We have all heard how our schools are failing our kids. We have heard that we are slipping behind other countries in both math and reading. There are documentaries that say it. There are politicians that say it. There are billionaires that say it. And now, another test says it.
The United States’ ranking in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is 17th in Reading and 30th in math (1). In the minds of most, this means that our kids are falling behind the rest of the world. An American education is not what it once was. Our schools are failing.
Do you know how this is played?
As the son of immigrants, I often notice how the lack of context can handicap perceptions, understanding, and success. In addition to a new language, immigrants must learn the subtleties of a new culture without the aid of a textbook. Compounding this problem is the utter lack of recognition in the natives. We can recognize someone struggling with the language, but we are less likely to notice if someone doesn’t get the joke, understand the custom, or realize their faux pas. In our minds, it makes sense to hang around the water cooler, or sarcastically speak about our love of the post office, or some other American thing.
Yet this isn’t just occurring in immigrants. It happens to people from different backgrounds based on race, age, and location. One of my most vivid memories of getting in trouble at school happened in 3rd grade. After moving to a southern state from New England, my first day at the new school involved indoor recess (it was raining outside). After the allotted time, the teacher called everyone’s attention to the fact that we needed to clean up. Almost near the end of our game, we played one more turn.
Finally, she came over to us and said, “It’s time to put it up.” I stared at her for a moment, not quite sure what to do. She said it again, “Put it up.”
With that, I took the game and the pieces, and raised them over my head. With not the least bit of confusion on my third grade mind (Put it up, means put it away, for you non-Southern folks). The teacher was none too pleased, thinking that I was sassing her on my first day.
My family rarely offered praise. “Good job” or “way to go” were not phrases I heard as a child. My parents rarely responded to my good deeds with more than a “good” or a quick nod. The underlying message was clear; the good deeds and grades were expected. Their response told me, “Damn straight you did good, and you better keep doing good, or else.”
Champion in sports, fired in schools? Possibly
Coaching changes in basketball or football rarely result in quick turn arounds. It is relatively rare to see a new coach come in and completely rescue a program. Often, it takes years for them to recruit new players and implement their system.
The expectation is that there be positive movement, but often the coaches are given time to make this change. It is rare that a coach would only be given a season, or half a season to turn around a team. An owner, athletic director, or general manager would be strongly criticized for making such a quick change. Quick changes would have cost jobs for people like Coach K, Bill Belichick, and Doc Rivers. Perhaps it is a good thing that powerful people in sports take a bit longer to decide.
My cousin was an RA in college. For a number of reasons, it was a great job. The only downside was dealing with college freshmen and their first taste of freedom from parental influences. For many, this meant drinking, mischief, and general rule breaking. My cousin had to police this environment.
Now, my cousin was and still is a fun loving guy. He was by no means an angel during his years in the dorm and didn’t want to completely ruin his residents’ fun. At the same time, he didn’t want to have to deal with stupid antics and damage throughout the year. He had to decide if he was going to be the cool, easy going RA or the hard ass RA. So, of course, he decided to be the hard ass.
I cried tonight. The phrase above unleashed a stream from my own eyes. There was sorrow in my heart not only for my wife, but the kids she may never teach. A sadness gripped me when I realized this is part of the damage of a failing school. I have never seen the passion dip so low, defeat advance so far. I had
never thought that my wife might give up. Today, that changed.