by John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
The MACE Team returning from a meeting at Hart County, Georgia this past week (left to right: Norreese Haynes, Benjamin Barnes, Dr. John Trotter, David Cochran).
I just saw U. S. Secretary of State Arne Duncan being interviewed on CNN about why our public schools are behind (if they actually are, once the failing urban schools are removed from any equation), and this man doesn’t have a clue. He still thinks it’s about longer days and doing away with summer vacations. Ha! Our problems (as demonstrated by many indicators) are in the failing urban schools. In these schools, the discipline is almost unheard of. The teachers are blamed for the abject failure of the parents and their children. The children bring very little if any motivation to learn to school. The parents want to blame everyone but themselves for their failure and their children’s failure. The school administrators at these schools goose step to this tune, blaming the teachers. The teacher can only teach the children, not learn them…just like an attorney can only defend a client, not acquit the client…or a physician can only treat a patient, not heal the patient.
Ignorance is something else, and it appears that our U. S. Secretary of Education is embarrassingly ignorant about how public schools operate and about the importance of motivation to learn. Motivation to learn is a social process or cultural phenomenon. Many of our public schools and most of our private schools are doing quite well in this country because the students are highly motivated to learn and because the administrators at these schools would not think of tolerating defiant and disruptive students and allowing them to remain in the classes or in the schools and would not entertain the notion that irate and irresponsible parents would be permitted to berate and humiliate the teachers with impunity as they impassively watch these crazed parents pummel the hardworking and dedicated teachers.
What’s wrong with a certain sector of our public schools, Arne Duncan? I will tell you, and allow me to be quite blunt and specific: (1) Defiant and disruptive students who bring little or no motivation to learn to school; (2) Irate and irresponsible parents who neither model exemplary behavior nor hold their children accountable for proper conduct and hard work at school; (3) Angry and abusive administrators who are weasels and booger-eaters when it comes to standing up to the defiant and disruptive students and their irate and irresponsible parents but who instead blame the teachers for the students’ refusal to learn; and (4) Systematic cheating on standardized tests, teaching the tests, and narrowing the curriculum by making the tests themselves the curriculum (or, curricula). In this crazed desire to “close the achievement gap,” the schools have become testing factories, and the educrats have tried to turn the teachers into automatons. The scripted curriculum and cookie-cutter teaching methods have made once exciting times excruciatingly boring. This, Mr. Duncan, is why the dropout rate is so high (in addition to the inexplicable removal of vocational education in our schools).
The problem with our failing schools really doesn’t have a thing to do with longer school days or eliminating summer vacations. The curriculum has become super boring. The teachers are forced to teach while wearing pedagogical straight-jackets (especially at these failing schools), the students are not motivated, classroom discipline has almost become an oxymoron, and the parents and administrators have an inordinate penchant for blaming the teachers in order to salve their own consciences and to protect their own hides.