New Year's Resolutions, III
Notta and the Start of a New Year
NOTE: This is NOT an ad. This is, however, what I should have posted the week of Jan. 7th. Puts things out of sequence, but work with me here.
“Did you ever fudge your way out of that one,” Notta said of my last post the other morning. “Quotes and sermons and news reports. “
“I prefer to think of it as punting,” I said.
“Punts are for desperate situations in football. You know, fourth and long.”
“Sometimes writing these things week after week feels like fourth and long.”
“Name me something worthwhile in life that doesn’t.” Notta sighed, looking over a pile of placement tests results from our program’s intake session. “Do you suppose that’s why we lose students over the holidays? They see their position as fourth and long and give up?”
I shrugged. “Could be. It can be an ‘if at first you don’t succeed, boy, you better give up’ scenario for too many of our cherubs.”
“Which explains why so many of them dropped out of high school in the first place.”
“Not necessarily.” I have heard this deflection of blame far too often in our agency and other educational bodies. So often, that, upon reflection, it doesn’t really wash away all stains. “There is also – and always – teachers who are too harried or too tired or too a million other things to care. Like the old schoolmasters who liked to tell certain students they’d never amount to anything.”
“Careful,” Notta warned. “The unions will get you for suggesting what the school boards want to hear. Helps the cheapskates cut teachers and wages if they can blame the classroom teacher for student failure. Wish they’d cut themselves, or the upper administration pay first.”
I nodded. “Then there’s the educational system in this country that used to be second to none.”
Notta shrugged. “These days, we’re second to almost everybody. “
“I’m not sure that’s entirely true. The US still has some of the best colleges and universities in the world.”
“That’s for the lucky ones who can survive the first 12 years of US education,” Notta said. “The ones who always will succeed, despite any amount of bad training. What about the folks who aren’t or shouldn’t be college-bound? Aren’t they valuable, too? Does everybody have to be a PhD or M.D.?”
“No,” I said, trying to cut off another diatribe on the “overeducated dummies” and “overpriced mechanics” that Notta like to give about college professors and healthcare providers. “However, there are standards, levels of education we all need to have to function in this high-tech world. “
“Set by whom?” Notta asked, although she knew the answer. “I still say it’s a money-scam trumped up by the textbook and test makers to sell their products. Everything else is for sale in this country, why not education and government policy about education? Whoever stuffs the heads of Educations’ pockets best makes the policy.”
“You had an extra cup of cynicism this morning,” I said.
She laughed. “I suppose so. Had to listen to my neighbor go on and on about what she heard on Some Stuff and Friends this morning. Every morning, she listens. Never questions, never analyzes. She takes what they say as true as the Sermon on the Mount.”
“Or Moses come down from Har Sinai.”
“Close enough. “ She slapped one palm on the placement tests. “How many of these do you think will have to review fractions? I mean, fractions, for pity’s sake! Who uses that outside of recipes? And then there’s your high-tech world that’s going metric, even in cooking! More accurate, they say. So why, in the name of sanity, do we have to teach fractions?”
I considered the responses: it was a mathematical stepping-stone; it was part of our heritage, it’s on the test. Then I recalled something a volunteer – a wise woman of mathematics – once told me and I repeated it. “It’s a process teaching a skill: recognizing quantities and following procedures that have been proven to produce results.”
Notta laughed again. “That’s a lot of words to say it teaches our cherubs how to think logically.”
“Which could spill over into their everyday lives and give them clarity,” I said.
“Like coming back to class even when it’s getting hard.”
“Like fourth and long,” I agreed.
“So maybe now these newbies – “ she stroked the pile of placement tests – “can learn to punt, like our veterans. The ones who come back, that is.”
“Yes.” I sighed. “The ones who come back and keep trying. It’s hard, getting back on track to the future you want.”
Notta waggled her index finger at me. “But so worth it. For them and for us. You know I’m right.”