Archive | August, 2012

Boards Of Education

28 Aug

 

The public schools system is a social institution. One could even say that it is socialism in one of its most basic forms. Communities are empowered as a group to work together to provide for the education of all of the children within their town, city or district. Their local efforts are overseen, evaluated and financially bolstered by the county, state and federal governments. It is this public school system, conceived and founded over 200 years ago, which has directly contributed to and been responsible for this country’s rise in leadership, stature and dominance throughout the world.

The system is a good one and it still works in both practice and theory but it does have an Achilles heal and the chink in its armor that could bring about its untimely demise does not lie within its teachers, employees, administrators, tax base or children. Any problem the system has can be found in the same place where all business models ultimately find their problems and that is within its management and leadership. The public schools in America are businesses; Make no mistake about that, but unlike a typical business whose success is measured in profits the public schools’ success is measured by the success of its children. Businesses make money important. Schools make children important and that fundamental difference must never be forgotten.

The CEO of a business must be concerned with the company’s expenses as they relate to its profits but the CEO of a public school system must be concerned with the system’s expenses only as they relate to the successful learning of its children. As a parent, is cost your first concern when it comes to the well being of your child? Or is it your child’s well being that is your first concern?

So, who is the CEO of the public schools? The Board of Education is, and the Board of Education is a publicly elected body chosen by the school district’s voting age citizens. Their function is to oversee the public schools and make sure that those schools are serving the needs and best interests of their children. They hire a superintendent who acts as a liaison between the BOE and their management personnel and the public school teachers, administrators and staff.

This all sounds well and good but the question that I now ask is this. What qualifications does a person need to possess in order to become a local BOE member and oversee the day to day business of operating the local public school system? The answer? None! Except that of being a citizen of voting age who resides within the district. Is this how you would choose someone to oversee your business? Would you simply look for volunteers and then have your neighborhood vote? Or would you require or even demand that your CEO and board of directors have superior knowledge and expertise concerning your particular business, its products, consumer base etc.?

While we assume that citizens who run for their local BOE have the best interest of the children in mind, it is after all only an assumption and not a requirement. BOE members do not even have to have children in the public schools. They don’t even have to have had children or like them for that matter. And they can even act like children (which they often do) they just can’t be children.

Now I’m not suggesting that we let children run the public schools. What I am suggesting is that public school board members be required to have children who are in those public schools which they oversee. This will guarantee that they have a stake in the company, a reason to assure its success and a reason to keep close tabs on its daily operation and well being. Might a board of education such as I propose spend more money on its public schools, since that’s where its children are? Yes! Absolutely! If you starve your business of capital what do you think will happen to it? It will fail just like many of our public schools are failing now. And those that are failing are failing because they are in school districts where there is the most poverty and the greater likelihood that their BOE members do not have a stake in the public schools because those members no longer have school age children or no longer send their children to the “poor, old, run down” public schools and because they were most likely selected by an electorate that has no money or who no longer wishes to spend money on “those” kids who aren’t “ours”.

We all know that voter turnout in our representative, democratic system is often low and it’s even lower during school elections and still lower in areas of poverty (among voters who are poor) so the poorer a child is, the less likely that child will be represented by a public school BOE member who has a direct stake or interest in that child’s future success.

This is the flaw in our age old system. It does not address nor does it offer a safeguard for the problem of: What if the elected public school board has little or no relation to the children it is entrusted to oversee?

What if Ebenezer Scrooge and his ilk were elected to and held the majority on your town’s BOE? Would they have the best interests of your children in mind? Would they be required to? Would they most likely raise the budget or look for ways to cut spending? Would their interests lie with the welfare of your children or with the welfare of their businesses? In a country who values all of its children, should we allow their education this option? Are there no work houses? Are there no orphanages?

Until Scrooge was visited by his 3 angels and was foretold the bleakness and despair of a future bereft of love and generosity for all of his neighbors great and small, Tiny Tim was a casualty of Scrooge’s enterprise, an unavoidable bi product of wealth, an unwelcome after thought.

We must all listen to the angels of our better nature and take note of what will be the bleakest of futures for our country if we don’t love and care for all of our nations’ children equally. We must repair our current educational system by requiring board of education members to be representative of the children and families of those who attend the public schools. Each elected member must not only be an upstanding and educated citizen of his community but also a parent whose children attend that community’s public schools.

We cannot continue to build a better and stronger nation if our motto is going to be “God Bless Me.” Like Tiny Tim, the poor, crippled child who had to rely on the love and generosity of his family and community for his wellness and well being, our motto must be “God bless us, Everyone!”

Compassion vs Health

25 Aug

Compassionate Care or Health Scare?

     I used to worry about how I would afford to send my 3 children to college. I saw how expensive colleges were and the tuitions that I saw my students facing were rising steadily. I thought that sending my children to college would be the most expensive bill my wife and I would face in the future…but then I overheard two of my colleagues talking during lunch one day and I realized that the future was going to be a whole lot more expensive than I thought.

What my colleagues were discussing was the cost of healthcare for their children after college. Once their children left school and reached the age of 23 they were no longer covered by our health insurance policy…and that’s when the real expenses begin to accumulate, putting college tuitions to shame. In fact once your children leave high school you will be bombarded with phone calls and correspondence on a regular basis asking you to continually prove that your child is in school and attending classes and achieving passing grades. And if you can’t do so, your child will be booted off the insurers rolls faster than you can dunk your teabag in a cup of boiling water.

I was amazed at the stories I was hearing. Parents thinking that now that their adult children had finally left the protective womb of Takeoutasecondmortage University and would finally begin paying their own way in life were getting calls from those children asking for thousands of dollars more to cover their medical expenses.

Now that their children were adults and college graduates they were no longer under their parents’ protective medical coverage umbrella. Without jobs, they couldn’t afford to pay for their own insurance and even with jobs, many employers were no longer offering insurance coverage because the insurance coverage was more expensive to employers than a workers salary! And young adults were discovering that the purchase of private medical coverage on their own was more expensive than rent! So even if they had a job and paid rent they couldn’t afford private medical coverage and if they had a job and purchased medical coverage then they couldn’t afford a place to live! So they were dialing home and saying, “Please send money. I don’t feel well and need to see a doctor.” Or worse, they were moving back home!

Now thanks to what everyone is calling “ObamaCare” (like it’s a new disease or something!) my daughter is covered under my policy until she is 26 and hopefully by then will have had enough time to gain employment with medical coverage of her own. However, this seems to be making people angrier in America instead of happier because many are saying that healthcare is too expensive for even America to afford!

Is it really possible that healthcare in America is now so expensive that even the United States government can’t afford it? Then who can?? And how will any of us ever be able to afford it on our own in the future? Isn’t this an example of capitalism run amok? We now have a product in America, healthcare, that everyone needs but no one can afford! And it’s so expensive that no one wants anyone else to have it unless they pay for it themselves, which of course, is impossible!

In fact my school district’s Board of Education in the last year of my teacher’s contract offered our union this: An indefinite pay freeze with a 1.5% contribution to our health insurance premiums added to our deductions and to be adjusted upward on a yearly basis. This proposal would mean that beginning in 2010/11 a teacher’s salary would steadily begin decreasing to cover the costs of insurance coverage until…what? A teacher was working for nothing? Or rather, working for healthcare?

Now consider the fact that while insurance coverage from one’s employer is a great benefit it isn’t realized in the form of money paid to me. It’s paid directly to my doctor and dentist. They are the one’s who get part of what might be my salary paid directly to them through the intermediary of a fat cat middleman insurance company and everyone’s mad at me and my fellow teachers and fellow public employees, firemen and police and government workers included! What did we ever do besides show up for work and serve the public?

We’re not the ones charging outrageous prices for your bridgework and reading glasses and anti-depressants. God forbid you ever get really sick and actually NEED a doctor or a hospital! When my daughter went to the emergency room with appendicitis recently, she was rushed to the operating room, had her appendix removed and was home in 2 days. Our family was greatly relieved and overjoyed and glad that we were in a country where such great medical care was available to us all. But the total bill for doctor and hospital was almost $30,000.00! The house that my father, mother, brother, sister and I lived in for 25 years didn’t cost that much! And I’m not kidding!         

The good news? I didn’t pay the bill. I had insurance. The bad news? How could I or any other working class, middle class, American citizen have paid this bill? Ever? And if you consider all of the hospitalization, emergency room, dental, you name it, medical events in my family’s lifetime from births to emergency room visits to whatever, the total cost must be approaching a sum that only the richest Americans could actually pay out of pocket.

When I graduated from college in 1977 and was no longer covered by my father’s insurance policy, I was able to purchase my own medical insurance at low cost without any trouble at all. Doctor’s still lived and practiced in many of our neighborhoods and some still even made house calls.    

Today, personal medical insurance is almost if not completely unaffordable. Doctor’s live in private gated communities and rather than expect house calls almost 45 million Americans have no expectation for medical care because they can’t pay for it.

How does one explain to public school students who are studying business that it’s possible in America today to have 45 million potential customers for a business, yet that business doesn’t want them? Why aren’t we graduating doctors, who by the way have to learn from teachers, from America’s finest medical schools in the world who are eager to serve and bill this untapped market of citizens who are in need of medical care? Because they have a disease more deadly, virulent and apparently contagious than cholera, small pox, AIDS and the Bubonic plague all rolled into one. It’s called poverty! And it’s a disease we declared war on in 1965! And just like drugs, it’s still kicking our ass!

Until we address poverty in America and the role it plays in all American’s lives we will never solve the problems our children and our children’s children will face in their public health and in their public education. Is this a lesson that we can learn?

 

 

 

Compassion vs. Polio

24 Aug

      Back in the 1960s when I was a child, I remember my parents taking me to school one day and all of the kids were there lined up and waiting to take the Polio vaccine. We all stood on line and when we got to the front we were given a little cup with a sugar cube inside. We swallowed the cube, threw away the cup and that was it. No more polio. We didn’t really know what polio was or what it was we were taking to prevent it but our parents knew and they also knew what a wonderful program this was, to eradicate this childhood disease with the help of our government and a sugar cube…and all for free. (How nice was that?)

Today, I can’t help but wonder if we’d still do such a thing for our children and our families. Our country seems polarized over a debate as to whether or not children in the United States should be entitled to healthcare at all, let alone cured of deadly diseases. Today everyone seems overly concerned about the cost of such a thing and seems to give little concern as to the greater good of our children and our society. Back in the 1960s I never heard my parents or anyone else talk about how expensive the polio vaccine program was. Polio was a bad thing and needed to be prevented and the vaccine was discovered and of course would be made available to every child. Why wouldn’t it? This was our chance to get rid of polio once and for all. Parents protected children and the government helped parents to do that. It was the right thing to do and so it was done.

In the world of the 21st century curing polio probably wouldn’t be cost effective. If the condition still existed and we’d just recently found a vaccine to prevent it no doubt a corporation or pharmaceutical company would develop a pill to help ease the symptoms instead so that we could all still get polio but then take a pill or medicine to help us live a “normal” life with polio….and they’d do it and pay for it with a government subsidy of course… Or maybe an insurance company would decide (because who knows better than doctors or scientists these days?) that the vaccine was too risky and needed more study so in the meantime you could pay for the vaccine yourself and depending on how much money you had you could either purchase the new and expensive and “unproven” vaccine to prevent polio at a very high price and be done with it or take the pill and live with it, or if you had no money at all, get polio and be crippled by it. That would be what the government would call freedom at work and cost effective and a political compromise and the new polio business that Wall Street could invest in. Them that has gets! Them that don’t, gets it worse!

I don’t know if the government’s decision to eradicate polio back in the 1960s was socialism or not or just simply a compassionate response to a public problem but it sure was a nice thing and the right thing for our government to do and I’m glad they did it. Apparently there just isn’t any money in being nice anymore. Nice isn’t a business.

Doing the right thing isn’t always cost effective but should it ever have to be? Don’t all of our children and all of our children’s schools deserve the very best that our country has to offer, regardless of the cost of the sugar cube?

If we can drop a bomb on it we can just as easily drop a sugar cube on it too, can’t we? I mean really? Polio anyone? And so this leads us to our next lesson…        

 

Compassion

23 Aug

Those of us who work with children on a daily basis and who work with people who are less fortunate than ourselves get to see problems on an up close and personal level. All of us have problems. I think we can all agree on that. And all of us are children when you really think about it. We are all someone’s child aren’t we? Aren’t we always? Don’t you feel that child inside you when you think about your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles no matter how old you are?

Teachers and nurses, social workers and psychologists and therapists and police officers and firemen and anyone who comes in contact with people in need or distress meet that child everyday, whether or not that person is an actual child or a grown-up who is having a particularly traumatic day. Life is about children and when you see the child in need on a daily basis you can’t help but feel the need to help. You can’t help but experience the enormity of the need that is out there and you realize that it is on this level, the personal level, where things need to get done, where help and medicine and love need to be dispensed. This is where the effort needs to be redoubled and applied and expanded.

The further one moves away from this personal level, from being in the trenches, if I may use a familiar expression, the more difficult it is to comprehend what needs to get done, the harder it is to discern the problem at all. As we move from the realm of the worker who toils on the social level through to the realms of the administrators and politicians and members of society who live further and further away from these children in need, the conditions in those trenches seem trivial and remote and inconsequential…and from that distance, that safe distance, it’s so easy to say, “That’s not my problem. That’s their problem. What am I supposed to do? Let them take care of themselves over there, the way I take care of myself over here.” But it’s always those distant generals who are the ones empowered with the responsibility and who wield the resources necessary to make the decisions and find the solutions for those ever more distant sufferers. And because these policy setters and solution makers are so far removed from the blemished, acned situations of real life, they don’t see the blemishes or feel the urgencies or sense the simple humanity of the problems many people face. And as a result their compassion waxes and wanes, if it is ever moved to grow at all. And so the solutions begin to lose clarity and vanish as their field of vision grows ever more distant and the problems become ever more confusing and confounding until Poof! The problem is so far away that it has seemingly disappeared.

Distance destroys compassion. That’s why problems, especially where children are concerned, must be solved by the people most closely associated with the children. In the trenches one can see the solutions quite clearly. JUST GET ME OUT OF HERE! That’s what those of us who work on the social level see everyday. They see the need to get people to safety before anything else. Once out of the trench anything is better.

But is our society ready for this? Is this a lesson that we, the people, can finally acknowledge needs to be learned? It’s a simple lesson and here it is…

The trench is poverty and we’ve been waging war on it for 50 years yet still the trench grows and swallows up more and more of us each year and ironically our response as a society continues to be, “Money’s not the answer to poverty!” “Don’t give poor people money. Don’t spread the wealth and fill in those trenches. Don’t create a larger social network with greater social programs that will draw us all closer to one another and hence closer to the problems that we can then focus on together and solve. No! Run for the hills! Cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans and let them build ever larger mountains of money for us, the ever growing more unfortunate masses, to climb and clamber upon and fight over, until we have put enough distance between us and ourselves, our compassionate hearts and our greedy souls, our one nation and we the people, to notice that a society, just like the single human face, can only see itself in its own reflection. Life is all about being up close and personal. We all have to live up close and personal if we are ever going to see what needs to be done. Because if you want to see what’s in that mirror you need to move closer not farther away, don’t you?

So please, the first thing you need to do to help the public schools in our country is to move closer to them and closer to your children not further away. We need to work together to admit our failings and to solve our problems. America is no longer a melting pot of nationalities. When waves of immigrants came here from places like Ireland and Italy and Poland and other mostly European countries, they all had white faces and could blend in and melt into a nice white mayonnaise or Elmer’s glue but today in America for the first time in its history there is no clear cut majority. The white Europeans who first sailed the ocean blue to find this land for me and you, (remember singing that?) no longer account for over 50% of our country’s population. We are now more like a spicy stew or gazpacho with chunks of ethnic meats and savory multi-colored vegetables.

We’ve changed for sure but we need to remember that looks don’t make diversity, ideas do. And America has always been a nation of diversity and its founding ideas were supposed to be based on equality, to be governed by a republic as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

In public schools all over America we, the students, administrators and teachers, pledge every day to be in this thing together, one nation under god, and the only way we’ll be able to do it is if everyone outside of our schools pledges along with us! that’s the only way that we’ll be able to do it. But we will never be able to do it under a vengeful and vindictive god where some of us help and some of us don’t… perhaps though, under an empathic, loving and compassionate one, where we all pitch in together, we just might…but will we be able to teach our children and with them learn and reinforce the lesson of compassion? Once upon a time learning this lesson wasn’t a problem…so why should it be any more of a problem now?

Those Who Can and Those Who can’t

22 Aug

One day in class I was grading papers and it had been a long day and I was getting tired and… well, I thought it might be a good idea to ask a student to help me. So I asked, and an eager student raised her hand to volunteer. I handed her a stack of papers and an answer key and off she happily went. Later that evening as I was preparing to place the grades into my grade book I noticed that my helpful student had dutifully graded all of the papers that I had handed her. In fact, she was so diligent that she even graded the answer key! And it got an 87! So of course I had to stay up late that night rechecking all of those papers.

One of the things that can make being a teacher so difficult is that very soon after you take the job you realize that even though you’d like some help, you’re really on your own.

 

…And now a word about Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed and Confucius.

Oh wait! Come to think of it they were all teachers! Was that because they couldn’t do? I am so tired of hearing that one. People who teach can do just fine.  It’s just that they also love to teach. That saying, “Those who can do and those who can’t teach.” And there are many derivatives, comes from a play by George Bernard Shaw. So the first person to actually say this was a fictional character! And those who have said it afterwards in real life said it simply to be mean and insulting or to make a poor joke in bad taste but never meant to be enlightening in any way.

George Bernard Shaw himself was apparently not a lover of teachers and schools simply because where he grew up in the mid-19th century in Dublin Ireland schools, to paraphrase his own words, were more like prisons than places of education and teachers more like prison guards, and in his Treatise on Parents and Children, he said that he considered the standardized curricula, deadening to the spirit and stifling to the intellect. He was also not a big fan of the use of corporal punishment, which was common in his time. Not surprisingly many of the schools he attended were parochial in nature or influence.

            Today’s schools and teachers are of course quite different from the ones that existed over a century ago and when you consider what America’s public schools have to offer in the way of staff, services, professional expertise, opportunities, activities, equipment and technology they have to be among the greatest centers of knowledge of  all times! And every community has one and they are all available to the public with no charge for tuition since local, state and federal governments fund them through taxes paid by citizens. All public schools must take all children. There are no exceptions, no matter what race or creed and including students with special needs. In addition Public schools must abide by all federal, state, and local laws when it comes to the education of children. There are laws about funding, program development and curriculum. The schools must follow curriculum guidelines that include math, English, reading, writing, science, history and physical education and most schools include extra curricular activities in music and art. Plus, State certification is required to teach at a public school which ensures the parents that the teacher has gone through the required training necessary to teach the curriculum by the state and that the teacher can not only DO but teach as well!

            It has been proposed by some, including the governor of New Jersey, that teachers need not be certified and that more privately run charter schools should be approved and opened allowing instructors who are not certified by the state to work there. No doubt this proposal is an effort to make schools cheaper by driving down the cost of labor, first by employing non-certified personal to teach at a lower wage and then by using those lower wage earners as leverage to force certified teachers and their unions in public schools to accept lower wages or risk being replaced by more non-certified personnel. This is a typical strategy used in our country by corporations to drive down labor costs. unfortunately it also drives away well trained and skilled American workers and replaces them with foreign, or overseas or illegal workers. And it raises this very important question: Would you give up your job in order to lower your taxes? Would you give up someone else’s? Corporate and wealthy professionals know the answer to this question. It’s no! And if they say that I’m wrong then I propose that we begin opening charter law offices with un-certified lawyers who understand the law but who just don’t have a degree. I’m sure those “lawyers” would not have to charge $300 to $400 an hour just for a consultation. We have a lot of ex-cons in this country who have done a lot of law study during their incarceration. I bet they could use a job. Or how about allowing charter medical centers to open, staffed with un-certified physicians who could treat the 45 million people in this country who don’t have health care but who would like some medical advice at a lower cost. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there with medical training and skills who just never finished their schooling to get that certification and degree. Wouldn’t charter pharmacies be nice? I’m sure they would drive down the exorbitant, constantly rising, cost of pharmaceuticals in this country. How about a charter oil company or two run by Venezuelan or Canadian entrepreneurs where gasoline prices wouldn’t always rise immediately after that storm in the Gulf or where prices wouldn’t always be exactly the same as all of the other “independent” oil company “competitors”? How about a charter bank where un-certified and amateur bankers with business savvy and a knack for saving a buck or two (you probably have a few of these folks in your family) are allowed to manage and keep track of your money? Do you think they could hold onto your money without losing it or misplacing it or making illegal investments and ill advised loans and then having to be bailed out by the government? I bet we could save a buck or two if we had competitive charter banking in this country. Maybe we could even get some interest while they hold onto our money for years at a time!!!

 Is it really necessary that we require the teachers of your children to be qualified and certified by the state?

 Consider the fact that students who have special needs are NOT excluded by the state from attending the public schools but rather are welcomed and evaluated and recommended for special and enhanced programs. Along with special education, there are also classes for the gifted and talented, programs for children whose native language is not English, specialists to help children, such as guidance counselors, nurses, speech or language teachers, social workers, and psychologists. Many public schools have sports teams, clubs and other scheduled extracurricular activities after regular school hours. Drug and alcohol-abuse prevention programs are located in every school district and in the high schools and these professionals can also refer students to more intensive programs if needed.  The public schools also offer the latest in computer technology and libraries and many if not all of these facilities are made available to everyone in the community because it’s public and because the people who do this work for your children and on your behalf are trained, qualified and certified to do so! How about the arts? Many children would never be exposed to the arts, the very essence of what helps define us as humans, if it weren’t for the public schools.

There are so many jobs that need doing and so many areas of expertise and of specialization that require a highly trained and technical staff.

So what about the price for all of these public learning centers? Many would have you believe that the cost to the public is outrageously expensive or over priced and that teachers receive too much compensation and too many benefits, and all at a cost that is crippling the American family and tax payer. But is that really true? How expensive and how outrageous are our property taxes in the United States of America? In the United States public schools are funded by public tax dollars. The average amount of property taxes paid by an American homeowner is 3,384.00 dollars per year. In New Jersey where I live the average is 6,331.00 dollars per year in property taxes paid but we must remember that property taxes pay for other services also, not just the public schools. In fact about 2/3 of all property taxes or about 67% go to the public schools. That means that the average U.S. property tax payer pays about 2,267 dollars per year for the public schools in their district. That’s 43 dollars a week!

Or we can put this in perspective and say…1 carton of cigarettes! 3 cases of beer! 4 tickets to the movies! 2 tickets to a professional baseball game! (Maybe) NO tickets to a professional football game! 8…count them…8 minutes with a lawyer! 14 gallons of gas! 4 years of interest on 10,000 dollars in the bank! (Yes, that’s right! If you keep 10,000 dollars in a savings account and don’t touch it for 4 years you’ll have 43 more dollars!)  Could you expect to pay for a visit from a mechanic or plumber or electrician with 43 dollars where you live in America? Even in New Jersey where property taxes are higher we’re still only talking about 80 dollars per week or so for public schools in your school district. That’s a little over 4,200 dollars per year.

How much do you spend in interest payments for the mortgage on your home each year? How much does the ownership of one car cost you each year? How much do you spend on food in your home or even for food outside of your home? How much do you spend on utilities like phones, gas and electric bills each year? The U.S. Department of Labor’s latest survey on the expenditures of the average consumer unit in America shows (As of October 2010) that we spend more money on each of those categories then we do on taxes for the public schools. We even spend more money entertaining ourselves than we do on our public schools! All things considered, what we pay for our public schools is quite a bargain, especially since the people we employ there are people who only teach and don’t really do anything, except of course spend every day in the company of your children and most likely spend more time interacting with your children than you do so why pay for those guys? Why certify them? Because we need to make sure that the people who take care of our children and who we entrust to educate and guide them are well educated, well intentioned and well paid.

There’s an old Greek saying that “To have a child is to send your heart out into the world unguarded.” Putting out tax payer money where our children and our hearts are can never be a bad investment and in fact is the only investment that will pay dividends way into the future and beyond.

Or you can forget about what I’ve had to say and just listen to arguably one of the greatest teachers of all time and do what he suggests.                            

“If you do not look after each other, who will look after you?”

 

Bad School! Baaaaaaaaaaad School!

21 Aug

Why are parents and students interested in attending private schools or in obtaining vouchers that will help them leave the public schools and attend private or charter schools? Is it because the public schools are bad? I mean are the actual schools themselves, the buildings, dangerous or frightening or haunted? Or is it because the teachers, the faculty and administration, are dangerous or poorly trained or unqualified? Or maybe the staff is mean and anti-social or have extremely offensive body odor? Of course not. The buildings are fine. They’re inspected and well built and safe, even if perhaps at times a little older than one would like. The staff and faculty are certified and qualified; state tested and approved, even if perhaps a little older at times than one would like…but that’s not what makes a school bad.

So what could it be? What makes a bad school? What are the private, parochial, and voucher loving parents and students running from? They’re running from the other kids in those schools. Let’s be honest. A bad school is any school that has an overabundance of the wrong kinds of students; students of the wrong color or wrong religion or wrong culture. That’s what private schools provide an alternative to; kids that you don’t want your kids hanging around with.

A private school can provide a homogeneous grouping like all girls, all boys, all Christians, all everybody like me and mine. That’s what some people are after, and it is a free country after all, but if you want to attend the Anti-diversity and not the Uni-versity  then you should pay for it yourself and not with public monies or by taking money away from the public schools… But let’s play devil’s advocate for a minute and look at it from the pro-voucher stance and cut through all the euphemisms, i.e.; crap and be honest here. The public schools are where all of the public children go, right? So when you send your child there you:

  1. Send them to where all the bullies are!
  2. Send them to where they can easily find drugs, learn about them and buy them!
  3. Send them to where they can meet all the girls and boys and discover sex!
  4. Send them to a place where we now have to have security drills because who knows who could wander in unannounced and kill them—It’s public!
  5. Send them to where gang members look for recruits!
  6. Send them to where they are most likely to get hurt while playing sports!
  7. Send them to where no praying is allowed!
  8. Send them to where all of the crazy, reckless teenage drivers drive!

But all of these dangers come from the other parents’ children NOT the teachers! NOT the staff! NOT the administration! NOT the school building! Besides trying to teach them how to read and write, we are the ones who are also faced with the challenge of teaching them wrong from right. We’re not the problem! Firing us and taking away our tenure or our health care or our pay raises or our buildings isn’t going to make these seething hotbeds of teenage angst and lust better. It might make it cheaper but certainly not better.

Creating cheap, industrial, warehouse schools is how we got into this mess in the first place. We don’t need fewer schools with fewer teachers. We need more schools with more teachers, with fewer students in each. We need higher paid teachers who are more highly trained with more job security and with incentives to want to become even more highly trained. We need better neighborhoods with more available and better paying jobs and an infrastructure that is not old dilapidated and crumbling. What we need is more political, governmental and public support for our schools.

Any talk about doing anything else is just what it is: The latest crap served on a steaming hot pile of waste by thieving political cheapskates who would take a dollar out of their poor mother’s pocket to give to their whoring special interest girlfriends just for a vote now wouldn’t they?

So if we really want to save money in the public schools here’s what we should do.

First of all, school’s too long! It begins too early and it ends too late. When was the last time any adjustments were made? And why are we always so reluctant to make changes anyway? Here is a list of my reforms.

School begins at 9AM! No more getting up before the sun and wandering into the building with one eye open. This will give students some time to eat some breakfast and maybe say hello or goodbye to some family members, maybe even time to establish a relationship with some family members. Imagine that! Mornings with breakfast, time to wake up and relationships! What a concept for the modern world.

Since we’re beginning school later in the day we’ll have to eliminate some things…Phys. Ed., Music, Art, Cooking, Woodshop, Acting, Foreign Language, Sports…OK, everything but…

ENGLISH, MATH, HISTORY and SCIENCE:

4 classes then go home!

9AM-1PM

That’s it. School’s closed. Shut up shop and we’ll save a bundle!

What? You’re hungry? Go home and make lunch!

Now what would be so wrong with this idea? Less school, fewer teachers, more savings, right? Well maybe this would be possible if we were living back on the prairie where Ma was at home churning butter while Pa was out in the fields churning manure but we’re not. This is the 21st century where no one lives at home during the daytime. Families these days are like vampires. They only gather at night! I remember a school day not so long ago during the winter when a storm developed during the school day and our superintendent decided to send the district school children home early which was not an uncommon practice but for reasons of good fortune or fate hadn’t been done for quite a few of the preceding years. That decision nearly cost him his job because the parents were furious. Most of the district homes were empty during the day and the children upon arriving home early were either alone in their homes or locked out and left stranded on the porch or front stoop in a winter snow storm. Moral of the story? No one wants their kids home during the day! The daytime is when all good little vampires go to school and stay there!

So if in today’s modern America we were to shorten the public school day or shut down schools what would we do with the kids? No one is home. All of our parents are working! And if you’d like to consider an alternative like day care, the average cost of daycare in this country is $8,150 per year…for each child! To be paid out of your pocket not the tax payers. And that’s just for caring not schooling too! So let’s face it. Public school is not going anywhere. It’s here to stay because you don’t want your kids at home during the work day do you? And Without the public schools to keep an eye on your children while you’re out working for the almighty dollar little Tommy the Tank engine of capitalism would crap his pants and derail the money train.

What vouchers are really for is a new kind of public school that doesn’t have YOUR kids in it. Vouchers are a another version of the good old money grab; a way to divert public monies into the private and religious sectors and when was the last time that you saw something privatized  turn out being good for the middle class and the public at large. Eventually everything that is privatized becomes more expensive because once government lets go of something it lets go for good and that means the end of any chance at regulating prices except for the use of subsidies which is another money grabbing operation that forces out the working classes and opens up more opportunities for the wealthy to step in and rake in the cash.

There are no bad schools. Those schools that we call bad are only poor, old and neglected ones. Calling a school bad or failing is just as bad as calling your own children names. What does it accomplish and what purpose does it serve? That’s how you really leave children behind by calling them more names and destroying their sense of worth and self esteem and their community’s sense of worth and self esteem and then shutting down their ones source of hope for a brighter future.

We need the public schools of this country to remain supported, well funded and public because the word public does not mean ME or YOU. It means ME and YOU as in US! The word UNITED is our country’s first name is it not? Abraham Lincoln once said that “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” And he continued, “I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

If we do not support our public schools they will most certainly become all one thing and that one thing will most definitely be bad; bad for our children, bad for our country and bad for us all. We cannot run from what we don’t like. We cannot wave our fingers at it and call it bad and expect it to suddenly behave more to our liking. We cannot move to the other side of town and say, “We’ll take care of our kids, you take care of yours.”

We must work together and live together and learn together and support one another while doing it with all of our resources and all of our citizens and all of our diversity in order to make our schools and our children and our great states all one very good and important thing again…of ALL the people, by ALL the people and for ALL the people…or in other words, UNITED.

 

Parents: How to Make Your Children Successful Students (In 3 easy steps)

19 Aug

Now that you know what the experts say works when preparing your children for school and a proper public education, here are three more important tips about how to raise your children to be successful students. I have gleaned these very simple and basic but most important principles of behavior from my 50 years of experience in the classroom as both a student and teacher.

So Please, Please, PLEASE teach your children these three most simple and most basic principles of behavior before you even think of sending them off to the public schools?

  1. Before you send your children to school teach them how to sit still.

Do whatever it takes because this is the most important skill in education. Seriously! If you can sit still, you can learn. If you can master the art of sitting still you can do almost anything and teachers, principals and guidance counselors will love you. If you can’t sit still, let’s face it, there isn’t much you can do or will be good for later in life except maybe night watchman at the chair factory. Nobody likes a kid who can’t sit still. Those children create chaos. They steal the show. They become the focus of all attention. They’re annoying. And if they’ve pooped their pants they stink up the joint. (You remember him don’t you?) Sit still and you control your environment. You blend in. Your demeanor says, “I’m here and I’m ready to learn!” You’re in the group and you only stink up a few desks nearby.

So practice with your children. Sit together. Go to places where sitting still is required. Sit at dinner. Sit in front of the TV. Stand on long lines together. Go to grandma’s house and make them sit there for a while. Then tell them that because they sat so well they can go out and play and skip grandma’s dry cheese sandwiches and tea. Ha! Now they’re practicing recess and gratitude! See how easy it is?

Say things to your children like, “Sit!” “Sit down young man!” “Did I say sit young lady?!” “Just sit there till your father gets home!” (Warning: only say this if you know that father is coming home) “Sit right there until we’re finished with desert.” “If you don’t sit still that man with the razor is likely to shave your head off with your hair too!” (This I remember from my very first haircut…and I sat very still.)

Be bold. Be imaginative. And practice with your children. Let them see that you have mastered this important skill by sitting with them from time to time. Show off by sitting with your husband through that entire ballgame or by sitting with your wife through that entire birthing process! Attention Parents! You can never start early enough! Now sit!

  1. Listen! Teach your children to listen! The ability to listen is the

second most important skill for a child to learn before attending school. Why not the first you ask? Because while listening is a higher order skill than sitting (just ask any dog) a child who sits but can’t listen is much better than a child who listens but cannot sit. (Think mine fields!) I’ll bet you can remember that classmate who sat in your class for 12 years and who graduated still dumb as a post. How did he do it? He could sit still! But, that classmate who could listen but not sit? I’ll bet you remember him and are thinking right now, whatever happened to that guy?… or where’d she go? They couldn’t sit still! So they went!

Anyway, back to listening: important skill #2. After all you don’t just want a graduate, you want a productive, intelligent member of society right? Not to mention someone with enough intelligence to be able to get out of your house! So teach them to listen! How? Talk to them! While they are sitting! Ask them questions then YOU listen for the answers. Ahh…setting an example. Teaching by doing. How simple! Did you know that the typical parent spends less than 15 minutes per day talking to his or her children?  That’s 91 hours and 15 minutes per year or 456 hours and 15 minutes in the 5 years leading up to Kindergarten. That’s 19 days! (And 15 minutes!)

So, the average parents conceive and birth a child and then talk to their son or daughter for the equivalent of only 19 days out of their first 5 years of life before sending them off to school?!!? Thanks a lot mom and dad! Kids can’t learn to listen unless you talk to them and have conversations! So parents, start talking to your children! And listen to what they have to say!

3. Teach your children to be respectful. The ability to be respectful and the knowledge of what it means to be respectful is the third most important skill that your child must possess if he or she is going to be a successful learner. Why is this skill third? Because if they can already sit and listen then they are already being respectful. Now it is time to teach them to be aware of what showing respect to others actually means. The best way to do this is by you showing respect to your children and to your spouse and to your friends and to everyone, in front of your children…and your spouse and your friends and everyone.

Don’t just demand respect from your children. This never works because they don’t know what it is. They’re just kids. You must demonstrate this all important skill and practice it with them. Children need to be made aware and to understand that adults are not just big children. Children need to know that an adult is someone who they are expected to become and that childhood is just a short grace period that we have afforded to them on their way to a place where people sit still, listen and behave with respect towards others…just like you do. So remember parents: sit still, listen and be respectful. Teach your children to behave like adults and their teachers will teach them the rest.

It’s All In the Head!

17 Aug

My best advice for education reform now and in the future is to take care of the children and simply this…”Parents and children of the world! Protect the head!

Forget about mandatory seat belts and car seats and bicycle helmets for young children. It’s too late by then. I say mandatory helmets for all newborns, not to be removed until the age of ten! We’ll have to develop some new age material that will be form fitting and fashionable of course and impervious to assault from small animals, siblings and adults who like to shake, shake, shake… shake their kids silly, but we can do it!

How did I arrive at this startling realization that the head is our most important teaching and learning tool? One day during class it occurred to me to ask one of my lower track freshmen classes, after a particularly hard day of trying to get them to understand the concept of sitting still, if perhaps any of them had ever suffered from head trauma as a young child? Blank stares filled the room and not one hand was raised. Briefly confused myself, I quickly realized my mistake and explained that trauma meant getting smacked upside the head.

That’s when every hand shot up into the air.

“Oh sure, said one boy, my brother hit me in the head with a baseball bat!”

“When did that happen?” I asked.

“Everyday when I was 6!” came his answer.

“Me too!” Said another boy, but it was my dad who hit me. Mom tried to protect me though. She said, hit him in the ass you idiot.”

“I fell down the stairs! Lots!” said a young girl.

“I fell out of the car.”

“I ran through the sliding door window!”

“I liked to hit myself with my shoes! Said another girl. That’s when I got my first pair of sneakers and went to the “Little Genius Academy”. I used to be a genius you know.”

And that’s when I knew I was on to something. All of my poorly performing, low achieving, attention demanding students had all suffered head trauma at an early age and some consistently! In every class, when I asked my students this question, almost always, all hands went up. It was their one common bond (besides being stupid).

So I say this to all parents and children everywhere. Protect the head! At all times!  It’s the only one you’ve got and you’re going to need it every day!

The Language Is Everything

16 Aug

Words are everything. They are our most important tool in communicating with others and how we learn language and learn how to use language will have much to do with our success and our failures in life. The beauty of words is that they can have so many varied and different meanings depending on where and how we use them. However, what makes words beautiful in one person’s mind can also make them ugly and frustrating in another. How are we supposed to know what a person means unless they are exact and precise in what they have to say? One man’s definition could lead to another man’s doubt. Take for example the Declaration of Independence; a document that although forthright in its declarations can reveal upon closer scrutiny that when words are chosen carefully enough, meanings that seem straight forward and clear can still be open to further and even contradictory interpretations.

“All men are created equal.” That seems simple enough doesn’t it?

All: Everyone. Men: Male. Created: Made. Equal: Same.

So what they were so eloquently saying was, every male is made the same.

They could just as well have written “All people are equal.” Not very poetic but definitely more precise and certainly leaving nothing to argue about, but they didn’t did they?

By using the word men they were excluding half of America’s population, namely the women! By using the action verb created instead of a verb of being like is or are they were implying that after someone does the creating, we can still make you a slave, or ignore you altogether, like the Native Americans and African Americans, thereby leaving out another 20+ percent of the continents population. In all honesty, once you’ve added “men are created” to the sentence then words like all and equal are useless modifiers.

It took me a long while before it occurred to me that two of my favorite founding fathers from history, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, owned people. No matter what their thoughts were about freedom and the rights of people, they never let it get in the way of business. They truly were the first trickle down theorists weren’t they? If American slaves would only join the revolution and fight along side the colony’s white revolutionaries there would be freedom for all upon victory. First freedom from the tyranny of the British king would come to white Americans who would then eventually see to it that freedom from the tyranny of white American slaveholders would eventually trickle down to the lesser American’s… like slaves. And it only took 4 score and 7 years (and a civil war) for the trickle to make it all the way down.

So we need to stress in our public schools and to our public school students that not only is learning to read and write important but also that the study of words and their various meanings and usages are equally important if not more so. Students must be admonished to always remember to use them carefully and remember that others may be using them carefully too. And above all, like our founding fathers, have some fun with them because not only is language important, language is everything. Now go read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States (I’ll bet you never have really read them before) and see if you can figure out what our founding fathers were trying to tell us.

And while you are at it how about starting a little notebook for yourself right now? Jot down all of the words in this book that you do not understand or maybe have never heard before and then look them up in a dictionary and write down their definitions. If you don’t want to go to all of the trouble of getting your own notebook (makes you feel like a student again, huh?) then just copy the words and definitions down on the blank pages at the end of this book. Darn! Now you have to go get a pencil…and then try not to lose it! See the great difficulties that our young students face in school? But if you do it you WILL learn something and gain some Knowledge in the doing…and Knowledge IS power, especially word knowledge. The more vocabulary you learn, the more you will understand what people are saying. Increasing your vocabulary is almost like learning a foreign language. In fact for many of my students over the years studying a foreign language in school was easier for them than studying English! Go figure!

Mr. Picone’s recommended Collection of

Big Ass Words for College

In any language, words are important. No matter what language you speak, increasing your vocabulary within that language will increase your intelligence, your knowledge and your ability to communicate. Building a large vocabulary is like acquiring a large circle of friends. The more people you know the more opportunities you have to make connections in life that will enhance your ability to influence others and for others to influence you. It works the same with words. As more and more words become available to you, your ability to access knowledge will increase as will your ability to understand what others have already learned and have written down for you to read and absorb. And you’ll look sound and actually be smarter!

One day in class my students were copying the weekly vocabulary list into their notebooks when a student sighed and remarked, “Man, these are some big-ass words!”

So here is your opportunity to begin your own personal dictionary of big-ass words for your own enjoyment, enrichment and edification. This is the fundamental lesson about education. It’s all about the student! If you want to learn you will learn. Teachers are facilitators who tell you the information you need to know or who can show you where to find it and who can help you to process it and find meaning in it but they can’t remember it for you and they can’t pay attention for you and they can’t listen for you. Education is all about being a good STUDENT.

So…If you are not familiar with a word that then write it down and look for its definition. (No need to go crazy, usually a single word synonym will do) Do whatever it takes to help you understand the word’s meaning and be able to make it one of your new big-assed best friends. If making new friends is not your thing, well then, just keep on reading…but just in case, look at it this way; What if you don’t like what I have to say? If you’re going to take the time to read this book then why not come out at the end smarter than you were when you started?

 

When Will We Ever Learn? This is What Works!

16 Aug

We all have to learn. We aren’t born with the knowledge of anything. Babies can’t walk, talk, feed themselves, find shelter or make clothes and they have no innate knowledge of how to do these things. They have no ideas about what a number system is or that using symbols to communicate in writing would be a good idea. They have absolutely no knowledge of who god or their creator might be or look like and they wouldn’t know what to call him or her if they saw them. Babies don’t even know their ass-terisks from their elbows.

So the question is; what do humans rely on the most when it comes to growing and learning; Is it nature or nurture? Nurture is the effect the people in your life had on you as you were growing up. An example would be the values your parents taught you. Nature is the genetics you received from your ancestors, like hair and eye color. And of course the answer is both! And so your life begins with your very own various and sundry combination of nurture vs. nature and you get ready to rumble. But remember! You can’t get yourself ready. You’re just a baby! Ah, there’s the rub! It’s those first few formative years that are so important. You can’t do anything to take care of yourself until you learn from someone HOW to take care of yourself. You see, it’s all about being taught! It’s all about teaching!

Now, assuming you came out of the womb with positive nature stats and all systems are go then it’s entirely up to Nurture during those early years, and hopefully mom and dad popped the champagne at birth not conception! Nurture provides for so many variables that by the time you are ready for school at around age 4 or 5 the combinations for your potential success or failure are astronomical! And you, the baby, won’t have any idea how well you are being nurtured. What’s your earliest memory? Are you age 2? 3? What the heck was going on before then?

Every child has to be taught how to do whatever it is they will be doing as an adult. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, baker, candlestick maker, thief; somebody gave them instructions on how to do what they do or at least led by example so the child could pay attention and learn by observation (which is teaching too!) The reality is that all of us have to be taught something at sometime by somebody.

Yes, it all begins with good Nature and that’s up to your parents (and ancestors), but once you’re born it’s all Nurture, baby, Nurture, because let’s face it once you’re born your parents are responsible for whatever Nature you’ll be exposed to and that’s all part of Nurturing too, right? So you see, it’s all about Nurture. And Nurture means parenting! And parenting means teaching! And so teaching is what everyone does!  “People of the world! Yes, you are a teacher too!”

What you are about to read is not conjecture. It is what careful research and human observation has discovered to be true when it comes to the developmental success of young human beings, namely, our children. In the 1980’s United States president, Ronald Reagan, (and who doesn’t love President Reagan?) directed a special presidential commission to once and for all determine what it is that makes students successful learners in the home and in the classroom. This is what they discovered. It wasn’t a secret. In fact it was common, time tested, human knowledge: Now condensed for your reading pleasure and self edification.

SO TAKE CAREFUL NOTE!

IT WORKS!

Repeat after me: This is WHAT WORKS WITH CHILDREN.

Now Read!

  1. Talk to your children. Have discussions with your children and listen to what they have to say. It’s called conversation.
  2. Read to your children and encourage your children to read on their own. In order for children to become literate, they must have literate parents. One’s ability to read at or above age and grade level and one’s success in school are so directly linked that they are in fact the same thing!
  3. Count things with your children. Use numbers and counting to have fun. Add! Multiply! Life is math. (Get it?)
  4. Let children draw and scribble and create stories. Encourage them. Use all the crayon colors! (don’t forget to count them and read their names)
  5. Nurture their talent. Get involved in and observe your child’s activities. What excites them? What draws their attention and makes them want to learn? Help them pursue their natural abilities.
  6. Emphasize the importance of hard work and responsibility. Work hard and take responsibility for your actions in front of your children.
  7. Get involved with your children’s school and teachers. Go to “Back to school night”. Meet the teachers. Show you care.
  8. Phonics! Don’t just teach your children the sounds that animals make… Teach your children the sounds that letters make too!.. And how we blend those sounds together to make other sounds and words and sentences and language.
  9. Storytelling. Encourage your children to use their imagination. Fairytales and cultural or family legends are a great place to start. Imagine that!
  10. Encourage your children to get involved in extra curricular activities that complement, not replace, academic studies.

Parents of the Earth, This is WHAT WORKS. Now do! Just follow this simple outline, treat your children with the utmost care and for God’s sake protect their heads and put their helmets on!

Joanna Funk

piano accompanist and teacher

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