Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Reality Check for Educational Policy Makers

These kids are good organs in a sick body.

Yesterday morning, one of the students in my school's GSA, a lovable kid by the name of Zach, sent me a link to the video posted below.  He said that when he saw it, he thought I might be interested in it and I certainly was.  The video appears on a channel called Button Poetry on YouTube, and it speaks to the idiocy that has become or our educational system, specifically how it affects the field of ESL, what I teach.

Students who've been in the country for one year are now expected to perform at grade level on standardized English tests....If the kids don't jump high enough, the school loses money.  Improving a school by picking its pockets is like tuning a guitar by ripping off the strings.

As I watched the video, I couldn't help but become incensed at what the dude in the video was saying. ESL is already hard enough to teach, and because of the nature of my students, the fact that they come from Spanish speaking countries, adds a lil old-fashioned bias into the fray (see the Alien and Sedition Acts).  No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top and Common Core are three phrases that give every teacher chills down their spine, but very little is said about how these "college and career readiness" standards affect my kids.  

Their heritage is a banned book.  Learning to read in a new language when you can't even read in your own is like trying to heal a burn victim by drowning them.

In an climate of standardized testing and teacher accountability, the premise that all students are the same is to me just a microcosm of the larger struggle between those of us who see everything as black and white and those of us who see a lot of gray.  I happen to be of the latter, and I may not be right about a lot of things, but I feel pretty damned confident that there is a lot of gray in the world, especially when it comes to student learning.  

We are telling these children who have spent their whole lives in the deep end that they'll learn to how to swim if they just float out a little farther. 

I spend my weekends, unlike many of my colleagues who teach mainstream subjects, doing school work.  My only opportunities for rest and relaxation from work come during the summer months, and even that isn't 100% true.  I wish it would be easier, but alas this is the life I chose, and the students that have passed through my classroom all make it worth it.  I love the time I get to spend with them, but even during that time I worry.  I worry for them, that they'll be able to get through the tough rigors of today's educational system without dropping out and getting lost in a sea of uncertain futures.  

I'm lucky enough to be one of the winners of this game.  I was handed a head start and a rule book in my own tongue, but the winners of a rigged game should not get to write the rules.  On the television, some senator preaches that throwing money at an urban school is like feeding caviar to your dog.  They just won't know how to appreciate it.  After all, if these parents can't take care of their own children, why should we? 

One of my biggest gripes about education is that those who decide what goes on in our classrooms have little knowledge of what goes on in them, so how could they possibly know?  This of course holds true for all children and all teachers in all schools, but socially, the kids in my classroom and the classrooms of every other ESL teacher out there are even more maligned than anyone else.  I could say so much more here, but for the sake of time and space, I'm going to leave you with the video.  I urge you to click play below and think about it...