Be all that you can be. Find your future--as a teacher.

Musings of a second-year teacher.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

I've been a little delayed in getting this posted, but I wanted to share what I learned at Jonathon Kozol's lecture. I hadn't heard of Kozol before going to the lecture, but I thoroughly enjoyed what he had to say.

To begin, I'll just sum up a lot of what he said. It may or may not be new information for some of you, but for those of you who don't know much about Kozol, it may be helpful background information.

Kozol began by telling us how he was fired in the 60s for teaching Langston Hughes in his classroom. This was a 4th grade classroom (the very first classroom he ever taught in) and he was the 13th teacher of the school year. He told us that there was one little girl who didn't really seem interested in school at all and when he read Langston Hughes she came back and asked if she could borrow the book to take it home and show her parents.

He went on to tell us about one of his students, Pineapple. Pineapple was very authoritative for her age...I want to say she was about 6 or 7. She even bossed around Hillary Clinton when she came to visit the classroom! Pineapple went to school somewhere in a very poor section of New York City. (Bronx, i think?) Kozol said that $11,000/ year was allotted for Pineapple's education, which is basically the lowest amount. As much as $22,000/student/year is spent in some places. The nicest public schools for high school spend as much as $40,000/year/student. Kozol pointed out the horrible condition of the school that Pineapple attended and said that, in his experience, if you want to find the worst of the worst schools, to look for one that is named after MLK, Jr., Rosa Parks, or Thurgood Marshall. He said that bad school conditions "animalize" people and aesthetics really do count. At one school that he visited in LA, half the kids in the high school had classes in trailers.

I'm not sure if it was at this same school, or another one, but he talked about a high school that he visited one year in that vicinity. The teacher handed the room over to Kozol when he came to visit, assuming he could teach the class something. Kozol described what the students told him during that visit. One girl, a sophomore was extremely upset because the school was forcing her to take hair styling 2, instead of allowing her to take an AP class. They also made her take sewing, which she said she had learned at home because her mother worked on an assembly line doing some sort of sewing and had taught her how to sew. This girl wanted so badly to rise above the profession that her mother had, but the school was limiting her by limiting the classes she could take.

Kozol also broached the subject of standardized tests. He said that schools were abolishing recess so that they would have more time to cram in drilling for exams. Kindergarten classrooms had kids taking scantron tests the very first weeks of school. He talked about the thousands of dollars that parents are now spending to prepare kids for kindergarten, which is only putting those that can't afford prekindergarten farther behind. He pointed out that the old saying, "Money can't buy everything," is very untrue when it comes to can buy everything in the case of education.

He talked about the problem of keeping schools up to standards without something like NCLB, because of all the negative implications NCLB has had. Kozol proposed recruiting good teachers and sending them to terrible schools.

He also said that schools are getting segregated again-some in small cities, but especially in big cities. The number of black kids who attend segregated schools is the highest since MLK, Jr.

I'm not completely sure what to think about his lecture. I completely agree with all the problems he identified, but then again, I don't think anyone would dismiss them. My feeling, though is, some of the solutions don't seem to be as easy as he thinks.

The first thing that I'm confused about in his lecture is the amount of money spent on students. Now I know that the cost of living is much different in different places, but I remembered that the county I come from was very low for spending per student. I looked up the statistics (,+va+money+spent+on+students&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=5)
and discovered that my county is in the lowest 5 for spending per student in Virginia. We spend just $4,650 per student. I don't understand the discrepencies between this number and the number he quoted for Pineapple's education. I come from a rural/suburban, relatively middle class area...and that's still all that's allotted per student. Somehow I managed to come out just fine. Now, I know that I had a lot of advantages...I had parents that supported me, I did well in school in general, so I was encouraged to try harder, etc. But as far as class offerings, I really didn't have a plethera. The majority of my teachers were....just ok. My school was way overcrowded and they've been arguing for a good 10 years whether to renovate or just tear it down...neither of which will probably ever happen because they can't compromise. And when I was in ninth grade, the school was closed for three weeks because they found asbestos allll over the school. Before this, kids with allergies had transfered schools because they couldn't breathe in our school. So, I realize that these conditions probably aren't anything compared to the worse schools, but my point is...I didn't go to private school, I obviously didn't go to the best or even a good public school, and I (along with about 6 other people from my graduating class) made it to William and Mary.

I think Kozol focused too much on the gap between the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. And when he put it like that, it did seem absolutely terrible. I think it owuld have beem more accuarate if he could have compared the middle class to the poorer class. I'm assuming that the majority of America attends public, middle class schools, not the elite, $40,000/year schools that he mentioned. When you have enough money to spend $40,000 year on education, then it is quite likely that your money can buy you just about everything. But when you attend public school, like most of the people I knew/ can't buy you everything. Sometimes it does just take hard work...but I guess I'm not considering the people that can easily slip through the cracks...they're probably the ones that are forgotten when you don't spend that much money.

Kozol's solution, in an ideal world would be great. Except, if we send all the good teachers to teach in the horrible schools, what will happen to the children in the middle class schools. It's like a catch 22, because in order to catch up and help the poorer schools, it sounds like the middle class schools will have to sacrifice and either way someone will lose. I thought it was interesting how he said that the children who are going to preschool 2 and 3 years before kindergarten have such an advantage over those who aren't able. But I know so many people who didn't attend preschool at all before kindergarten, and if they did, it was more of a babysitting service, not a kindergarten-preparation service. I do understand that there is a difference in kids beginning kindergarten whose parents take time to work with them on letters and numbers and whose parents don't, but I don't necessarily agree with the fact that just because you can't afford preschool dooms the rest of your education. I think Kozol put too much emphasis on the problems with the lack of money, when often the problem is more the lack of parents' concern.

And to be completely honest, I'm a little scared by Kozol's proposition to take all the great teachers and put them in the worse schools. I don't necessarily agree that this is our obligation as great teachers, because great teachers are needed everywhere. I truly respect the people that can go and teach in the schools, but to be honest, I'm not sure I could. I'm very intimidated by the idea. I'm scared I would be burn out after only a year and the rest of my career (and all the other kids I could help) would be ruined. I babysat for two challenging kids from a middle class home, and that in itself burned me out...I don't know if I could handle some of these classrooms. I don't think I'm assertive enough, and I'm not sure that's a personality characteristic that I could fake. I do agree that we need some good teachers to go teach these children, but I can't say that it is every single good teacher's responsibility to go to these schools. Maybe it's because I don't want to feel guilty because I really don't think I could handle it, but I truly believe that other children need wonderful educations as well. There will be needy children in most middle class areas and they need a good education as much as the other children.

So, I'm really not sure what the solution to all the problems are. I suppose Kozol's solution is a start and as time goes on, maybe we'll discover other, better solutions.

To close, Kozol had some quotes I really liked, so I thought that I'd include them for your enjoyment.:)

"6 year olds only have a theoretical connection with their chairs."
"Even in the worst of situations, the resilient souls of little children delight me." response to letting children speak without correcting their grammer...
"Sometimes at the end of all those ands and buts, there's a hidden treasure"

Questions? Comments? Let me know what you think about Jonathon Kozol's ideas. I'd love to know!