Let me begin by making something very clear: I'm a bit of a language snob. I shudder when I see poor, abused apostrophes (particularly on store signs or in movie titles), and roll my eyes at misuses of their, there, and/or they're. I am not claiming to be a perfect linguist by any means, but I do pride myself on having what I consider to be a good grasp of the English language.
That said, I should probably also make you aware of the fact that my article was less an assault on the changing English language constructs and more expressing my frustration at a failing education system. So in this follow-up article, I would like to explain that frustration with American education (or lack thereof) through the lens of English classes, since that seems to be what the administrators at my school do. (More on that later, though.)
At the school from which I recently resigned, I was told many things about how the school curriculum is run. I was warned that Honors classes are "watered down," and that a good portion of my time as a teacher of English would be spent helping my junior students prepare for their science standardized test in the spring. I was also told the curriculum for sophomore English students focused around taking and passing the English writing standardized test. And in the time left, teachers split their time between teaching literature and grammar and taking students to registrations, passing out report cards, and going to assemblies.
I expected the standardized tests. After all, how else can the government decide that a school is doing its job and worthy of receiving any kind of funding except to give every student, regardless of situation, the same test and compare the scores to some national average? I mean, that's the most objective way to evaluate humans, right? Particularly in such objective subject areas as English and social studies?
So teachers, expecting the standardized tests, realize how important the scores are to their jobs, office supplies, and curriculum materials, and not only take the time to explain the test process to their students, but perhaps give them practice tests in preparation, and devote time away from the general curriculum to ensure the students are well prepared to make the school look good, regardless of how the students are actually able to perform.
And as these teachers are spending their time preparing students for the standardized tests, the rest of the curriculum gets sort of lost in the shuffle, and students leave high school able to answer objective questions about reading comprehension, but are unable to tell the difference between their, there, and they're.
Of course, when approached by parents and community members, schools make sure that everyone knows that they do not actually teach to standardized tests, but teach their curriculum, and if it happens to include making sure students are prepared for the tests, well, there you have it.
I expected all this. I did not, however, expect the attitude toward Honors classes I encountered.
I was hired to level classes. That is, I was hired to help offset the overcrowding of some classes. I was fortunate enough (or so I thought at the beginning) to have a full load of Honors classes. And most of the students in my classes were not new to Honors classes. And yet, they were appalled when I told them they'd be expected to read novels outside of our regular reading assignments. In fact, some of the junior students frequently and sullenly informed me that even the AP classes didn't "do so much work." (My response: "Wow. Really? Can you imagine what my AP classes would be like, then?")
These students were encouraged to push themselves academically by enrolling in Honors classes, but once there, they weren't pushed.
Now, not too long ago, straight-A students were part of the rare elite, the best-of-the-best valedictorians who seemed to know everything anyone could ever need to. This is because C was actually considered "average". It was the baseline, the starting point. A C was what you used to get when you did an okay job - something that every student should, with only a little effort, be able to achieve. B was above-average. They tried a little bit harder, they studied longer, but a B was a good grade. Bright students were B averages. An A was "exceeding expectations". "A" students went the extra mile. They aced most of the tests, they turned in all the homework, they were early to class every day. It took effort to get an A....
It makes sense to me. When I graduated high school, I was a B student, and I was in the top 20% of my graduating class. I was a good student. And yet, I didn't take Honors classes because I wasn't able to handle the workload on top of my extra-curricular activities. The teachers of those Honors classes expected their students to receive Cs and Bs in the class because the material was more advanced. That was the point of the classes.
At the end of May, one of my students came to me nearly devastated she had a B in my class. She asked me about extra credit. "I have to get an A," she said. Things have changed.
And perhaps it's that change that has been part of why Honors classes aren't what they used to be. With more students taking Honors classes, and higher grades being demanded by parents and students, perhaps teachers are compensating for the gap by meeting the students somewhere in the middle. I myself offered extra credit in my classes for struggling students. The final grades within one class period ranged from 56% to over 100%.
How are we to be expected to value our education, our intelligence, if adults don't take us seriously? Sure, our teachers and principals expect us to learn and to thrive in an academic environment, and our parents certainly demand high performance, but when you are taken out of a strictly educational environment, we're just those damned skateboarders again.
I agree, Kaden. There is certainly a conflict between what is expected of students within the walls of a classroom, and what is expected of those same students once the bell rings in the afternoons.
And this, too, is one of the problems that arises in education. Just as I have students who are unable to separate the style of writing they use in their notes from formal paper style, some of my students were unable to separate what is expected of them inside the classroom from what is expected of them outside the school. As a result, many students decide they simply don't care about their academics. Why should they when, as Kaden points out, adults don't care about whether or not they're intelligent or successful?
Sadly, I don't know what to suggest to make changes in the education system. There are so many things that come to mind, and it seems that even if those things are somehow implemented into a good number of schools across the country, it is the mindset of Americans that really needs to be changed. Unfortunately, that's significantly harder to do unless we take notes from Vonnegut.
Of course, with the way the country is headed with watering down Honors classes, adjusting testing, grading, and classrooms to the lowest denominator and not offering anything higher for other students...perhaps we're not far off.