breaking the downward spiral of education

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So here’s the thing.  I think it’s time to open the flood gates… I’ve had several conversations and read several recent articles or blog posts in the past four days alone, nevermind those in the last 10 years, that are pointing me to something I’ve known for a long time was coming and is only going to get worse.  Something we have to stop, before it’s too late.

We have a massive crisis in education in the US and around the world.  

I was a public elementary school teacher for only 4 years, and a Christian Education Director for 3 years, not to mention the additional 15+ other years I’ve spent in education-related fields.  I’ve taught Vacation Bible School and swim lessons, coached swim teams and led Bible studies at juvenile delinquent centers, run ministries of college kids and tutored elementary kids, worked as a  day camp counselor with tweens and a live-in camp counselor with pre-tweens and teens, was an adventure camp director, have supervised youth directors and young adult and college ministry leaders, run cradle-to-grave education programs and developed community outreach programs, among other education-based experiences.  I taught 4th grade in the district that neighbors my hometown, and I’ve taught 2nd, 4th, and 6th grades in my former elementary school in my own home school district.  I was a substitute teacher in secondary schools while I was pregnant with our oldest girl, and I’ve since spent the last 7 years home-educating all three of our girls.  

I’ve talked with kids who asked me what they’re supposed to do when they are required to earn the money for their families by selling or distributing drugs on their parent’s behalf.  

I’ve hugged kids who were pushed down stairwells, were chased while threatened with knives and neglected by their mothers.  

I’ve fed kids who otherwise would not have had a meal for the day, as their parents never completed the free-or-reduced-lunch forms, and the kids were too young to do it themselves.  

I’ve prayed for kids whose parents were in jail on drug abuse charges, who stole the kids’ Social Security numbers and ruined their futures with financial abuse, who were removed by the state and put into other family members’ care or foster settings.  

I’ve had to call Child and Youth Services for suspected beatings over a child’s test scores, for a child who came to school smelling of baby vomit and cat urine after being up all night caring for a newborn baby brother in the car while the mother was dealing or doing drugs with her new boyfriend, recently released from jail after being convicted of being a pedophile, and for the same child who came to school covered in bruises after being beaten by a belt and neglected to the point of having a 2″ lice bug in her hair.

 I’ve broken up fist fights on an almost daily basis with boys who were bigger and taller than I am, tried to battle against the raging racism between some of the kids and the horrifying treatment of kids with learning disabilities who were repeatedly slammed into urinals or sinks and bullied beyond the breaking point.  

I’ve taught students whose parents allowed them to watch graphic horror movies before they were in elementary school and walk them through cemeteries after the child is kicked out of school for inappropriate behavior.  

I’ve taught second graders who were pooping in their pants in my classroom because they were afraid of what was going on at home, who jumped off of furniture and ran around the room and threw desks and chairs – not that much could be done about that except to physically stand in the way of the flying objects hurting another child.  

I’ve had students’ parents try to punch me in the face in public settings over science fair project grades, and parents who reported me to the principal for sending home the classroom work in addition to the homework for a gifted class that refused to listen and accomplish the classwork.  

I’ve had parents who screamed in my face in front of my students and who swore every possible word at me on the phone, loudly enough that my class could hear it – over homework where the parent required more perfection in completion than I did.  

I’ve had parents who threatened lawsuits when I mentioned that their child was somewhat disorganized and could use a homework planner, and the wonderful but rare parents who eventually recognized that the demanding project I assigned actually had some long-term value and who later thanked me for the lesson.  

I’ve had parents who went to the principal over a B on a test that their child admittedly didn’t study for, only to get special permission for the child to re-take every future test where an A was not the resulting grade.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars for classroom supplies, resource materials, special projects, and anything else that could be helpful for even one child in my classroom.  

I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of hours rewriting curriculum for better projects that applied to my students, developing fun standards-based lessons and hands-on activities where there would otherwise have been none, creating outreach and community programs in school and church settings, meeting with staff and principals and students and administrators and church leadership, grading and recording endless papers and tests, among so many other similar time-consumers.

So I’ve had some idea for a while now that education is slipping, not just because of the behaviors in the classroom – which I firmly believe are children’s outcries for help, based on what they’re lacking elsewhere in their lives – or the test-driven academic push that has taken over the joy of learning.  

Too many schools don’t have simple resources of paper and pencils, limited amounts of other supplies that are necessary for learning, and yet their students are expected to excel on state and federal tests to hopefully earn more money for the district to adequately educate them.  

Too many schools are missing adequate numbers of textbooks and functioning desks, while other schools are receiving iPads and 3-D printers.  I’m not saying that those tech tools aren’t remarkable for education, but why are those same schools also not supplying pencils or paper for their students?  

Too many schools have rampant issues with bullying and cyber-bullying, as they’re trying to play catch-up as technology and aggression and violence race ahead, almost untouched until tragedy strikes.  

Too many schools have kids who will go hungry over the weekend and for holidays because they won’t receive free or reduced meals from the school district.  

Too many kids love school simply because it is the only safe place in their lives, and yet they are growing steadily more anxious over their safety in the wake of one school shooting massacre after another and active shooter-training programs they must go through – to learn how to survive.

For as academic as schools are trying to be and as standards-driven as testing and curriculum has become, there are increasing numbers of students who just aren’t “getting it.”  Budgets and state or federal funding has decreased to the point that non-academic programs and special education classes are being cut, minimized, or cancelled – programs that are really important for kids who don’t “do school” well, who have test anxiety or don’t learn through traditional methods, who really need other ways to develop skills they can use in the future.  

Every person learns differently, and to assume that every child will excel at paper-and-pencil tests when we have made a point in education of differentiating instruction for every child in the classroom to adequately succeed and to eventually take traditional tests – we are failing ourselves and our future workforce.  (Husband has seen this first-hand as his family’s electrical contracting business has struggled for years to find enough suitable employees who have the necessary skills to do the work, and a dedication to the hard work that is involved in not just showing up for work, but in actually performing the tasks to the degree of excellence that the company requires.)

And it isn’t that there isn’t an effort being made to slow the decline of not just our educational practices and increase the academic rigor we hope will be competitive with other international education powerhouses.  

Every school in every district has teachers that are working incredibly, insanely hard to care for their students both academically and wholeheartedly – as they are children first and students second.  Every school has teachers and staff who pour their hearts and souls into their work and their students, trying to create environments for success.  

Many schools and districts have administrators who are doing the best that they can to support their teachers and the efforts being made in the classrooms, to start innovative programs that will entice kids to learn or that will show kids that they are cared for, to fight the system that suppresses the financial needs required to run adequate, much less excellent, educational practices. 

Certainly there are educators and administrators who make seriously bad, and sometimes devastating choices in their self-control, behaviors, and management – but I truly believe that the vast majority of those people entering the educational arena do so with the absolute best of intentions and really work hard to fight the burn-out that too often swallows them up.  I say this as a burned-out former teacher who is now home-educating her kids, not because I want to put them in a bubble, away from the disheartening environments I’ve described, but because I want them to work with me to help develop programs to change learning for other kids.

Because every school has amazing kids who are trying unbelievably hard to do their best, whatever their best may be, to succeed and excel or to at least do well enough not to draw too much negative attention to themselves.  

Every school has resilient, tough kids who fight against the odds to learn as much as they can to escape the lives they’ve known, and every school has exhausted, overworked kids who have been struggling so hard at home or at school that they just give up.  

Every school has kids who have the potential to do incredible things in their lives and in the lives of those around them, perhaps even in the lives of people around the world.  

Every school has kids who will, tragically, get lost in the system or turn down the wrong path, toward addiction and abuse, pornography or trafficking, become runaways or homeless or criminals, away from the future they could have and should have had.

The thing that burns me the most is that kids don’t have a choice.  Babies are born into this world as completely helpless, totally dependent people who have no idea what life is, what it could be and what it should be.  

Born into drug or alcohol dependency and having to endure withdrawal as a tiny newborn, born into physically or mentally abusive home lives where they don’t want to go home because they’re afraid, born into emotionally destructive situations where they don’t learn good behaviors toward themselves or others, born into foster care (thankfully, they are still allowed life) because of a parent’s choices that led to jail time, born into poverty or violence or homelessness or hunger… the list goes on, and so does the cycle.  

KIDS DON’T HAVE A CHOICE.  

Yes, many kids have amazing parents who love them to the moon and beyond, parents who would move heaven and earth to protect them or to provide the world for them, parents who work so hard to give them a better life than they had themselves.  Thank God for parents who are supportive and encouraging of their kids, who hold kids accountable and responsible for their behaviors toward themselves, others, and property, who teach them the value of hard work and doing their best to achieve their best.  

And these same parents are probably the ones who could never fathom that the other world of parents and home lives exist.  I know that I have an incredibly hard time stomaching the idea that babies and children and young adults could live in such heart-breaking situations.  The children that grow up in these unfathomable settings are at risk of so much more than academic failure, and although there are organizations like HERO Child-Rescue Corps (www.protect.org/hero) and Love 146 (love146.org), and I’m sure there are many others, that work diligently and tirelessly to raise awareness or to scrape up the pieces of the children that are used or abused, and to rescue or rehabilitate the kids who are victimized…  it is still happening.  

Our schools have become battlefields where we are forgetting the hearts and souls and beings of the children and young adults who are waging wars so many of us know nothing about.  

So much of our national attention is focused on playing catch-up to bullying and abuse and academic adequacy, but we are missing the idea of building strength within our kids that exists beyond a test or a text.  We fluff up self-esteem and emphasize awards and scores, rather than encouraging kids who want to fight the darkness in their lives, and for whom just staying awake at school after a night of horrific terror or starvation pangs is a success.  These kids are looked at as lazy and inefficient, not as kids who are in desperate need of someone to care about them.  

What if we looked at kids who are acting out and bullying others as kids who really need help and are crying out for it, albeit in inappropriate ways?  

What if we helped bear kids’ burdens so that they could actually concentrate on academics, rather than on fear or anxiety about what will happen next in their young lives?

Perhaps if all of our kids, those who are loved and those who are lost, knew that they are valued, that they have so much good within them, that they can be the good for someone else, and that they can share their good with the world, perhaps then we can grow up hope for the future.  Perhaps it’s in growing hope within broken hearts and souls that we build compassion for others’ struggles and not condemnation, that we start becoming the good that we want to see and experience.  

We have to break the cycle we’re headed on, the downward spiral that has been breeding bullying and school shootings and mental illness and homelessness and poverty and addiction and violence and anxiety…  

We don’t have a choice any more.  Our future and the future of our children depends on it.

 

“Anyone who does anything in life to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”                 ~ Fred Rogers

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About Meredith

Hi! I'm Meredith. I'm a mom of three sweet little girls who keep me busy all the time, a wife to an amazing man who keeps me sane, and a fan of food, nature, fitness, gardening, travel, and so much more. Most especially, I'm trying to figure out how to find Faith in the every day. Because FINDING THE GOOD needs to become SHARING THE GOOD so that BEING THE GOOD becomes the calling within each of our hearts and souls and lives every single day.

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