Why Public Schools Have Become Circuses
June 1994By Barbara C. Blossom
Barbara C. Blossom, who lives in New York State, has taught in public junior and senior high schools for over 13 years.
Almost everyone who ventures a remedy to the poor performance of our public schools declares that improvement will start only after we upgrade teacher training and pay. Few would dispute that, but anyone close to the situation knows that poor teaching is just a small factor contributing to those low test scores. We already have many good teachers, but even they are generating inadequate graduates. Why?
A major cause of under-educated high school graduates is the school milieu of recent decades. Restraints imposed on disciplinary action, parental complaints about "too much homework" or unfair treatment of their child, student disrespect for authority and reluctance to do anything that doesn't amuse, students' vociferous emphasis on their rights, and the schools' fears of being sued are formidable deterrents to leaning. To that add guns and drugs in schools, mind-numbing television after school, parents (or parent) with little time or courage to demand accountability, and you may understand what teachers are up against. Anyone familiar with the inside of today's schools can tell you that teachers are seldom the main cause of student ignorance.
Teachers spend more time in the presence of children and teens than anyone else. They're often less shocked by what they see and hear than the rest of the populace would be. But, increasingly, the actions and words of a large portion of the student population stun teachers. Conversations about drug experiences, alcoholic orgies, promiscuous sexual behavior, and thefts are heard daily. The language is profane and raunchy. The tone is completely amoral. No attempt is made to ensure that teachers aren't within earshot. It's frightening. These students, not surprisingly, tend to cluster in lower academic levels, but many of those higher on the scale also reflect troubles in our society.
Schools started the downward slide in the Woodstock era when freedom and individual rights became the cries of the day. A bandwagon was created and almost everyone scrambled for seats. Some schools handed out booklets informing students of their rights, as interpreted in the ethos of the times. Many schools gave in to student demands indiscriminately, essentially abdicating all authority and responsibility for the products they turned out. No one stopped to think that a bandwagon's destination is the circus.
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