Out of Service

Every few months I have to go to a teacher ‘inservice.’ This is better (I guess) than being ‘out of service,’ which is the way I feel most of the time.

Mid-February is a good time to bring teachers together and force them to absorb new and meaningless acronyms that will presumably make someone a little richer. That is the thinking of our school board.

For teachers, it provides an excuse to pool our cynicism, complain about things and go out for a long lunch.

My thought is this: teachers have taught students for thousands of years without having inservices. Why does education suddenly require fixing all the time?

“Suddenly” in Daxworld doesn’t mean a few minutes ago, or even yesterday. It refers to any time in the last fifty years or so. In the cosmic calendar, formal education has only been going on for a few seconds.

But educators speak a new language these days, and we go to inservices to maintain our fluency. It’s called Educanto. It consists mostly of acronyms and optimistic euphemisms. The 3 R’s are no longer as we remember them; now they are Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships. We can’t just sit down and talk with other teachers, ask advice, try new things. Now we must meet in Collaborative Peer Groups or Professional Learning Communities and have an Plan for Action Research.

We can’t talk about failure. Kids who are failing are “not yet successful” or “working towards proficiency.” Those who misbehave, if they are not already pegged as SBH or ADHD or have an IEP, are counseled and given options. We still expel students, but all that means is they’ll be back in three months, by which time they’ll be so far behind that they’ll have only two options: 1) behave badly, or 2) go truant.

I’m not saying that giving students choices and counseling them are bad ideas. The problem is that we are all refusing to look at the elephant in the room: free compulsory education.

People don’t value what they don’t pay for; nor do they value things they don’t choose.

Every child is told that they are going to college. This is a noble ideal, but all many students want or need is a high school diploma. A lot of kids enjoy useful occupations; some of my D and F students have fixed things in my room, are happy to get more texts from the book room, or move the furniture in the room around. I practically have to bribe them to do homework, but if I say, “Let’s take down the bulletin boards,” they all spring into action. They like being useful.

The assumption that everyone needs a college education demeans the people who cut our hair, fix our sinks, dry-clean our clothes, answer the phones, and fix the roads. It implies that they did not choose their jobs, but had to settle for something less because the educational system failed them.

The system of education in this country fails a lot of people by giving them no real choices. People who have few choices get frustrated. In young people, frustration can lead to bad behavior.

And there are no consequences for misbehavior in school. If you start a fight in a restaurant, you may be arrested. If you start a fight in the school cafeteria, you will be put out of school for ten days. And counseled. 90% of discipline problems are caused by about 5% of the students, who have learned one thing at least: there are no consequences.

Give students some real choices. Let those 5% work at a job for a few years. Let them grow up a bit and decide what they really want. Then give them the opportunity to come back for that free education.

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