Re[6]: The school game

Becky Rickly (becky.rickly@UMICH.EDU)
Wed, 14 Aug 1996 17:39:04 -0400

Mike writes:
> No I'm very uncomfortable about the situation in our public schools.
> And that lack of comfort stems from this lack of learning.

Yikes, Mike, I'm afriad your fly's in *my* ointment, too. I'm not
convinced that your blame is correctly placed--certainly not by your
"proof" which tends to be completely personal in nature. In the spirit of
debate, let me counter with a few personal observations of my own.....

> Examples/support for position that the public school system in America
> is seriously flawed:
> 1. Teachers earn $20-30,000 per year, sports and entertainment "stars"
> earn millions per year. (What does this say about our priorities and
> what we value?)

Well, here in Ann Arbor, public school teachers (who went on strike last
summer to protest "unfair treatment and pay") make an *average* of $50,000
a year, which is far more than *I* make with a PhD teaching at the college
level. Granted, sports figures do make more, but I certainly can't do what
they can (and no one pays to come watch me teach, either...:-)

> 2. Universally, every higher educational institution in America
> requires additional writing courses when students arrive. (If students
> already know how to write, as you say, why do we have to retrain
> them?)

Is this "new"? I'm not sure it is; I seem to remember a heck of a lot of
writing (perhaps more than what we require now) being done in universities
in the 18th and 19th centuries....(my berlin's a bit musty, but seems to me
a lot of it was either imitatio of literary forms ala Blair or
concentration on style over content ala Whately). Uh, why did these folks
feel the "need" for extra writing, too?

> 3. 6 years of teaching composition at 3 community colleges and a
> university where I have yet to have a class where at least half the
> students had no interest in learning. (They expected me to tell them
> what they needed to know and give tests. And got angry that I
> structured things so they couldn't use their normal "no thinking
> required" coping skills.)

I'll raise that experience: in two years of teaching junior high, two
years of teaching folks as a tech writer, and....let's just say over ten
years of teaching at the university level, in small and large universities,
I've run into a variety of students....some don't really care about
learning, some are iffy, and some really DO care. But I'll wager that, in
a different class/situation, their interest would pique--for instance, my
guess is that the student who loves math won't be excited about learning in
and English class just because she comes to it with preconceived cultural
expectations. It's up to me to work with her. And yes, she might get
angry, but if I do my job, she can USE that anger productively.

> 4. My current full-time job in a Human Resources Department at a
> university where we can't find enough people with basic skills, like
> reading, writing, and math to fill most of our positions. We are one
> of the best employers in the region and should have choices from the
> cream of the local crop. (Where are ALL these educated folks of which
> you speak? Only in Missouri, and not Florida?)

My take is that literacy is changing. In the "real world," there's a huge
push to "reskill" workers, not just in basic literacy, but in technology,
in corporate structure, etc. The times, they are a-changin', and I don't
think we can say that people not up on the latest forms of literacy are
necessarily "uneducated"

> 5. Universities refusing to offer "remedial" courses anymore because
> its too much of a drain on their limited resources. Community
> colleges screaming that they can't meet the demand.

Uh, so if they refuse to offer "remedial" courses, what happens to the
people who, ostensibly, need them? Sounds like universities are more to
blame for a loss of literacy here...!

> 6. Teaching a developmental writing class filled with students who had
> graduated from "your fine system" who had no idea how a sentence was
> constructed. Or that someone might be remotely interested in their
> opinion or that they were even allowed, let alone expected, to have
> one.

Sounds very idiosyncratic, Mike....I've taught 8th graders and seen tech
writing and seen college writers who could be described thusly. But I'm
not convinced that most people NEED to know how a sentence is constructed,
and if they don't think folks are interested in their opinions, that sounds
like a self-esteem problem that can't be necessarily blamed on K-12....

> 7. A society and a system that is based in competition not
> collaboration. And that was designed to "train" workers for jobs that
> no longer exist and that you could get and do without the skills you
> say students have. I speaking of factory work that could be performed
> and a decent wage earned without the ability to write or compute or
> even often read.

Hate to tell you this, but a lot of those "factory" jobs are becoming
increasingly complex and high tech. As a result, corporate entities are
beginning to value the ability of an employee to learn--you know, lifelong
learning--and that's something that we're teaching (I hope) at all levels.

> 8. School systems where the first things cut when money gets tight
> (and when is it not tight?) are honors programs, art and music
> classes, and the last thing cut is the athletic program.

Again, sounds idiosyncratic. I can give examples of places that DID cut
athletic programs, too. But I'm not sure that more money necessarily
equates to a better program, either; I taught for a year in a Catholic
junior high, was paid very little, we had NO special programs, yet I think
we had an excellent curriculum, and class sizes were small, so students got
a lot of individual attention.

> 9. The people who graduated from your fine system who I come in
> contact with every day as employees in stores and businesses who I
> have to help do their jobs (like tell them how much change I should
> get back or how to operate the cash register).

Hmmmm. Interesting how we go from literacy to math and technological
skills. Again, sounds very individual to me; I bet there are college
graduates who are in the same situation...these aren't skills they teach
you in college, either.

> 10. Managers, directors, vice presidents, and presidents of colleges
> or organizations who can't write a coherent sentence.

I agree--they're out there. Many of these folks have college degrees. Uh,
how come K-12 is getting the rap??

> Then I suggest you search the literature of ERIC, colleges of
> education and every study done for the last 20 years or more by the
> Feds and the Department of Education. Scholars who study schools and
> their design have known and written about these failures for a long
> long time. Or maybe you need to get out into some more schools and
> classrooms? And not limit your experiences to these teachers you
> know.

Ah, but like Eric said, the gov. is measuring what it values. Seems to me
that the one long-term educational study in K-12 showed that the ONLY true
predictor of how well a student would do in school was socio-economic
level. Sounds to me like YOU need to get out there into some more

> The last bit of proof I'll add is the fact the America can't compete
> in a global marketplace. We do a couple of things OK, but just about
> everyone is better at manufacturing than we are. The rest of world
> produces far better products at lower costs than we can. If we have
> this highly educated workforce you describe why is this the case?

Again, I'm not sure that: 1) what you say here is, in fact, correct, and
2) that even if you're right, the blame can be placed at the feet of k-12


Becky Rickly
University of Michigan