Do we hate our children?

Perhaps we are too busy, perhaps we mean well, perhaps we are too selfish for our own good. But after being party to a round table discussion led by current high and middle school students, and listening to them discussing relationships with teachers, spread over 5 different school systems, I was amazed at the consistency of the patterns, I was impressed by some of their attempts to adapt to a topsy turvy world, and was deeply saddened because schools were run differently back when I had to attend.

We led the discussion with an open ended question. How does one maintain their ethics, morals, and values while doing a day at school……..We had one group from a Christian school, and their response, was “we split ourselves off from the mainstream.” That is how they (their parents) chose to keep their value system intact. Those at public schools said they associate only with those like themselves, and do not mix with those who held morality in less than high esteem.

They were two phases of the same current. Their defensive mechanism was to separate themselves from others. When asked an open ended question where we asked them to describe how they felt they fit in with the rest of students in their school. (we asked for percentages), none of those percentages given, were over ten percent.. Their answers imply that the average student, trying to be a good citizen, feels that more than ninety percent of the student body are morally different from themselves. For purposes of contrast, in my day, we felt that we were part of the ninety percent that was moral. Trouble makers made up less than ten percent…

What caused this flip flop, “where evil rules, and goodness drools”? The kids had no answer. In fact they were shocked that the morality percentage of our generation’s educational process was the exact opposite of theirs!

But the animated argument really took off when someone brought up the fact that the teachers were less moral than some of the students.

Before I get into the discussion that followed, one should note that every school has got to get their students to abide by the “rules.” Education cannot exist in anarchy. But in listening to these kids talk to each other, I could not help but think that as a society we have moved our focus away from making learning a priority, to making behavior control each and every school’s prime directive.

Of course, this was coming from kids. But it was still unsettling to hear the tactics used in Guantanamo, being used in 5 of our schools existing right hear in Delaware. (No, the issue of water-boarding did not come up.)

Over and over and over I heard stories of teachers trying to prove how tough they could be. It was as if appearing like Himmler enhanced ones career path better far better then teaching did. (So what if the morons learned nothing. We sure as hell broke their spirit.)

Something, seriously wrong, seems to be at play in our school systems. It is as if we (teachers, parents, society) are telling our kids, “We don’t care what you learn. That is on you. But you better not twitch one iota while sitting at attention, or I will suspend your ass.”. In other words, the entire modus operandi of our school systems has shifted to get children to toe the line…..and away from getting them to enjoy learning.

One major difference today, from our time, is that in the “old” days we toed the line naturally without screaming and yelling. Perhaps we were pre-programed, perhaps it never occurred to us to disobey. I don’t know. We did not have discipline problems, nor did we have Draconian rules we were required to follow. We had a handbook which we never read and surprisingly everything worked out fine…..Classes started when they were supposed to, and proceeded without interruptions.

It was against this background that we heard the student’s stories. We heard how they only had four minutes to change classes, and constantly received infractions for not making it on time. The geography of the campus was stacked against the students. Four minutes? 240 seconds? Is everyone running a school crazy? Comparing notes afterwards, the previous generation sitting in on the conversation, had an average of 10 minutes between classes. No wonder we were never late.

We heard stories of teachers, in all five schools, who wanted to begin teaching students in class a minute before the bell rang, even though the hand book specifies that the bell is the deciding factor. We heard stories of students receiving infractions, and being sent to the office, before the bell had even rung. We heard of stories of being late, receiving infractions, which ultimately lead up Saturday detention costing $20 dollars. We heard of one student that had to shell out $200 dollars for what seemed like us, like innocently caused infractions that were beyond his capacity to fix.

As the students continued, we learned that in schools with uniforms, authorities go overboard with infractions. Much time and effort is used to force compliance. So much effort in fact, that the uniform code becomes like tax law, overburdened and therefore unclear and hard to maintain, eventually losing credibility with both students and parents, and breaking down.. Can’t wear hoop ear-rings……..But 3 days later no one says anything. Can’t wear basketball shoes. 3 days later the focus is on something else. In all schools, the students avidly expressed that teachers when dealing with them one on one, treated a student as a second class citizens. The philosophy currently embedded in our schools, it appears, has borrowed much from our both prison and psychiatric care systems. It has become necessary to ontain the inmates.

We often hear complaints that today’s students do not respect authority figures. After hearing what we heard, I would not respect any of those people mistakenly placed in positions of authority, either. I thought that people in authority were supposed to be wise. People in authority were supposed to use common sense. People in authority were supposed to use their brains, to weigh the pros and cons, and make calculated decisions. People in authority, were supposed to give us an environment that was conducive to our interests…They were not hired to intimidate us, they were not hired to demoralize us, they were not employed to break us down. Imagine yourself? If you have been dressed down in front of your peers by a drill sergeant, how could you quit fuming long enough to learn the intricacies of algebra only minutes later? It is impossible. You can’t.

And that in essence, is why our schools are failing. Of course the teachers , the administrators, the unions, the school boards, the Secretary of Education will offer multitudes of excuses….But what they offer, are just that….Excuses do little to promote an conducive environment where learning is encouraged……….

The harsh regime prevails;

The quest for knowledge fails.