A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Those d***ed middle class values

Well, at our district we are entering year four of talking about raising achievement of minority students.

Do not think for one minute that I am kidding when I say:

First we listened to outside people read us really bad poetry. We listened to painfully cliched free verse with no internal meter, imagery, or intellectual or emotional heft beyond bathos (which can be fun to those who are looking for it) about sad-eyed puppies left out in thunderstorms and birdies with broken wings and acrostics spelling out "I CAN" down the left-hand margin. And then there's that R. Kelly song-- don't make me relive that. Those of us with a brain were then treated to these presenters then providing literary analysis of this treacle, too, since it was obviously so very deep that we just didn't get it on our own.

Then we spent six months (that's nearly an entire school year to you) trying to figure out what kind of communities made up our school. We spent four and a half of those months basically defining our characteristics.

Then we were told by more outside consultants that if we just loved our students really really hard that they would all achieve. And therefore, since they weren't achieving, we must not love them. So we needed to own up to the fact that we were all cold-hearted bastards who were not "child-centered" and either come to Jesus or leave the profession before we scarred someone for life.

Now, we are told that we should stop trying to impose "white" middle class values upon our students-- that's the problem, yeah.

Now, I have several responses to all of this:
One, when are we going to realize that it takes two to tango, and at least effort on both the parts of students and teachers not to mention parents to provide the opportunity for an education. Note I did not say "provide an education." Because no one is "provided an education." Would that it were so simple as to just pry open some heads and pour some knowledge in. How wonderfully easy that would be! But it's not. A student can sit in the most sparkly, well-apportioned classroom in the world, with a teacher with a Ph.D in her subject and empathy oozing from every pore, and if that student is not willing or able to tune in and spend some energy manipulating the content being presented, he or she might as well try to strap on a helmet and pads and claim to be Tony Romo just because he or she watched ESPN's Sports Center.

But more to the current, transitory point, before we veer off into yet another direction, is this one question that I would like to ask the people who claim that the imposition of middle class values (I will leave aside the "white" part for a moment) is the cause of all our problems:

Just where do you think you are?

You are in a school. The entire purpose of public education in this country is to instill so-called "middle class" values. Let us first figure out just what "middle class" values are, or at least are supposed to be. In an ideal world, this is what schools should teach:

1. Show up on time.

2. Follow directions.

3. Work for what you get. The world doesn't "owe" you anything.

4. Take responsibility for your actions.

5. Practice, study, sweat: this is required for improvement.

6. If you want more money, you need more skills and more knowledge.

7. Take those skills and knowledge and then go out and find a way to use them.

8. Persevere.

Now, notice I said "in an ideal world." Unfortunately, schools mirror society, which is another thing no one seems to get. But, as someone who has been in the working class and is now in the middle class, I can tell you that, rather than being a force for oppression, the above are the way out. Of course, they aren't easy. They require effort. They require personal responsibility. They require patience. They do not provide instant gratification.

I refuse to submit to the thesis that these are somehow evil concepts that are somehow prima facie racist. I don't believe that middle class values are "white," either, since that idea is related to the claim that minority kids who seek academic achievement are "acting white."

The crisis in our schools comes from the fact that education is denigrated as useless. Education is misunderstood as something that should be easy. Education is thought to be something that is provided to you.

No one seems to understand that education requires self-transformation, which is the most useful thing in the world, the hardest thing in the world, and can only be done by you.

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At 10/10/07, 9:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

SAY it.

Here's what our city district (NOT where I work, but where I used to live and where my child used to attend school) does to LOVE the children - when classified special ed. children curse and hit and are sent to the office, they are given CANDY.

At 10/10/07, 9:40 PM, Blogger Ms. Q said...

My hand really is frantically waving.

I hear you, I hear you, I hear you!

What will our "values" be in another 25 years? Who doesn't realize schools must, should, and do instill the values society lives by?

Is it because we moved up the social ladder that we understand this idea? And whatever happened to EFFORT meaning something other than simply filling a seat with your sorry looking behind?

I will ruminate further AND hopefully post on my own page soon.

At 10/10/07, 9:58 PM, Blogger Sam said...

Why is it that students of color who are working toward intellectual achievement and academic excellence are "acting white," and this is an acceptable insult?

One has to wonder what would happen if students with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement and an underdeveloped work ethic who demand respect they haven't earned were labeled as "acting _________ (insert minority group here)."

I was called racist for having the same high expectations for all of my students. What's more racist than claiming sloth, disrespect, and mediocrity are "cultural" and lowering the bar accordingly?

At 10/11/07, 9:20 AM, Blogger MommyProf said...

As a parent, it seems like it should be my job to instill those "middle class values."

I think schools are expected to do too much.

At 10/11/07, 10:44 AM, Blogger fillyjonk said...

Uh, my mom came from what was basically a working-class family, and they taught her every one of those values...What is so "middle class" about asking people to take responsibility for their actions?

At 10/11/07, 4:34 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Another thought: where will our country be as an economic entity after another 25 years of "The Entitlement Ethos?"

At 10/11/07, 5:38 PM, Blogger Mike in Texas said...

We're in the same boat, this past week all grade levels and all specials teachers had to meet to discuss how to raise the achievement level of one of our sub-pops. I have a few suggestions to add:

1. Shut your trap! That cool attitude you see on MTV only works for people with millions of dollars in the bank and a bunch of syncophants they are paying. To everyone else it just means you're a jackass.

2. Mind your own business. Yesterday I broke up a fight b/c one child, who I had already told to MYOB, was trying to take the pencil away from another child b/c she felt it didn't belong to that child.

At 10/11/07, 9:48 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

Well said, sweetie, well said.

AVIDIZING our school and the hope that our persistently failing "clusters" will volunteerily go to afterschool tutoring programs is our school plan. OH, and making the teachers attend more meetings. I have never seen such low spitits.......

At 10/12/07, 8:43 AM, Blogger Mrs. Bluebird said...

Another "right on" post...

At 10/12/07, 7:09 PM, Blogger ms-teacher said...

Thank you. As always you post what so many of us are thinking.

At 10/12/07, 8:20 PM, Blogger CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

I'm so impressed with your list of 8 things that public schools should teach that I'm going to copy it and share it with my students. Thank you!

At 10/12/07, 11:30 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Thanks so much, since I am feeling so very "wrong" and out of step....

At 10/13/07, 9:49 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Consultants are fascinating, aren't they?

What values are you supposed to be teaching? I'm dying to know.

We've had our share of consultants (if I were smart, I'd come up with an acrostic and go on tour and actually make some money); I suppose we're lucky in that our district doesn't have funding (unlike certain districts one could name that have lost their accreditation) to throw away on consultants that often, so we are minimally tortured by them. Instead, our staff is doing Social Justice training, in which we learn what nasty racist people we really are. Whee. And if we were less so, the gap would vanish. Right. The elephant in the room, of course, is that all parties in the equation need to commit to improving the situation, and so far only one party is doing all the work.

At 10/13/07, 11:44 AM, Blogger jonathan said...

Training kids to use upper middle class behavior is important. It's not that they have to do it all the time, but that they need to know how to turn it on when it is expected (job interviews, in some professional situations, with certain groups of people...)

I don't mean to change them, I mean to teach them.

At 10/13/07, 9:02 PM, Blogger Mrs. Chili said...

THANK YOU for saying what I've been thinking!

I'm dealing with a lot of junior college kids who think that now that they're PAYING for their education, that it's somehow a service that I'm to provide for them, as if I'm a household servant. They can't quite get beyond the fact that they're paying me (albeit indirectly) to MAKE THEM DO THE WORK. I tell them, with startling regularity, that I've already EARNED my degree - I'm not here to do this work; they are. Whether they choose to get their money's worth by putting in the required effort is entirely out of my hands.


At 10/14/07, 8:57 PM, Blogger M-Dawg said...

You said it sister!!!

You go girl!

At 10/15/07, 2:41 AM, Blogger Mamacita (The REAL one) said...

Amen. AMEN.

At 10/22/07, 4:38 PM, Blogger W.R. Chandler said...

I too will be copying and posting your list of the "Big 8". I have seen them individually here and there, but never so succinctly listed in one place.


At 10/27/07, 3:19 PM, Blogger Greg said...

So we needed to own up to the fact that we were all cold-hearted bastards who were not "child-centered" and either come to Jesus or leave the profession before we scarred someone for life.

To which my (sarcastic) response would have been "Leave the profession? You must be kidding! Scarring children for life is the whole reason I got into teaching in the first place."

Then I would have walked out the door, loudly stating that those who can't teach do professional development for teachers.


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