’t their laws about this kind of thing?  Isn’t this a serious offense these days?  I couldn’t touch my phone all weekend because of how disgusting it seemed and I couldn’t delete it because I had to show it to my administration.  Yes, it was a sad weekend.

  This is getting lengthy so I’ll try to…oh, heck, who am I kidding?  Have you ever known an English teacher who didn’t talk forever??

I narrowed it down to the class, don’t ask me how, and contacted each parent in said class, explaining the situation and giving the number so the perpetrator would come forth.  I researched the legal issue involved and the consequences, mentioning that as well in my email.  Well, the whole thing exploded on Monday morning.

I also emailed my administrators, who called me into their office first thing, to reprimand me for contacting the parents.  They wanted to be the ones to do damage control and tell the parents only what they needed to know…which was nothing. Area 51 anybody?

Well, the kid was from a very well to do family, white bread, educators, the whole package.  It was a dumb moment for him.  He apologized to me.  We were both uncomfortable  All I wanted was an apology.  There were parents who were demanding I be fired for upsetting their sensitive children with this uncomfortable situation.  It was beyond stupidity.  I didn’t do anything, after all.  The kid did.

He apologized.  We moved on.  I had my wrist slapped for even trying to utilize technology in the classroom…wait!  Did you catch that?  All the latest pressure and monetary investment in the billions of dollars has been to plug up every kid to a computer and teach us teachers how to teach more creatively.  Ahh…another sip of coffee…the contradictions of the education system.  What a mess!

About ten days ago, I received a foul and profanity-laden text message from another white bread, very high up on the food chain former student of mine.  A pretentious kid really.  I used all my Behavior Analysis Unit skills I learned from being a Criminal Minds junkie to try to piece together the identity of the student.  I have it narrowed down to two.  After all the “suck my dick” comments and telling me what a horrible teacher I was, I finally threatened to go to the police with the messages and press charges for harassment unless he lost my number and refrained from texting me anymore.

But it stuck in my gut you see.  Here I am. Not teaching, trying to figure out this thing called life and my next steps.  Maybe he was right.  I know I’m not perfect.  But perhaps I did suck as a teacher.  Maybe all those notes and hugs and post high school visits from former students was all a gentle lie.  Maybe this pretentious fool was right, after all.

I am the stupid one.  I stood up for injustice and falsifying grades.  I challenged the superintendent and did not get my contract renewed.  This week it seems to me it might have been better to keep my mouth shut, as thousands of other teachers do, and go along with the whole mess we call education in America.