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Speaking truth to power or biting the hand that feeds her? I vote the former.
August 8, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

Valedictorian speaks out against schooling in graduation speech. Last month, Erica Goldson graduated as valedictorian of Coxsackie-Athens High School. Instead of using her graduation speech to celebrate the triumph of her victory, the school, and the teachers that made it happen, she channeled her inner Ivan Illich and de-constructed the logic of a valedictorian and the whole educational system.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies (178 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man, you've got to have some pretty loaded parents if you can find a way to feed yourself beyond subsistence in the middle of an urban area without a high school education...
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 5:07 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


After reading that speech, all I could do if I walked up the podium after her would be to say, "Well, based on your ability to deliver that speech, it's likely that somebody more than an 'avant-garde tenth grade English teacher' did something right. And I'd like to congratulate those somebodies you failed to mention. Good luck with your future. Try not to piss so many people off; you'll have an easier time of it."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:07 PM on August 8, 2010 [21 favorites]


Jesus H Christ. Public education is a privilege that many people fought and sacrificed for generations before this pretentious twit was born. School is not about being "a slave" or "indoctrinated" to the system, it's about acquiring tools and a general set of knowledge that allows you to specialize and to pursue your interests in life. It's not perfect, but hey, it's free.

She had two good points about the current system being too focused on test scores and that some studious types miss out on other aspects of life. Unfortunately she ran them over right out of the starting block.
posted by fshgrl at 5:08 PM on August 8, 2010 [24 favorites]


I love this person.

Also, her 10th grade english teacher is so going to get fired.
posted by empath at 5:09 PM on August 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


But the current alternative, homeschooling, isn't much cop either. The thing in between (NotSchool by the Inclusion Trust is one in the UK) is the worst of all. Brilliant in theory, appalling in practice in my experience. At least she graduated with enough nouse to flip a burger.

So just don't let your schooling interfere with your education, as the man said.
posted by shinybaum at 5:11 PM on August 8, 2010


Well, in a way, she's right. It's clear that her school didn't teach her anything about sense, tact, or reason, and turned her out merely an insufferable little twit with a ridiculous sense of entitlement.
posted by kafziel at 5:12 PM on August 8, 2010 [28 favorites]


The comments are comedy gold though.
posted by fshgrl at 5:13 PM on August 8, 2010


In this how, how is she different then any other valedictorian? To reach that goal you have to be obsessed with, well, test scores.
posted by cavalier at 5:13 PM on August 8, 2010


You know, in a lot of districts that speech has to be vetted before it's given. Wondering if it was in this case, and if so...hmmmm.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:14 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Really, guys, that's where you all are going with this? I didn't hear anything in her speech about home schooling.

She's asking public schools to be better.
posted by empath at 5:15 PM on August 8, 2010 [19 favorites]


All this could have been avoided if she would have been a perky, blond cheerleader.
posted by Senator at 5:16 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


How many of you guys have been in school since they enacted No Child Left Behind? Let's just say I do see her point.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:16 PM on August 8, 2010 [23 favorites]


I vote neither.

She certainly isn't speaking truth to power. She's masking her own insecurities as critiques of the 'educational system'.
"Demand that you be interested in class" & "I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I'm scared."
She reminds me of the people I know that piss me off. She's the grade-gunner that does well but isn't passionate. I saw them all the time early on in my undergrad, but they dropped off the radar by 3rd year. Very few people did a math degree without caring about it. The best ones in my program, which definitely excludes me, aced everything because they loved every class. Personally speaking, I varied wildly (as in getting mid-90's and mid-60's on courses of similar difficulty) because I only cared about some of my courses.

Maybe it's just my own experience is different. I had amazing high school teachers. My co-valedictorian taught our English class for a few weeks while we covered [random Shakespeare novel] because she was going to attend Teacher's College and the prof wanted her to try it out. My biology teacher would take us down to the river for ecology classes. I got the school to agree to put on a couple physics/engineering standardized tests (I remember the Da Vinci, but I think also the SIN) that they didn't normally do, because I wanted to go to Ontario for school and they'd help me out.

Take some responsibility. You can't blame your school for your lack of inspiration.

Oh, and don't refer to yourself as a 'slave'.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:17 PM on August 8, 2010 [14 favorites]


School was bullshit well before NCLB, tbh.
posted by empath at 5:17 PM on August 8, 2010 [13 favorites]


Good for her.

I was valedictorian of my class, and I think I was failed miserably by my school. Sure, I had some fantastic teachers, but I also had some truly horrible ones. I didn't even learn trigonometry! I left high school with a vague feeling that I was better than my classmates, but not because I learned more--I was just better at playing school than the rest of them.

It wasn't until I went to college that I found out what real learning actually feels like. When you've been able to coast by your whole life just by showing up and doing your homework, it's kind of like when the anvil falls on Wylie Coyote. (The University of Chicago is a cruel, cruel mistress.)
posted by phunniemee at 5:18 PM on August 8, 2010 [39 favorites]


Let's just say I do see her point.

Let's just say I'd like to understand what this means.
posted by keli at 5:18 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


How is she denigrating her teachers? I quote:

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

My SIL was until last year one of those administrators, and she is in despair...absolute despair...about our state's educational system. Her own kids don't go to the public schools, and she no longer teaches in them, because of teaching to the test at the cost of real knowledge. She could not teach her students to question, or explore, because those things aren't on the tests, and the tests determine the funding. There is no time for anything else.

She believes passionately in public education. She's a dedicated teacher. But she would agree 100% with this girl.
posted by emjaybee at 5:18 PM on August 8, 2010 [16 favorites]


Anyone who hates on high school is okay by me.
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:20 PM on August 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


The harrumphing in this thread is amusing. If you can't be brash and idealistic and starry-eyed and enthused about stickin' it to The Man when you're 17, when CAN you be? Good for her. Raise some hell while you can.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:22 PM on August 8, 2010 [104 favorites]


Or 18, rather.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:23 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Public education is a privilege that many people fought and sacrificed for generations before this pretentious twit was born.

Do you really think this girl is putting down the concept of free, accessible education? She's saying the way it's implemented isn't good enough - and she should, because she's right.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:23 PM on August 8, 2010 [22 favorites]


I'd much rather have heard this speech than the bullshit speech I heard at my high school graduation: the typical "When I see the word ACCOMPLISHMENT in the dictionary, blah blah fucking blah..." type of thing... good for her.
posted by ReeMonster at 5:24 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


How is she denigrating her teachers?

How about the part where she says if not for her favorite teacher, she would have been "doomed."

In other words, "This one is cool, but the rest of you suck could go eat a bowl of dicks."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:25 PM on August 8, 2010


Hear, hear.
posted by brundlefly at 5:25 PM on August 8, 2010


Also, seriously, people, tact isn't all there is in life.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 5:26 PM on August 8, 2010 [16 favorites]


To be clear, "Hear, hear" to the girl.
posted by brundlefly at 5:27 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you can't be brash and idealistic and starry-eyed and enthused about stickin' it to The Man when you're 17, when CAN you be?

Whenever it is that you're old enough to correctly recognize which one is "the Man," and which one is a middle-aged chemistry teacher that thinks, "I could make more money and work less hours selling bait with my brother, but gee, these kids are kind of fun, so I think I'll stick around another year."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:28 PM on August 8, 2010 [29 favorites]


I admire her guts for being willing to say what she said and admit she's being given an honor being being a well trained monkey and that it scares here.
posted by nomadicink at 5:29 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think one must judge this speech taking account the context; she's delivering this to a crowd comprised of parents and high school students. I think she's trying to be clear and evocative to both of them, and I think its likely that she used the parts where she talks about herself in part to clear up the point (that students' creativity and education is fettered by the current school system (<god, that word is so trite, sorry)

I don't think she's exactly aimless or scared about her future prospects and goals (she clearly states she wants to do something about it in the future and will probably work in education herself). I think her speech is just a straightforward, honest perspective about her overall experience of the education system.

So, no, I don't think she's acting like a pretentious-twit-with-a-ridiculous-sense-of-entitlement.

Hey, at least it's a more provocative piece than most of the Graduation speeches that you and I have ever been to.
posted by fantodstic at 5:30 PM on August 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


there was a time when such attitudes as hers were a bit more common than they seem to be these days - it's heartening to know at least one person can still see through the bullshit

surely those of you who are criticizing her for making this speech aren't saying that you like our society the way it is?

if you don't, what would you suggest she say about it?

if you do, for god's sake, why?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:31 PM on August 8, 2010 [25 favorites]


Some of you need to read Gatto.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:32 PM on August 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


I was taught to take the exam all the way through school except for in one or two classes where they encouraged me to think about things for myself. I got a D in a history class because I wrote my own opinion in the test rather than what we had been taught to think.

I think she has a point, to an extent, unfortunately making radical change to education is a bit like turning an oil tanker with a broken rudder.
posted by knapah at 5:33 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, in a lot of districts that speech has to be vetted before it's given. Wondering if it was in this case, and if so...hmmmm.

I think it would be hilarious if she turned in the standard "Achievement, Perseverence, Dedication, FUTURE!" speech, and then gave 'em the old switcheroo at the lectern.
posted by Gator at 5:34 PM on August 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


"But first, let's go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we're smart enough to do so!"

So her entire speech rages against the educational machine and then she ends by encouraging her classmates to go to college. If she were going to jump off the train wouldn't she go somewhere else?
posted by headnsouth at 5:37 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, Albert Einstein didn't have much use for his educational system either.
posted by bwg at 5:38 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


if you don't, what would you suggest she say about it?

"Thank you for working so hard to provide me and my fellow classmates with an education in a safe environment. Because some of you taught me to question authority, even your own, and because some of you taught me to always keep striving forward, here are 10 actionable suggestions you can use to improve the quality of the education.

"Consider these suggestions as coming from someone with a fresh perspective. Forgive me if it sounds like I'm a pretentious twit with a ridiculous sense of entitlement -- that's certainly not my intent.

"Number 1 ... what's up with the mystery meat in the cafeteria? Would it kill you to offer a salad bar?"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:38 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


High school felt like a prison to me when I was there; my time overlapped with the Columbine shootings, and I got to see the first (or maybe not?) steps towards madness. My younger siblings went to the same high school, and from their stories it only got much, much worse after I left. School was about presenting hoops for the ambitious kids to jump through and cops to jump on the less ambitious. Out of four years, I had maybe two or three excellent teachers. The rest of that time was simply murdered in unremarkable rooms. Throughout it was made abundantly clear that we were being prepared for 'the real world,' apparently a kind of dystopian police state that I have managed to thus far avoid. I lived about two blocks from a library, luckily, and ended up learning far more out of school than I ever learned in school.
posted by kaibutsu at 5:39 PM on August 8, 2010 [33 favorites]


Let's just say I do see her point.

Let's just say I'd like to understand what this means.


Well, I had three children in high school in the early 2000s.

Lemurrhea, I could almost cry when I read about the experience you had. The experience MY children had, for the most part was the teachers, hamstrung, because they had to teach to the end of year test. And this at one of the better schools in the district.

I homeschooled my kids for about four years up to the time the oldest went to high school. The year before I started, I had my son's fourth grade teacher meeting with me, asking me what I could do to make him interested in school (His only interest that year was the Denver Broncos.) I brought them all home the following year, and altho, yes, we had math texts and grammar, etc I also made sure that the house was filled with interesting history and science texts (and this next is important) AND THE TIME TO READ THEM. It took less than a month for Son to develop an interest in history that he carries to this day.

We put them back in school four years later, and he mentions to me that in his (honors!) history class that he knew way more than the other students did and he was a bit embarrassed for them. And this in a district where he was in class with quite a few doctor's and lawyer's kids, so obviously these were students whose parents cared about education.
I had no reason to doubt his observation, particularly since his grades did and continued to bear him out.

It wasn't that I was some awesome teacher myself, it was that I was able to let him develop a love for the subject and to go beyond what I was teaching him in his spare time (again, spare time that he'd had because he wasn't wasting his time with busywork and overscheduling.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:41 PM on August 8, 2010 [19 favorites]


Public schools are crap. I'm surprised you're all acting this way.
posted by Malice at 5:41 PM on August 8, 2010 [23 favorites]


This is the dilemma I've faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Seriously, this is true, and there is research to back it up. See Alfie Kohn, Edward Deci, etc.
posted by Ouisch at 5:41 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


We should start a club for valedictorians who felt utterly failed by high school. You play the game by the rules they give you and you lose, and getting to give a speech doesn't make up for it.
posted by Nothing at 5:43 PM on August 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


Does anyone really think this is new? I think I was given a quote by Thomas the Ox that said many of the same things about his early education (without the zen of course.) I have been to about ten high school graduations, that's ten valedictory and ten salutatory speeches, and at least half (more than half the good ones), have said some form of this.

But education, group education especially, is always going to fail the very best and brightest in someway. It should, it must, because it is those in the middle and at the bottom than aren't going to be able to find their own way.
posted by Some1 at 5:43 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking truth to power or biting the hand that feeds her? I vote the former.

You know better than to editorialize in your posts.
posted by amro at 5:48 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


But education, group education especially, is always going to fail the very best and brightest in someway.

I don't think this is the issue so much. I think the issue is the system of external rewards and punishments, which takes focus away from the learning (and the intrinsic joy in that learning) itself. Even "those in the middle and at the bottom" can find intrinsic joy in learning. Human children are not cattle that need to be prodded along, or dogs that need Scooby snacks in order to perform tricks. Children are naturally curious and want to learn. But we induct them into a system that turns this natural desire into a means to an end -- a grade, a pat on the back, a punishment -- that is implied to be more important than the learning itself.
posted by Ouisch at 5:51 PM on August 8, 2010 [13 favorites]


I cast my vote for: speaking truth to power.

But kafziel -- I didn't find her speech to be without sense, tact, or reason. She hasn't figured out yet how to say critical things to people in ways that are easy to hear. But she tried:

"For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake."


She's a kid, probably giving the first speech she's ever given. "Insufferable little twit"? Jeez. And you say she has a "ridiculous sense of entitlement..." That's kind of funny, because they gave her a title. She's exactly the person the school intends to endow with a sense of entitlement.
posted by vitabellosi at 5:52 PM on August 8, 2010 [12 favorites]


"The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it."

I wish I had this perspective when I was in high school. It took me two years after high school to discover punk rock.
posted by yaymukund at 5:53 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:53 PM on August 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


i taught high school and college.

i unschooled my kids until full-time 4 years ago. now we do so during p/t during the school year and summer.

both my children are in NYC public schools, allegedly learning under the onus of NCLB and the NYC Board of Education.

i agree with Erica 100%.

it's why am still unschooling my kids.
posted by liza at 5:59 PM on August 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


This explains the education system:

WHO'S TO BLAME?!?!?
posted by blue_beetle at 6:07 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


OK, kiddies, here's the rest of the story.

First of all, here's the original report, in its entirety, of this graduation ceremony in the local paper, the Kingston Freeman (emphasis added):
Change is inevitable, but even as it happens, you need to hold true to yourself, Coxsackie-Athens valedictorian Erica Goldson told her fellow graduates.

“Remember to hold onto your value system, your work ethic and, most importantly, your humanity,” Goldson said during commencement exercises on Friday. “It is these qualities that will guide you further on your journey.”


Goldson was one of about 105 students who graduated as part of the Class of 2010.

Salutatorian Caitlin Malone congratulated her fellow graduates, and added: “Congratulations to those of you out in the audience tonight who supported us through our formative years. Our parents, our neighbors, our friends — you have watched us grow all these years, have lent a hand when we needed it, and now we are the better for it. Your efforts have been what helped us carry on. ... We have become adults who can lend a hand when you need it and can support you now as you supported us. Only please don’t ask for any money from us for the next few years.”

School district Superintendent Earle Gregory said the graduating class has “quite a number of capable and accomplished” individuals who should do well in the future.
Now, as the observant reader will note, those first two paragraphs do not describe the speech linked to in the post. And the inquisitive reader will find, upon Googling Erica's quote in the second graf (that's newspaper speak), that it comes from a "Free Graduation Speech" at the crib site Find-the-Words.com.

As it turns out, the newspaper, which obviously did not attend the ceremony in person, was duped, and so was the school administration, to which Erica turned in the Find-the-Words speech for pre-approval, and then substituted her own more stirring words.

Here's the newspaper's correction/clarification on this turn of events:
A June 26 article about the Coxsackie-Athens High School graduation quoted a speech prepared by valedictorian Erica Goldson and given by her in advance to the school district’s administration. The administration in turn provided a copy to a reporter, who used it to prepare a short item on the graduation exercise.

On Monday, Goldson said she did not give that speech during the graduation ceremony. She said she submitted a fake speech to the administration and then gave a different address during the ceremony.

On Monday, Goldson provided to the Freeman a copy of the speech that she said she gave at graduation. In the speech that she said she gave at graduation, Goldson questioned the value of the American education system saying, in part, that it conditioned students to create a complacent labor force, rather than to support their potential.

Although steps are taken to avoid factual mistakes in our news stories and photo captions, errors can occur. It is Freeman policy to make corrections as soon as possible. Contact the city editor — (845) 331-5000, ext. 410 — if a factual error appears.
posted by beagle at 6:08 PM on August 8, 2010 [38 favorites]


geezus, i can't write today. sorry about that :P
posted by liza at 6:08 PM on August 8, 2010


I knew before reading this that she would mention Gatto.

I hated school in the late 1970's, when it was far more tolerable than it is today. A couple of years after I graduated one of my junior classmates became valedictorian and it was widely suspected that he might give a switcheroo speech of this nature. I was told the principal had a kill switch installed on the auditorium PA system.

And both NCLB and zero tolerance policies are abominations. I probably wouldn't have graduated high school if I was in today. (As it was, I was 13 of 186 in a very fancy private school; many people thought I should be valedictorian myself and I was quite frank about not wanting it badly enough to jump through all the hoops.)
posted by localroger at 6:08 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


OMFG beagle, then this girl is even more punk and awesome than i thought she was.
posted by liza at 6:10 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


i taught high school and college.

i unschooled my kids until full-time 4 years ago. now we do so during p/t during the school year and summer.

both my children are in NYC public schools, allegedly learning under the onus of NCLB and the NYC Board of Education.

i agree with Erica 100%.

it's why am still unschooling my kids.


They taught me in school that the first letter of a sentence is capitalized.
posted by amro at 6:11 PM on August 8, 2010 [18 favorites]


The American education system is fundamentally broken. We are failing our kids. Erica Goldson is speaking out about a reform that we desperately need. Good for her.

As an aside, Waiting for Superman is a documentary due out next month that tackles this subject. It was utterly fantastic, and I think that everyone should see it.
posted by mewithoutyou at 6:11 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


She said she submitted a fake speech to the administration and then gave a different address during the ceremony.

Everybody owes me a Coke!
posted by Gator at 6:13 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Heh.

In my district, if someone had pulled that kind of switcheroo, I suspect they'd have held on to the diploma. (Which they actually do if, when they walk across the stage, their parents or friends make noise or yell. No fooling.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:14 PM on August 8, 2010


They taught me in school that the first letter of a sentence is capitalized.

In school, they taught me that the first letter of a sentence is capitalized.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 6:14 PM on August 8, 2010 [28 favorites]


This reads to me like someone who finally realized after the fact that being the valedictorian didn't mean what she thought it meant. The failure here is that she didn't realize that life is actually hard, and you have to figure shit out for yourself. It isn't societies' job to do all of your thinking for you. Like many of her generation, she clearly thinks life should be handed to her on a silver platter.
posted by spaceviking at 6:14 PM on August 8, 2010


Happy Harry Hardon approves this methodology.
posted by shinybaum at 6:15 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Thank you for working so hard to provide me and my fellow classmates with an education in a safe environment. Because some of you taught me to question authority, even your own, and because some of you taught me to always keep striving forward, here are 10 actionable suggestions you can use to improve the quality of the education.

"Consider these suggestions as coming from someone with a fresh perspective. Forgive me if it sounds like I'm a pretentious twit with a ridiculous sense of entitlement -- that's certainly not my intent.


Hahaha! For christ's sake. Your sarcophagus is the third one on the left, you'll find the wrappings in the top drawer, and be a sport and don't curse anybody while you're at it.

That's a much better speech than I managed when I was in her shoes.
posted by furiousthought at 6:15 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I liked the part where she shouted "San Dimas High School football rules!" and the crowd leaped up with applause.

A solid half of this country, maybe more, doesn't give a fuck about a good public school education and hasn't for several decades, either because they didn't want their darlings to go to school with black kids, or because they don't want them to learn how not to get pregnant, or about the evil Charles Darwin, or because they believe teachers make too much money, or just don't believe in publicly-funded education at all.

So don't piss and moan now that your schools are crap and your kids are idiots. This is just what you (you know who you are) wanted. Go ahead, tear what's left down; it can only get worse.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:15 PM on August 8, 2010 [12 favorites]


The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it.

This isn't okay. It reeks of conspiracy theory or Tea Party BS.
Public schools do suck though.
posted by sunnichka at 6:18 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm a high school drop-out turned 6th grade math teacher.

I fully agree with Erica.

School teaches you to follow written and oral instructions, work in both group and individual settings with varying degrees of supervision, follow a daily schedule, and how to deal with people who are in charge of you without strangling them.

Is it any wonder that most job advertisements are asking for similar abilities?

Yes, we get some reading, writing and arithmetic in there, too. However, mostly I'm guaranteeing that they can at least get a job at McDonald's or Wal-Mart to feed their future kids. Hopefully, a lot of them will go further than that, but if we didn't focus on the basics there would be no cogs to run the machine of Capitalism.
posted by jennybaxter at 6:20 PM on August 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


Everybody's gotta learn sometime.
posted by peppito at 6:26 PM on August 8, 2010


I don't think that her speech was about "raging against the educational machine." I think she was saying that the school system rewards drones who work hard to become great test-takers instead of self-motivated students who work hard to become great thinkers--she was urging the school system to change that and reward those who think for themselves, and she was encouraging students to think for themselves and take an interest in their own educations, even if that means focusing on education instead of grades and test-taking.

It seems many of the comments here are reacting against what they perceive as an attack on public education, but I think that's a shallow reading of her speech. I would bet that she got a lot of these ideas from teachers, actually. Many of the teachers I know complain about how standardized testing means they can't teach the material, but instead teach so that students will pass the test. Independent thinkers and self-motivated students are not rewarded in this sort of system, and though it's widely recognized, there isn't much that has been done about it.

Personally, I have tried to make learning the material my biggest goal in class, not making the grade. I got straight A's in high school so that I could go to top tier college, but once there, I'll be honest: I failed a lot of classes--and usually I learned more in those classes than in the classes I took As in. For the exact reasons that she is talking about.

Many of my fellow students, and even teachers, had big problems with this attitude. They feel that it is somehow being disrespectful if I don't work to get that A and make it my top priority. That I'm being irresponsible, that I'm not meeting up with my end of the agreement upon entering the college. But I've always felt that I am paying them for the educational experience--and that means I should be able to make use of my time as I want, and if I choose not to take an A if I think I'll be better served not to--thats my choice and my right, and sometimes it may even be the best decision for me.
posted by brenton at 6:32 PM on August 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


Our public education system is full of holes, and this kid has got to be considered awesome by any standard of awesome.

That said, I'm not entirely sure this speech was appropriate given the occasion. In my experience, I was given tons of opportunities by my public high school - music, art, honors courses, AP and CIS options, as well as PSEO. I had stellar teachers and coaches who helped inspire me and drove me a bit crazy.

Yes, school was awesome, but it was also completely segregated. The same core group of students were ushered through the honors track, and the (much larger) group of other students made their own way through the non-honors courses. We saw each other in the halls occasionally, but that's about it. Hell, even the lunch periods were segregated because of the way scheduling worked with honors courses and music classes.

The one time I did get to see the rest of the student body (the student body that made it, that is) was at our large class graduation. Who's families were cheering the loudest as each kid walked up and received their diploma? Was it the families who come from backgrounds of higher education (2 jds, 1 phd, 3MAs in mine)? Or was it loudest for the kids who were the first in their families to ever get a degree? The immigrant families, the poor families, and yes - the minority families.

While she makes good points about our education system (our fucking ridiculous education system), I feel like she is a bit dismissive about the barriers most face for a high school degree. To her, it was the ability to take a test and do extra credit. To a majority of the people in that room, it took so much more effort - and perhaps it means a lot more to them.
posted by Think_Long at 6:37 PM on August 8, 2010 [13 favorites]


In my district, if someone had pulled that kind of switcheroo, I suspect they'd have held on to the diploma. (Which they actually do if, when they walk across the stage, their parents or friends make noise or yell. No fooling.)

They do that? That's appalling.
posted by hippybear at 6:37 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was ten year old when I got my first B. I cried. A teacher had to talk to me to calm me down. I was too nervous to tell my parents; I ended up writing the bad news on a scrap of paper and handing it to my father, turning my head so I wouldn't have to see his face. 

I'm blessed with parents who aren't actually completely fucking nuts. They didn't mind the B. When I got my first C, two years later, they told me I could do better, but that was all. They were mad at the D I got in AP Physics in high school, but not furious. 

My year's valedictorian wasn't so lucky. She got a twelve-year nerve-ridden bid at Yale, which rejected her. By high school I was developing into an ordinary human being, with, you know, friends and rule-breaking and the shebang. A few dozen kids weren't so lucky.

My first year of college was at The College of New Jersey, a public school with a good reputation but almost no name recognition. I was mocked by a fuck of a lot of friends that year. A whole lot of attempted debates ended with jabs like, "Sure, TCNJ kid, keep thinking you're right." A friend of a friend who went to MIT almost point-blank would refuse to talk to me for my lack of pedigree. 

The problem isn't entirely the school system. It's the kids, and the parents of kids. Parents who tell kids education is their only hope for the future, and that education means As. And kids, stuck in their little social ruts, who use their grades as a weapon and a defense. Sometimes because they need to justify to themselves all the hours they spend studying a book they don't want to read. Sometimes because they're just kids. Kids are assholes. We all know this. 

I'm writing this from Princeton University, where I work at an academic camp, and the two groups of kids I find are the biggest issues are the anti-intellectuals and the OVER-intellectuals. The ones who'll laugh at a kid for being smart, they're pricks. But then you have kids who will sneer at kids who play sports, or who come to camp with arbitrary assumptions about what makes somebody a "good" or a "bad" thinker. And they ruin camp both for themselves and for all the other kids, both the jerks and the ones who don't think learning ought to be a contest or a source of negativity. 

I'd like to think a system exists to solve this dilemma. I love the philosophies of the Summerhill School. Any system that starts by abolishing grades is a start. If they avoid arbitrary awarding of all sorts it's even better. But there's more to it than that. 

In any event, things like this help. Once you're told you ought to be dissatisfied the rest of the process is a pretty straightforward sequence of thoughts. A valedictorian saying it to the school is wonderful. My only regret in high school was never having such a chance to speak to everybody. Good for her. 
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:40 PM on August 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it.

This isn't okay. It reeks of conspiracy theory or Tea Party BS.
Public schools do suck though.


Um, no. It's neither conspiracy theory or Tea Party BS. Nobody's talking about a brainwashing campaign perpetrated by a literal conspiracy.

But I don't doubt that a highly-trained, poorly-educated workforce conditioned to extrinsic reward and regimented structure benefits rich and/or powerful individuals and corporations. It seems that a lot of people have made a lot of individual, unconcerted decisions that built a pretty shitty public school system--far behind those of other developed nations. I suspect the problem systemic and emergent, not carried out by shadowy spooks or clubs with funny handshakes.

But ain't none of that make it any less real.
posted by Netzapper at 6:43 PM on August 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it.

Hey, she can get a job with Alex Jones after graduation.

Wouldn't it be funny if this was precisely what the "large corporations" wanted people to believe in order to make it easier to eliminate what's left of the public school system and provide just that complacent labor force? I think it would fucking hilarious.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:47 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd be a lot more sanguine about criticisms of the public education system if there wasn't a decades-long concerted attempt by one of the two major parties in the US to cripple, defund, and destroy that same public education system.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:49 PM on August 8, 2010 [17 favorites]


Wait, do some of y'all think that because we're criticizing the public school system, that we're criticizing the concept of public school?

I'm an anarchist, and I support the idea of public schooling.

Fuck, man.
posted by Netzapper at 6:49 PM on August 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


Also if you go back and read the stuff the creators of the public school system were saying at the time of its creating, public schooling absolutely was seen by a lot of wealthy types as a way to get a trained, literate, numerate pool of potential employees who were already enculturated into showing up on time, staying in one place for a long time, completing repetitive tasks, and obeying authority absolutely.

It's a wonder that we've done as well as we have and come as far as we have, and I'll defend public schools as one of the great accomplishments of our civilization, but that doesn't mean that we have to be blind to the unpleasant aspects of them and which surrounded their creation.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:51 PM on August 8, 2010 [23 favorites]


Take 20 minutes and listen to a wise man with a similar opinion.
posted by davebush at 6:53 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, do some of y'all think that because we're criticizing the public school system, that we're criticizing the concept of public school?

I'm an anarchist, and I support the idea of public schooling.

Fuck, man.


I don't see anyone with an alternative, besides pulling out of the system.

I just see a bunch of people who are privileged enough to be able to have an alternative, whether it's having someone homeschool their children, or a private school, dump on the system without giving any kind of path to change. The closest I've seen to an idea here is getting rid of no child left behind.

I've seen no centralized set of steps on how people plan to change the public schools in order to.....well, whatever it is people don't like about schools, which is another problem. Everyone also has a completely separate idea on what the main problem with schools are, ranging from that they force children to become cogs in the capitalist machine, to the lack of quality teachers (for whatever quality stands for for that person).

Hell, half the people are quoting Gatto, who basically wants to destroy the public schooling system.

If we closed all government schools, made free libraries universal, encouraged public discussion groups everywhere, sponsored apprenticeships for every young person who wanted one, let any person or group who asked to open a school do so—without government oversight—paid parents (if we have to pay anyone) to school their kids at home using the money we currently spend to confine them in school factories, and launched a national crash program in family revival and local economies, Amish and Mondragon style, the American school nightmare would recede.

As long as people keep quoting the man, I'm going to take them at their word.

I'm up to the point where, before I discuss education with anyone, I want to give them a questionnaire with the following:

1. List the major problems with schooling today. Be specific.
2. List the changes you would enact to fix the problem.

Because I really don't here much discussion of either in any of these threads.
posted by zabuni at 7:11 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I learned that Washington never told a lie.
I learned that soldiers seldom die.
I learned that everybody's free
and that's what the teacher said to me.
posted by dhartung at 7:21 PM on August 8, 2010


My co-valedictorian taught our English class for a few weeks while we covered [random Shakespeare novel]

*facepalm*
posted by EarBucket at 7:21 PM on August 8, 2010 [21 favorites]


The cynical part of me wants to laugh at the valedictorian who has such an idealistic vision of what school should be, while the rest of me wants to hug her, because I want the same thing.

In retrospect, I don't think that the system cared that I learn. I was very good at taking tests, and consistently got good grades. But even though that's supposedly a measure of what I had learned, I was still forced out of school.

You see, I had a chronic illness, and school wasn't about what I learned or how much I could learn. It was all about satisfying bureaucratic requirements. Did my attendance meet the minimum number of days that I could attend and still pass the class? If not, and I decided to home school, did the tutor who came to my house have any knowledge or interest in the subjects they were supposed to be teaching, or were they basically just a courier? When I had to change school, did they put me in a class that matched my abilities or a class that matched my transcript?

The answers were: No, no, and the latter.

The only time that I felt like I was getting an education, rather than sitting in a glorified day care center, was when I attended a small private school. When they found out about my troubled educational history, they let me do an independent study for English--a solution that might not be scalable, but shows that they were more concerned about my education than making sure I had x, y, and z checked off.

I had to leave that school and go back to public education eventually. When I did, I was put into a remedial science class because I didn't have the credits--a class that I then taught on some days because the teacher would just assign readings and then retire to his desk, where he would read a newspaper or whatever. It was not about whether or not I knew the material; it was whether or not I had satisfied a bureaucratic requirement, and I hadn't. I got put into Government again--ironically, taught by the only teacher at the school who seemed to care that I was misplaced, even though he couldn't do anything about it. English and Math were terrible. And then there was the bureaucratic nonsense about attendance again: Despite excellent grades, they were going to fail me because I missed class too often.

I quit.

I opted out of their bullshit system and got my GED and to this day wish I had done it the day it became legal to do so. It still makes me angry that I wasted my time. That I was tricked into thinking that being a good student was important. It is, but only in a limited, practical sense. I hung on to the idea that I would graduate with A's until reality crashed in and taught me that an A meant nothing about what I had learned, only what hoops I had jumped through.

Now I'm in college because I love a particular subject or two and want to get a degree.. or two. There's still a lot of bullshit, but at least I'm not in daycare anymore. I've reached the point where it's actually important that I understand the subject, not that I can just fill in a bubble. It feels great.

So, on balance, I want to hug this girl more than I want to sneer at her, I think.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:23 PM on August 8, 2010 [8 favorites]


Chris Rock on the GED: "So let me get this straight... I can make up four years... in six hours?".
posted by dr_dank at 7:41 PM on August 8, 2010 [11 favorites]


Maybe I got lucky in my (1000 student, public) high school, but the vast majority of my teachers encouraged us to think for ourselves, come to our own conclusions and learn about things that we wanted to know more about. There was a curriculum, sure, but when big projects came around we were able to focus in more closely on an area that was interesting to us. Science and math classes were tougher to teach that way, and yes, I questioned their usefulness then and now, but even those teachers were interested in the subject and wanted us to learn for the sake of learning. Perhaps it was because I was in honors/AP classes and the teachers took for granted that we'd take it upon ourselves to study and do well on any tests...

She's right and wrong though. The economic system in the US and globally is super scary for everyone, and I think blaming her fear of the future on the fact that she studied so much and did little else is a bit presumptuous. I'm scared of the future, and I didn't study all that much. I think people who didn't do anything but play sports and party are just as scared as she is, and people who played and wrote music, made art, and so forth are as well.

I'm working a crappy summer job at a manufacturing plant for a major technology corporation. People here work for 10 or 20 years and make <3>critically.

She says "The saddest part is that the majority of students don't have the opportunity to reflect as I did." I think that's another thing she gets wrong. Every child did have the same opportunities. Not in the entire country perhaps, but certainly in her school system. Some people said screw it and wasted their chances, and some people, including Erica, made the most of it. Honestly, her case against the grade grind is weaker since she is valedictorian. At my school, our valedictorian, while smart, was by no means the most intelligent kid in our class. We all knew it. She knew it. But there she was at the podium. I think Erica is a good example of the successes of the system we have today, and her argument is weaker for it.

/rambling
posted by papayaninja at 7:41 PM on August 8, 2010


The valedictorian (s?) the year before i graduated where a couple of twin girls that were apparently very smart, the next year our school received an open letter that kind of said this, that the school system had failed them and no way prepared them for college. A lot of the teachers were really upset.

Also, i know someone who was a valedictorian, and it really just stresses that grades and the highest GPA don't prove anything about actual intelligence, in my opinion.

Of course i spent the first two years of my high school career at a magnet school that was supposed to prepare us for college, and i think it was a lot tougher than college has ever been for me.
posted by djduckie at 7:52 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


half the people are quoting Gatto, who basically wants to destroy the public schooling system.

That's an oversimplification of the arguments Gatto has been making. We've discussed Gatto many times here before; the link sonic meat machine provided to the full text of Gatto's The Underground History of American Education offers, among other things, compelling proof of the point Pope Guilty made - namely, that the folks who originally set up the U.S. public education system did so with the blatant purpose of creating an undereducated class of workers for the new industrial system. The most famous example is from Woodrow Wilson, in a speech to the NYC School Teachers Association:

We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

There are many other examples to be found clicking around that last link. Dismissing Gatto out of hand is unproductive at best and borders on preferring to be deliberately ignorant. If there's any value at all to history, raising consciousness about the specific historical motivations behind the original shape of American public education is a service worthy of praise.
posted by mediareport at 7:58 PM on August 8, 2010 [9 favorites]


I was okay with what she said until:

"We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special..."


I know I'm not all that special, so this statement is false or invalid.

I can only conclude that she is an invalidectorian.
posted by storybored at 7:59 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Academies that are founded at public expense are instituted not so much to cultivate men's natural abilities as to restrain them.--Spinoza
posted by No Robots at 8:01 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


My co-valedictorian taught our English class for a few weeks while we covered [random Shakespeare novel]

*facepalm*


I'm not really sure why that's a facepalm. 8 years leter, I don't remember if it was The Tempest or Much Ado About Nothing that we covered with my friend teaching (we did both in the class; I don't remember which she did).

Education isn't about remembering every detail that you learned, it's about how to incorporate new information and analyze it. So what's the facepalm for?
posted by Lemurrhea at 8:01 PM on August 8, 2010


Where did you people go to school? Where are you sending your kids to school?

Because these hellish experiences you describe don't reflect my experiences as a student at a giant public high school.

They also don't reflect my experiences as a teacher at a giant exurban high school. Almost all the teachers I have ever worked with have begrudgingly thrown in some test-prep stuff around test time, but mostly they taught heir material the way they wanted to teach it. So, honestly, if we are going to go on about how my colleagues in public education (and then by extension, me) are failing and damaging students, I'd like to know where. Honestly, because it doesn't map to what I know. (Went to school, taught in Southern California, currently teach in Northern California.)
posted by mdaugherty82 at 8:04 PM on August 8, 2010


My co-valedictorian taught our English class for a few weeks while we covered [random Shakespeare novel]

*facepalm*

I'm not really sure why that's a facepalm. 8 years leter, I don't remember if it was The Tempest or Much Ado About Nothing that we covered with my friend teaching (we did both in the class; I don't remember which she did).


The facepalm is probably concerning the fact that Shakespeare is famous for writing plays and sonnets, not novels.
posted by jennybaxter at 8:07 PM on August 8, 2010 [7 favorites]


Hmm, kinda seems like they taught a bit of Chomsky at that school.
posted by captainsohler at 8:10 PM on August 8, 2010


Public schools might be messed up, but I cannot for the life of me think of a single more egalitarian institution in the US than the public school system, which is why we need to be fighting tooth and nail to fix it.

The rise of "anti-public-education" (and outright anti-education) politicians is profoundly troubling. I fear for what will happen to the country if they get their way. Privatization is the wrong answer in every way imaginable.
posted by schmod at 8:15 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


One year abroad for every public high school student. And I don't mean Switzerland. I mean Togo, or Bolivia.

It would change so much.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:17 PM on August 8, 2010


To clarify if necessary: I'd be 100% happy if public schools improved to the extent private schools were forced out of the market. Sure, it'd be unfair for those private schools, but it's tragically unfair that their existence is justifiable in the first place. Education is not a right solely bestowed upon the wealthy.
posted by schmod at 8:18 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


The facepalm is probably concerning the fact that Shakespeare is famous for writing plays and sonnets, not novels.

Mere details!
posted by octobersurprise at 8:24 PM on August 8, 2010


I thought this was a great speech. Which I guess makes me what all dissidents are these days: entitled. Nice going, status quo!
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:27 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


The facepalm is probably concerning the fact that Shakespeare is famous for writing plays and sonnets, not novels.

But it says so right here in this newspaper by Beethoven.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:31 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


"Because some of you taught me to question authority, even your own..."
Good point, CPB. I consider it now a universal truism that "If you teach children to question authority, you become the first authority they question..."

My own school experience, some 40+ years ago is just as valid as Erica Goldson's or that of any of the other millions of High School graduates this year who did not become instant YouTube superstars. (Easy prediction: thousands of high school valedictorians will attempt the same stunt next year)

I made it through 13 years of primary education and four years of college without ever having an instructor whom I remember as truly inspiring me. And from 6th grade on, my education was NOT Public School based. The L.A. Public School System already had a negative reputation in the 1960s, and as soon as my father could afford it, I was pulled out and dropped into a Private School in the San Fernando Valley where 90% of the student body had families wealthier than mine.

One reason was a failed initiative by the Public School to have me skip a grade; with my Sept. 30th birthday I was already one of the youngest kids in my grade level, and dealing with 'classmates' another full year older resulted in one semester of tortuous bullying after which I was put back down to my 'natural' grade which was its own social disaster. A major reason for moving to a Private School was to avoid the bullying; instead, I encountered a much higher socio-economic class of bully (including the son of a Television Pioneer who later wrote one of his umpteen books about how he failed as a father). My most memorable teachers from that era were a homeroom teacher who sided with the bullies (she considered me 'not tough enough') and an American History teacher who gave bombastic lectures contradicting his own textbooks (I wonder sometimes if he may have been Glenn Beck's father or grandfather; Maybe I should credit his laughably bad right-wing ranting for starting me to question my Republican family upbringing).

After 8th grade, with an almost-all-A's transcript (the academic part was easy - too easy - wherever I was enrolled), this son of semi-practicing Presbyterians started high school at a prestigious local Catholic institution, where my most important lesson was one few other white males my age received... the sting of blatant discrimination (I befriended two Jewish students who were also among the smartest students but locked out of the top of the Honor Roll for their "Non-Cath" categorization). So I knew from day one that I would not be valedictorian no mater how well I performed.

The one high school faculty member who came closest to inspiring me was the non-teaching Director of the High School band, who was quite daring (for 1969) in integrating jazz and rock & roll into the repertoire. Yes, we marched to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and won top trophies at almost all the parades we participated in, despite having half the membership of some of the competing bands... and some of us were pretty piss-poor musicians... including myself. I was Section Leader for the clarinets while never being good enough for anything above third chair, and he encouraged me to learn the oboe to fill a gap in the concert band. But I couldn't hold a decent tone with that double-reed and when we had a vinyl record made of one of our concerts, I was TOTALLY humiliated by my performance (to start with, the whole band 'tuned to the oboe' which in my hands was at least a half-tone flat) and haven't touched a musical instrument since. I've found it emotionally difficult to accept anyone's encouragement ever since. So if you're a teacher who wants to inspire your students, PLEASE make sure they have a minimum level of talent at what you're teaching...

There was one more notable teacher in my life: my own mother, who had worked several years as a grammar school teacher before marrying my father (past the age of 30! shocking!) and happily becoming a full-time housewife. It was easy to forget she had been a teacher; she seemed not to have loved the job; if home-schooling were a serious option in the 60s, I suspect she would have avoided it (she also pushed me into taking up the clarinet, another strike against her). But when I attended the expensive Private School, she made herself and her long-expired teaching credential available as a substitute teacher for any classes her son was NOT attending (it helped pay my tuition). It was during a 'rainy-day recess' with a class a grade above mine that she spent the time telling family stories... including the one about how, if my father had consumed a couple more gin&tonics the night I was born, I would've been legally named Wendell. I had forgotten all about that until a pack of older kids started calling me Wendell. I spent much of the next 40 years trying to turn that into a positive.

We all have our horror stories about our own School Days. And many of them would make entertaining, if inappropriate, valedictory addresses. But I personally reject the premise that the Public School system is an abject failure. That was the same message that was being pushed when my middle-class Republican parents put me in a "rotten rich kids'" Private School. It is all so much more complicated than that and nobody (certainly not Gatto) can possibly have all the answers. And would you expect anybody educated by THAT SYSTEM to be smart enough to fix it?
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:31 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it.


Netzapper, when you say, "Nobody's talking about a brainwashing campaign perpetrated by a literal conspiracy," are you sure you aren't projecting your own opinions onto the quotation? Whether or not the "system" itself ends up perpetrating a complacent work force, I think it's both ignorant and harmful to speak as she does here. Brainwashing techniques? Secretive government? The language here implies some sort of top-down secret conspiracy to steal our precious bodily fluids.
posted by sunnichka at 8:34 PM on August 8, 2010


surely those of you who are criticizing her for making this speech aren't saying that you like our society the way it is?

I'm saying it's a terrible speech. She can't get her point across, not even with all kinds of ridiculous hyperbole. I think I know what she was trying to say but I don't know. What she is saying comes across as by turns overly dramatic, petulant and childish. She's a high school valedictorian, she should be able to make a coherent point.

Besides, ANYONE can pursue subjects that interest them. There are people in prison who show up unable to read and leave with law degrees. School isn't a place where they hook you up to a machine and dump knowledge into your brain. Teachers give you tools and the basics (if you're lucky inspiration too) and after that you're on your own. Same as it's ever been.
posted by fshgrl at 9:00 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I always told my two daughters during their education that I only expected them to master the material. I explained that doesn't mean memorizing or regurgitating, but it does mean understanding the material to extent that you can agree or disagree with it, or explain how you would collect more information to decide whether you agree or disagree. I said if you do that you will get decent grades, and if you don't, that's the teacher's fault. I told them some of the classes I got 'C's in I learned huge amounts because I struggled to understand the material. Any idiot can memorize and regurgitate and many of the highest scorers do exactly that.

This is the kernel of truth in what the little twit says. Everything else is juvenile arrogance.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:07 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


I should write gooder. I meant to say "if you do that you will get decent grades, and if you don't get decent grades after doing that, it's the teacher's fault."
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:11 PM on August 8, 2010



1. List the major problems with schooling today. Be specific.
2. List the changes you would enact to fix the problem.

Because I really don't here much discussion of either in any of these threads.


1.) There are so many. Classes too large. Teachers too dumb (sorry, but yes, some teachers are very stupid, they're human after all). One single method of teaching rather than a wide variety of ways to learn. If a student strays off the method and says "I can figure out the same problem this way", the teacher immediately shuts them down and forces them to do it the sometimes less efficient way. Very stupid, over the top zero tolerance rules about drugs, and literally no zero tolerance rules about bullying. It's a cesspool for violence, drama, and can sometimes single out children even with the most potential because they don't 'fit in'. Shall I go on? That doesn't even start on the WRONG information being spread, and even taking out facts about our history, or teaching Christian values in what is supposed to be an impartial government school.

2.) More open minded teachers. More variety of things taught - more world views and values. Less pro America. Get rid of the Pledge of Allegiance. Teach children more tolerance and more skills that will help them based on what they want to do with their lives rather than filing everyone through the same program - more tailored programs for each child's intelligence level and interest, based on what the CHILD wants, not the adult, you know, with guidance of course. More physical activity that isn't forced dronism in P.E. Smaller classes! Teach tolerance. ZERO TOLERANCE for bullying. We need to teach children to tolerate everyone rather than pick out the weakest link. I have seen some people do horrible things that no child should go through.

That enough for you?
posted by Malice at 9:14 PM on August 8, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm up to the point where, before I discuss education with anyone, I want to give them a questionnaire with the following:

I'm not going to sit around studying for your test when I could be forming my own ideas, man.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 9:28 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


This essay is a piece of historical Americana that, had we an intellectually legitimate education system, you would have read in school.

Assuming you didn't graduate prior to 1969.
posted by clarknova at 9:29 PM on August 8, 2010


2. List the changes you would enact to fix the problem.

Drop every subject except basic maths and any national languages. Teach information literacy really really well instead. Then give them the keys to the library and a schedule of non-compulsory classes.

My son's school does kind of a version of this, maybe every school does now. They have subjects and a curriculum and whatever, but a hefty amount of time in the first couple of (secondary school) years is devoted to getting them to evaluate information sources and judge for themselves. I really seriously wish the adults I'm teaching now had the same experience, it's a fundamental skill we ignore disgracefully.
posted by shinybaum at 9:36 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Smart kid. She'll go far. My guess would be a corporate lawyer defending BP and Monsanto, give it 7-8 years.

Joking aside, many of us realized this about the education system around the same time she did. I agree with her 100%. But it so happens that this knowledge doesn't make it any easier to negotiate earning a living, caring for a family, pursuing happiness within a cruel and unforgiving capitalist framework. If she has some ideas to dismantle that framework, more power to her, but I'll continue to be skeptical.
posted by naju at 10:02 PM on August 8, 2010


When all you've ever known is the explicitly artificial and rarefied space of school, it seems horrifying to consider living a life composed mostly of work for which you receive only money, get no praise, and by virtue of which are not expected to benefit in any non-pecuniary way. It's tough to make the transition we have in this society between being a gifted, praised learner and a largely-ignored doer. And I don't think the fetishistic hard-on we all seem to have for Youth and Genius and Idealism is particularly valuable either to the adoring elders or the precocious children.

The central problem with her views expressed here, to my mind, is simply that she doesn't have any meaningful awareness of world's nuance. Everything seems to be either spectacularly good, e.g. "the best qualities of youthfulness - curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight...to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence..." or very bad, e.g. "trapped within repetition - a slave of the system...mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth...," etc.

She seems to think mostly in Manichean terms:

if it wasn't...for an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan...I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened

But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation

Also, these

We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

are the gallingly disconnected words of a privileged child. The people who have no choices in life are the ones who never get a chance to attend even primary school, or those who are born disabled in the poorest families of poor nations, people who never have the opportunity to have their needs and potential even considered or get an advanced education and be proportionately rewarded for the intensity of their industry. She has no idea what having no choices means. And let's not pretend it's daring or controversial to suggest that American society is consumeristic and it's tragic when people are the same and corporations are bad and creativity and passion and individuality is good. We shouldn't reward children who make ludicrous pronouncements about the world with cliche phrases like "speaking truth to power" when she's really speaking ignorance to indifference.
posted by clockzero at 10:08 PM on August 8, 2010 [5 favorites]


As naive and juvenile as the speech seems at times, it's still an important and good message: true learning is more important than grades.

I'm glad she went for it. That takes some serious chutzpah.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:22 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


I dunno about any of that, but "Valedictorian of Coxsackie" sounds vaguely euphemistic.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:23 PM on August 8, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are many other examples to be found clicking around that last link. Dismissing Gatto out of hand is unproductive at best and borders on preferring to be deliberately ignorant. If there's any value at all to history, raising consciousness about the specific historical motivations behind the original shape of American public education is a service worthy of praise.

That is an interesting subject in history, but it still doesn't really help us to solve the question of fixing children's education. You could pretty much grab any program launched by the progressives of that era and find all manner of racist, xenophobic reasons for it. The solutions he puts forth, that I've seen, are to break school districts into hundred student neighborhood schools, destroy teacher certification, and if possible, destroy the concept of mandatory education itself.

Looking here:

We need to kill the poison plant we created. School reform is not enough. The notion of schooling itself must be challenged.

Hell, the first link you provided has a rather spirited argument about, Gatto, starting with saulgoodman:

How is "the current system" compulsory when it provides so many rich mechanisms for non-traditional education through virtual classrooms (such as we have in Florida), homeschooling, private schools (that can teach whatever lopsided crap they want--like the Christian school I went to in 7th grade that for its history curriculum taught only the history of the spread of Christianity, not to mention that the earth is only 6000 or so years old)?

Sorry, but "compulsory education" is just one way to spin it; another equally valid way to see it is "universal access." And yes, with the increasing emphasis on standardized testing and benchmarking, public education has become more and more about forcing a certain kind of education on students. But that emphasis isn't a necessary feature of an effective education system.

posted by zabuni at 10:29 PM on August 8, 2010


1. List the major problems with schooling today. Be specific.
2. List the changes you would enact to fix the problem.

Because I really don't here much discussion of either in any of these threads.


zabuni, I think I would fall into your category of people who "are privileged enough to be able to have an alternative," in my case homeschooling my children.

I am very interested in education issues, and over the last few years have read probably 60 to 80 books on the subject (that's a guess that may be wrong, but kind of totting up in my head--if anything it's probably low), including Alfie Kohn's stuff and Diane Ravitch's stuff and books about the history of education in the US and books about how schools shortchange boys and books about how they shortchange girls and every Respected Scholar's theory on the subject and every Nutcase Crank's theory on the subject. I also regularly read journalism on the subject, like Education Next, for instance, which I've found very informative. I did a whole reading project a couple of years ago on school finance, and another on the teachers' unions. I have done freelance work in the field of education; year before last, I edited the Dept. of Education's annual report to the legislature on the status of charter schools in the state, and I have done writing and editing work for one of the major school accreditation/school improvement organizations.

I could list what I see as the major problems with schooling today, and it would range from, oh Jesus, incompetent teachers to testing to a general disrespect for kids that means nobody cares if their time is wasted; from funding problems (both the problem of under-funding and the problem of funds coming from multiple sources for specific purposes so that a school might have the money to put in a swimming pool but not to buy the updated textbooks they need more urgently) to an over-powerful union to parents who protect their children from failure; from the progressive myth that every child under the right circumstances can be an intellectual to, at the other end of the spectrum, rigid tracking; from inadvertent sorting by social class that begins with what first-grade reading groups kids are placed into, to city schools that are so understaffed that one book I read about the Chicago school system said that on any given school day there are dozens of classrooms in the system that literally do not even have an adult presence; from bloated administrations to decaying infrastructure to technology initiatives that throw resources at putting computers at every desk, say, as if that will somehow magically make learning happen with joy while never asking teachers what they really need in their classrooms in order to do their jobs.

How's that for a start? If I put more thought into it, I could come up with more.

Solutions? Well, if I were the Great Omnipotent Being Of The World, I'd start by eliminating poverty, drug abuse, bad parenting in all its guises from neglect and physical abuse to pressuring kids to excel in parent-defined ways. I'd provide so much support for teachers, in the form of grading assistants, say, or a schedule of only 4 contact hours a day, and pay them so much that the profession would attract the very best, enthusiastic young people and not burn them out or spit them out. I'd lavish money and resources on some of the nutcakes who want to try radical alternatives; I'd seed Sudbury Valley-model schools all over the place, and same-sex academies, and year-round schools, and Montessori schools, and Reggio Emilia schools, and I'd make them all free so every parent could try the school she thought would work best for her particular kid. I'd turn the American workplace into a Dolly Parton/Jane Fonda utopia of job-sharing and on-site daycares and sunny little elementary schools right next to the corporate enterprise parks so that parents could be involved with their kids' educations and have the time and energy to also just hang out with them and enjoy them.

Read a little on the subject and you will find that the problems with schooling are many and varied and intractable. I get so tired of people jumping on my back for homeschooling my kids, as if I'm not entitled to do that unless I am somehow the one magic person who knows the secret solution to a decades-old problem.

I know it's an expression of my privilege that I get to be home with my kids full-time and homeschool, but practically everything in my life is an expression of my privilege, from waking up in a warm bed in a home with intact windows in a nice if modest suburb of a decent-if-declining small city, and driving a reliable car, and feeding my kids three meals plus snacks every day. Nobody has ever suggested that I stop feeding my children until I solve the problem of childhood hunger, and yet I'm supposed to know how to fix the American education system before I'm allowed to be critical of it, I'm supposed to somehow make my local schools an edutopia before I'm allowed to sit down and work a few math problems with my kids.

(I forgot to mention bullying, homophobia, sexist teachers, meaningless busywork, the resemblance between American high schools and minimum-security prisons, incoherent curricula, constantly-changing standards, educational fads, excessive oversight of teachers except where they are neglected, declining resource for gifted & talented programs, the over-medication of elementary school children, and a dozen other things, I'm sure, which will come to me later.)
posted by not that girl at 10:36 PM on August 8, 2010 [14 favorites]


BitterOldPunk: "The harrumphing in this thread is amusing. If you can't be brash and idealistic and starry-eyed and enthused about stickin' it to The Man when you're 17, when CAN you be? Good for her. Raise some hell while you can."

Eponysterical!
posted by symbioid at 10:48 PM on August 8, 2010


Schools suck because people suck. And of course, people suck because schools suck. It's, like, a vicious cycle.
posted by polymodus at 11:04 PM on August 8, 2010


The sheer amount of ad hominem sneering in this thread is disappointing. It's no secret that there are some serious problems with the schooling most kids get in American schools. And yet more than a few folks have dismissed this young woman as an insufferable, entitled twit for having the gall to say so. What the hell, people?
posted by twirlip at 11:09 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


Oh and as to:
are the gallingly disconnected words of a privileged child

Nobody has the entire picture. Just because there's two problems, i.e. existence versus quality of formal education, doesn't mean you have to solve them or talk about them in a certain order. The speaker is probably 18, and I'm glad she is pissing people off.

considered or get an advanced education and be proportionately rewarded for the intensity of their industry

This is also called the treadmill. Of life. It sounds really boring.

Education is a shared responsibility. Oh, and people never truly know what they want.
posted by polymodus at 11:12 PM on August 8, 2010 [2 favorites]


Good for her.

This is exactly how I felt about high school. School is a good experience but when you actually learn something is when you are done school and in the 'real' world.
posted by Kilovolt at 11:14 PM on August 8, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting how very differently her speech reads, and how she reads her speech. (It would seem she posted this; the nervousness she mentions, especially given the switcheroo, is to be expected.)
posted by progosk at 11:21 PM on August 8, 2010


OK so schools are designed around industrial capitalism -- following procedures, showing up to work on time, acclimating to constant supervision etc. The main flaw with this is that they discourage flexibility, originality, innovation or creativity, i.e. all the new forms of labor exploited by post-industrial capitalism today. Yeah, way to stick it to the man.

There are benefits to being a mindless drone. For example, you might see that you and your fellow drones share a common fate and begin to organize because you realize that your fate is determined by systematic exploitation. When you think of yourself as a special snowflake, you believe your fate is in your own hands -- exploitation appears as empowerment. The feeling of solidarity with fellow drones is eliminated, replaced with a desire to differentiate yourself, display your uniqueness and compete. In post-industrial capitalism, the proletariat are transformed into creative and innovative "entrepreneurs", selling their creative labor on the market and trying to undercut their competitors who are doing the same thing. Perversely, these new passionate, engaged, free-thinking, paradigm-busting, self-actualized workers are somehow even more docile and cooperative to capital than the old brainwashed drones ever were.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:43 PM on August 8, 2010 [4 favorites]


I have mixed feelings about her speech. I was on track to become the valedictorian in a high school with a student body of nearly 5,000 in the early 1990s before I left to go to college in my junior year. It seems important to note that the other handful of pupils vying for the valedictorian slot stayed to the bitter end and likely felt the same as she did.

Which leads me to ask a question she will probably never answer: since you are smart enough to have noticed that this process was killing your mind and soul, desiccating them, and grinding them into something that could be used to brew espresso; given that, why did you not just walk away as so many of us did? The only answers I can come up with are: A) cowardice or a lack of ambition, in which case I respect your opinion not one bit, or B) you really aren't all that smart.

I imagine that will land very jaggedy and crooked with a lot of folks who might read it and say, "Hey, I was smart, ambitious and courageous, but I stuck it out just like her." To that I must say: no you were not. What in God's name could possibly convince you that, when presented with an untenable situation in which you knew you were going to waste key, formative years of your life chasing standardized test scores and offering your brain up for rote memorization of the mediocrity that passes for instruction in the United States that the right answer was to stay put and do nothing? That, friends, is dumb. Just dumb. Don't try to defend it, because it's dumb.

The second thing that bothers me is the context in which she delivered her opinion. I'm not referring to her former teachers. They're adults, and if they can't accept criticism for something which they all must know by now is flawed and dry as dirt and respond to that criticism with the dignity God gave a duck, then they deserve whatever feelings came up for them. I am, in fact, referring to her peers and their parents.

Picture the scene: a crowded auditorium filled with gowned, newly minted high school graduates. Their parents sit behind taking pictures and reminiscing about how their babies grew up so fast. They click off some pictures on their iPhones and hope that this thing winds up soon, because they missed lunch.

Now dig a bit deeper into their heads. If they're in a middle-class American community, we have every reason to assume that 80% of these parents and students have an IQ somewhere between 95 and 110. This is not glowingly brilliant, folks. This is prepared-to-drive-a-truck smart. That's not to say they don't have tremendous personal and societal value as people or that they aren't going to be extraordinary in their own ways as parents and friends and all the other ways people are valuable. But the way they're not going to be extraordinary is as thinkers.

So she says what she says to them. And their response is...? This sort of education produced them! Standardized tests and a watered down curriculum produces a populace of average people. That's the point. We need average people, and we need a lot of them. They do the average, ordinary jobs that make all our lives work. It's the nastiest outcome of the Industrial Revolution: if you can't climb out of the box on your own, then when you're done in the box we slap an employee number on your chest and measure your labor output. And that's your marginal value in society. Go put in your forty hours.

Her attack, more than an attack on education, is an attack on this. If you don't want to be Average Joe, great! Don't be Average Joe. But don't put a knife in the backs of all the Average Joes that put food on your plate each day or get gasoline to the station or any of the thousands of other jobs that we need Average Joes for. And certainly don't do it in front of them on the day when their children transition into their lives as Average Joes. Because that's a dick move. And you know it, because you're stupid, but you're not stupid. Let them be recognized for what may be the crowning moment of their education. You haven't had yours yet. Congratulations. Keep your smart mouth shut, and appreciate that some people aren't blessed with that gift.

We have a system that produces the average, and it does so fairly consistently. By the time you're old enough to criticize that system, you're old enough to climb the sides of the system and get yourself out of it as well. If you're smart, you're smart enough to know you're not trapped, because thousands and thousands of other people get out of the system and do something more. If you're ambitious and courageous, you do it.

If you're not, you make speeches.

I guess I don't have mixed feelings about it after all. Go figure.
posted by kochbeck at 12:09 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, this thread can sooo get fucked. School was a disaster for me, a smart kid who read a lot and could tell a story. A good example of how my dreams were crushed before I even knew I had them is when I submitted an off-the-cuff two sides of paper comedy sketch to my drama teacher- who wrote off my effort as plagiarism and made it clear I was extremely disappointing. I didn't realize until many years how damaging just that one example of egregious stupidity was to any a sense I might have of making my way in the world.

That this girl picked up on this fucking shit and can articulate it is a miracle. More power to her.

This thread reeks of the kind of lunacy that can't deal with a genuine complaint.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 12:37 AM on August 9, 2010 [8 favorites]


Oh, and the indoctrination and pussy-whipping clearly works just great because people here are expecting ideas to be presented in the form of a fucking term paper. Fuck off.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 12:39 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't tell the proles they're proles! They might get upset about it.

Seriously, kochbeck, your attitude is deeply condescending to the Average Joes who "can't climb out of the box." It would be pretty cynical for the valedictorian to shut up and play along, when the school has given her the perfect platform for criticizing a system she believes is profoundly broken. At least she had enough respect for her audience to assume they could think for themselves.
posted by twirlip at 12:45 AM on August 9, 2010 [12 favorites]


This topic is something I have been struggling with for 6 years now, at least for my own children. Much longer for myself. I went to a small Catholic school for 12 years because my dad taught there, we got a break on tuition, and it was well known for being better, educationally, than the local public school. I had stellar teachers, for the most part, who would happily talk to you over lunch or spend time after hours to get the light bulb to go off over a head. They lived for that moment. My father is one of those people and I love them all.

I see the teaching to the test and roll my eyes. I consider us very lucky because my children have been in the gifted and talented program from the earliest grade available and that helps my kids stretch their brains. We have a spectacular local library and have regular visits there. All of their parents (bio and step) are smart and interested in teaching them new things. All of their multitude of grandparents (12? it's hard to keep track with divorces and remarriages and bios and steps) are also interested in teaching them anything from medicine to math to history how to clean a deer or fish.

I tell my kids to do their time in school because getting along in that system will help them in the long run. I don't flip out about grades unless it is obvious that the child is just being lazy. And frankly, with NCLB, it would probably have to be laziness, and all of us must do the busy work at least sometimes to get a paycheck.

I have friends who have home-schooled up until this past year (not for religious reasons, but for not getting their kids trained by The Man... they also don't vaccinate and I do, but I digress). Some of their kids have done well and some haven't, but I have the feeling it would have been that way regardless of if they'd been in the system for the 6 or 7 years up until now because of the personality of the kid. I mean, if a boy or girl just wants to watch movies and skateboard all day...

The angriest I've ever gotten with my local school district was when my daughter was in 3rd grade and had a lazy and stupid teacher (please hear me out). My daughter is a high energy kid who finishes her work and is looking for something else to do. She was forbidden from just reading a book when she was done and not given anything else to do. The teacher all but insisted that I take my child to the doctor and put her on meds. While I was sitting there in the conference, I noticed more than one word that the same teacher misspelled on the board. These were not difficult words. Talk about a GRAR moment. We all survived that year.

The next year, my daughter's teacher, who was a recent grad and also very energetic, figured out that my girl needed some direction (I warned her during orientation and she listened to me.). So, she put her to "work" helping some classmates with math after she'd completed her assignments and then observed how my daughter handled it. My daughter didn't just give them the answers, but explained it in various ways until the other kid got it (how I'd handled homework). At the first conference, the teacher seemed kind of abashed for using her as a tutor, but I was wide-eyed happy about it. My girl loves helping other people and is patient with folks who need help. It was perfect! I was embarrassed to not have suggested it before. It kept her busy in a positive way and made her think harder about math, which is now serving her very well.

Sorry for going on so long, but like I said, this is near and dear to my heart. My father is one of the best teachers I've ever seen in action and I've gotten to know teachers as being his kid. I've heard their wishes and woes.

The teachers who are gems should be appreciated.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:51 AM on August 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also, I was not my school's valedictorian, thanks to religion class and PE. No lie.

For at least a couple years in there, you had to be a practicing Catholic (wtf? I was in the weekly school Mass choir and did readings when it was my turn) to get an A in religion class no matter what you wrote for your papers, etc. And to get an A in PE, you had to be on the basketball team.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:56 AM on August 9, 2010


I read the comments first and was ready for a nasty, entitled rant about students' individuality being crushed by the hegemony compulsory attendance in chemistry class, but the speech itself is pretty good -- especially for a seventeen-year-old. I should have been so lucky (or smart, or hard-working) that I could write a barn-burning speech at 17 that was more than a rant.

Which isn't to say I think she's hit a nail on its head. She is sufficiently blinded by privilege that the entire speech misses the mark. And no wonder, as Athens and Coxackie are both more than 93% white. Any litany of the problems with the public school system that does not begin with the acknowledgement of increasing segregation and exclusion of low-income and non-white students (including at charters) such that disproportionate numbers of them do not have access to even the dubious value of the education she criticizes will inevitably support the status quo: adequate to good education for the offspring of the socially powerful; adequate to oppressive education for the offspring of the socially powerless. Further, failing to consider the role of race (and in a different way, gendered labor) in the construction of the existing public school system in the U.S. will leave you with a weak explanation for how the system came to be and poor predictions about where it will go (hint: increasing segregation, and decreased job security and social prestige for teachers).

Which is why the problems are not intractable, as not that girl suggests, though the solutions will not be implemented within a political system that allocates more resources to the education of some children than others.

As an aside, that is also why people jump on the back of homeschoolers for their privilege in these discussions. Pointing out that some students do well with (near) one-on-one instruction from a live-in tutor who is part of a social community with sufficient financial wherewithal that she* need not be paid is like pointing out that some people don't starve when they have money in their bank account. It's no complaint about money -- it's a complaint that pointing to the winners in the birth lottery doesn't do much to address disparate access to basic goods.

All that said, I'm always happy to see someone arguing for education as an intrinsic good rather than an instrumental one. She also gets points for using her power to speak truth, or something like it, rather than the useless speaking truth to power.
posted by Marty Marx at 1:09 AM on August 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


We have a system that produces the average, and it does so fairly consistently. By the time you're old enough to criticize that system, you're old enough to climb the sides of the system and get yourself out of it as well. If you're smart, you're smart enough to know you're not trapped, because thousands and thousands of other people get out of the system and do something more. If you're ambitious and courageous, you do it.

If you're not, you make speeches.


Ambitious and Courageous? Who was the person who cut & ran for college and who stuck it out and used her public forum to bring the issue to the attention of her community? You may be smarter than Erica Goldson, but on this issue at least, I know who's the better person.

And on preview, what twirlip said.
posted by KingEdRa at 1:12 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have friends who have home-schooled up until this past year (not for religious reasons, but for not getting their kids trained by The Man... they also don't vaccinate and I do, but I digress . . .

I can't resist. Will these parents be "teaching" them science as well? If the Man is my adequate but generally unremarkable public school science teachers, give me the man over this socially harmful self-deceptive indulgence any day.
posted by Marty Marx at 1:14 AM on August 9, 2010


I should probably mention that my jobs that were Average Joe things were actually the most satisfying for me personally. Since '92, I've been a technical writer, freelance graphics and web site design person (done from home, kids were babies, had a hard time getting paid), secretary (it had some other title, but I forget and that was the worst job ever), photo retoucher, computer lab waitress, and now, IT support for faculty and staff. The last two, as part time work, have been the most agreeable to my life in general, as I can plan and execute healthy dinners for my household, teach my children stuff they won't learn at school, and find time to make art and show my work. Figuring out the work vs life ratio is the most important thing to me lately.
posted by lilywing13 at 1:18 AM on August 9, 2010


Marty Marx, I agree with you! Supposedly, they have been teaching their children science, but also getting their kids excused from vaccinations via religious exception.

I just took my kids for whooping cough boosters just a week or so ago, and my friend isn't talking to me right now because I was like "WHAT?" after I mentioned that her two were going to need them and she told me this news.

(My mind boggles, too, but vaccinations isn't a topic MeFi does well, so we should probably drop it. Dear Mods, I really wasn't trying to start a derail, but to give an example.)
posted by lilywing13 at 1:27 AM on August 9, 2010


What if, perchance, rather than cut funding and fire teachers from overcrowded schools, we choose to better our public education system with the money we now spend supporting faraway deaths and economic imperialism? And all of that money was rained upon it in a glorious deluge of funding; funding ignorant of standardized tests. Surely all but those who benefit now would agree that a finely educated youth is far more important than the Wars on Drugs and Terror?
I left high school a little over a year ago, choosing the GED over finishing junior year. Most of what I'd want to say has been said of the experience, leaving out some of the positive aspects, I guess I'll rant anyway. There were 4,000 kids in both of the high schools I attended, each less than 1% White. We were a restless, unruly, teeming mass and except for the would-be valedictorians we shared a common understanding of how terrible the public school system was. One of my AP English classes had students who were nearly illiterate; there was no space for them in the other classes. My biology class had at least 45 people in it, most of whom were to fail. Both schools had constant police presence and there were frequent classroom searches carried out with drug-sniffing dogs. The students were treated like criminals by authorities who had gone from teachers to disciplinarians long before. These were not even the rough inner city schools. I was lucky enough to be in small magnet programs for most of my high school education. We weren't taught to the tests because the tests are too easy not to ace, yet my classmates continued to commit to the same behaviors this speaker regrets. The testing only accounts for the fact that our schools base their standard of education on meager knowledge of algebra, sentence structure and history, besides being the worst possible method ever devised for the allocation of funding. How can someone teach a room of 45 people who want anything but to be trapped under a desk, listening to you speak? The schools can't pay their teachers on time, they don't have the money to have enough books for each student in class, they have so many kids that they have to fire teachers and cut classes. We could have an education instead of being held in unending boredom in the face of pointless busywork for 6 hours a day. Do we pay taxes to fight wars with strangers over lies we seem to hardly care about? There are so many deep flaws with our current system and a strong public education is the first step towards changing any of that in the future.
posted by KingoftheWhales at 1:55 AM on August 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Just chiming in again to say I hate when people declare that someone's argument is irrelevant or should be ignored because they're privileged enough to articulate it.

I may be saying this as an incredibly privileged person, but surely if we relinquish our ability to vocalise our discontent then we remain beholden to status quo interests. Is it better that those who can speak stay quiet?

I may not know what poverty feels like, but that does not mean that I must cease all efforts to reduce it or eliminate it. I would actually suggest that it is imperative upon those privileged people who have the luxury of time to challenge contemporary problems to do so, or else who will?
posted by knapah at 4:16 AM on August 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Just chiming in again to say I hate when people declare that someone's argument is irrelevant or should be ignored because they're privileged enough to articulate it.


Yeah, this thread is weird. My previous comment about her perceived privilege was more about how this may have been a bit dismissive to those families who see graduation as more than just "jumping through hoops". I applaud her speech and appeal to reform - God knows we need it - and I am pretty disgusted by all of the personal attacks against her.

If you're ambitious and courageous, you do it.

If you're not, you make speeches.


.
the fuck?
posted by Think_Long at 4:51 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Public education is a privilege

Perhaps, but many of us learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.
posted by jonmc at 6:09 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was on track to become the valedictorian in a high school with a student body of nearly 5,000 in the early 1990s before I left to go to college in my junior year.

I disliked high school, was sure my life would improve once I got out of it, and was ready to leave early--I had not taken any study halls, for instance, so that I would have enough credits to graduate early, only to learn too late that my school didn't allow early graduation even for students who had met all the requirements for graduation.

For reasons of temperament and limited experience and family dynamics, it never occurred to me to leave without getting a diploma. I was telling my story to someone a couple of years ago, and she said, "Oh, that same thing happened to me, so I just dropped out and started taking classes at the community college." I was flabbergasted--such a thing would never have crossed my mind. I have tremendous respect for people who had that kind of strength of will and ability to see options at such a young age, but when you've been living in such a narrow environment, and told that the only path out is graduation followed by college, it takes a lot to figure out that you do have other options. I would rather honor the ones who figure it out than criticize the ones who don't.
posted by not that girl at 6:39 AM on August 9, 2010


My parents were absolutely aghast at the quality of my classes at my local public high school. In particular, the test on Romeo and Juliet (500 questions, true or false) that started off with "Juliet was a Capulet T/F" made my mother foam at the mouth. And this is not a *bad* school, not at all.

She scheduled a meeting with the principal and my guidance counselor to talk about options for accelerated classes and was told that "grapefruitmoon is smart and she's just going to have to get used to being ahead of all the other kids."

As my mom and I walked back to the car at the end of the meeting, I was told that I had the choice between two local private high schools. I picked the one closest to my town so I wouldn't have to break up with my boyfriend (GAG, but such is the decision making process when you're 14) and my workload was such that I literally broke down and cried with the first night's homework.

I worked my ass off and graduated second in my class. I had some great teachers. I had some crap teachers. But most importantly, I was taught to value my own education and that it was up to me - and no one else - if I wanted to succeed. Public high school where I lived didn't really have this going on, it was more about survival than success.

I wish, I truly wish, that I had more faith in the American public school system, but I long ago decided that no matter what I have to do to afford it financially, I will be sure that my own children attend private and not public high school. (Unless, of course, I live some place where the public school is honestly the better option.) I understand all too well what this girl is saying and getting me *out* of that system is by far the best thing my own parents ever did for me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:47 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Grapefruitmoon,

We are sending our (potential) child to his/her grandparents in Peru. Awesome private bilingual schools with crazy good IB programs cost less than the average car payment there. If you happen to have close relatives abroad, consider that alternative. Plus, the travelling and knowing different cultures is always eye-opening for younglings.
posted by Tarumba at 7:11 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


If you don't want to be Average Joe, great! Don't be Average Joe. But don't put a knife in the backs of all the Average Joes that put food on your plate each day or get gasoline to the station or any of the thousands of other jobs that we need Average Joes for. And certainly don't do it in front of them on the day when their children transition into their lives as Average Joes. Because that's a dick move.

no, the real dick move is assuming that all the people who end up doing those jobs are average joes and can't understand what she is saying to them
posted by pyramid termite at 7:12 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Tarumba, while I appreciate the perspective, sending my children to a foreign country far away from their own *parents* while they're still teenagers is a can of worms I'm absolutely not prepared to even consider unless they brought it up first.

I did a year abroad after high school and it turned out to be only five months because it was one of the most miserable experiences of my entire life. I had to go home early and receive emergency (outpatient, thankfully) treatment for severe depression. "Not the US" isn't necessarily the panacea that its often romanticized to be. There's a lot to be said for culture shock and being away from your family as really effin' difficult experiences.

If my kids chose to go to school in another country, I would support them 100%, but I would never ever push it on them based on my own heartache. Like I said, I've done it myself and it absolutely did NOT turn out "for the best."
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:35 AM on August 9, 2010


I'm supposed to know how to fix the American education system before I'm allowed to be critical of it, I'm supposed to somehow make my local schools an edutopia before I'm allowed to sit down and work a few math problems with my kids.

I'm fine with anyone homeschooling their kids. I'm not fine with the rhetoric of "tear the system down" people have without putting any framework back up besides having parents educate their children. Which is a bit like saying that the laws prevent both the rich and poor from stealing bread. I don't mind criticism, I mind the lack of a means to affect that change.

Like Marty Marx says:

As an aside, that is also why people jump on the back of homeschoolers for their privilege in these discussions. Pointing out that some students do well with (near) one-on-one instruction from a live-in tutor who is part of a social community with sufficient financial wherewithal that she* need not be paid is like pointing out that some people don't starve when they have money in their bank account. It's no complaint about money -- it's a complaint that pointing to the winners in the birth lottery doesn't do much to address disparate access to basic goods.

I'm not going to say you shouldn't homeschool your kids, but to put it forth as a universal seems to totally neglect the environment some children are in.
posted by zabuni at 8:05 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't get all this backlash, does her tone somehow belie her message? I swear if Christ Himself returned and gave a new sermon, people where would complain because his beard is "so 2004."

High school sucked, and I'd hazard it sucks worse now.

Our valedictorian started his speech talking about his hero and inspiration, Dave Matthews. It was all I could do to stand up and scream "DAVE MATTHEWS DROPPED OUT OF HIGH SCHOOL, GENIUS"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:13 AM on August 9, 2010


I teach high school math in the Toronto public school system, and I have to believe things are vastly different here than many have related so far. I cannot conceive of a curriculum which allows, for example, a test consisting of nothing but T/F. Up here, I have to ensure that each piece of assessment I administer (after I decide whether it is formative or summative) includes questions designed to evaluate students' Knowledge and Understanding, Thinking and Inquiry, Making Connections and Communication. The Ministry of Education demands that I make sure my students are always connecting my lesson material to the greater world, and questioning the relevance of what I am teaching them (which can be pretty difficult to achieve in grade 10 math, let me assure you). The big push in public education here right now is Differentiated Instruction, which requires me to determine each of my student's preferred learning styles and ensure that I am presenting material in a variety of different ways to address each style of learning. In the eight years I've been teaching, I have run into countless dedicated teachers whose main motivation is inspiring their students and making them question their assumptions about everything around them. Sure, I've run into a few duds too, but in eight years at three schools (and about 120 total teachers) I can count fewer than five teachers that I wouldn't choose to teach my own child.

So overall, it makes me pretty angry when people make blanket statements about all public eduction being crap when I'm busting my ass trying to think of ways to make, say, the quadratic formula relevant, interesting, and accessible to visual learners, kinesthetic learners, etc. I'm up there at the front of class doing function aerobics to teach parabola transformations looking like a complete loon, and creating five different lesson plans for each topic when I go home at night. Most of the teachers I know are a lot like me. I would argue strongly that one of the biggest problems in public eduction today is a willingness on the part of the public to believe that all public school teachers must be stupid, unimaginative and disinterested. Most public school teachers care deeply, but are hopelessly underfunded and undersupported and attacked on all sides by the government, parents, and now even students.

I believe that a quality public education is the greatest requirement of a civilized society, and for this reason I do not believe in private school. Any place of education will only be as good as those involved work to make it. Dedicated teachers are essential, but so is a decent funding structure, supportive parents, and mutual respect between students and educators. I applaud Erica Goldson for highlighting the problems that can be endemic to modern education (while wishing she might have been slightly less dismissive of all her teachers, who clearly taught her to write an excellent speech somewhere along the way), but I cannot agree with those who have commented that the only way to address these problems is to opt out of the public school system entirely. What does it say about our society if we truly believe quality public education to be impossible?

My daughter will be school age in a few years. When other parents talk about how such-and-such school is better than the local public school around the corner, and what about that great new private school, and oh noes, no one will understand my special little angel, I ask them (very nicely and non-agressively) why they are so sure they can objectively judge the quality of a school they have no involvement in, and point out that I can't wait to send my daughter to the local school. I know it's all very easy for me to say that because I'm lucky enough to live in a city with a great public school system, but the way the system got great in the first place is because parents like me decided to support their local school (and cheerfully paid taxes to support said school). Public school may not be a village (you know, the one it takes to raise a child), but it's the closest thing we have and we should do all that we can to support it.
posted by Go Banana at 8:13 AM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


So overall, it makes me pretty angry when people make blanket statements about all public eduction being crap

I'm pretty sure that the people who are saying this are generalizing to the US education system without necessarily specifying that this is what they mean. Often the people who decry American public education are the first to defend other countries as doing it way better than we do. As you yourself point out, there are some pretty huge differences.

And while you decry private school, it is pretty much a necessary evil at this point. The public school in my town wasn't going to improve over the four years that I was in high school and in order to get a decent education, there needed to be options. Private school is the reason I was able to learn self-discipline and good study habits, get into college, and ultimately move out of the small town I grew up in. None of those things would have been possible for me if I'd stayed in an environment that said I just had to "get used to" being ahead of the curriculum. (And yes, PS, my parents still paid taxes to my hometown's school system long after I transferred out of it. They were still supporting the school even though I didn't actually attend it.)

I'm all for improving public schools, especially in the US, but with things being as they are - alternatives are needed. Homeschooling is one alternative, private schools are another. Parents and kids need choices to make sure their needs are met. If you can do that in a public school, more power to you. If you can't, you shouldn't be vilified for seeking alternatives.

I know it's all very easy for me to say that because I'm lucky enough to live in a city with a great public school system, but the way the system got great in the first place is because parents like me decided to support their local school (and cheerfully paid taxes to support said school).

Yes, which is why you should be able to see that this isn't the case everywhere. Not every school exists in a community that has the resources to pitch in and really work at it. In a perfect world, all parents would have the time to do this, but that's just not the case. In a small working-class town in Vermont, parents are lucky to have time to go over homework with their kids and aside from taxes, can most likely contribute financially in the form of bake sales. This isn't a bad town or a bad school, by any means, but it's pretty standard in that the quality of the education just is not - and can't possibly be at this point - as good as the surrounding private schools which have larger endowments and the support of parents (who by virtue of sending their kids to private school in the first place) who have a much higher stake in their childrens' education, not to mention the support of past alums of the school, which isn't something you see often in public schools.

Yes, I think public schools absolutely need to be improved as much as possible and the way to do that is through parental involvement, but the Catch-22 of the situation for me is "Do I really want to give my child an education that I know is sub-optimal in order to try and improve the school and prove a point? Or do I want to leave politics aside and try to give my child the best education that I can?"

I say this as someone who has experience the vast difference in educational quality between public and private schools in the US. Yes, there are public schools that are as good as the private school I went to, but they're few and far between. Really, the difference for me was night and day and it's very clear to me that I want to give my children the same opportunity for a high quality education that my parents gave me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:28 AM on August 9, 2010


Malice: Public schools are crap. I'm surprised you're all acting this way.

One could say the same thing about valedictory speeches, or comments on the internet. Except in the case of public schools, there's a lot at stake, and not everyone has the capacity to homeschool or pay for a private education, so I think it's a topic that matters. Other than that, I'm not sure what particular way "all" are acting -- the comments suggest that many had difficult experience, though at least a few had fine ones. Even critics here are distinguishing between the principle of public education and the realities of how it is presently done.

I'm more surprised that you think your comment is constructive, and that you have an adequate basis for such a dumbass generalization.

jonmc: Perhaps, but many of us learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.

Please, be precise. What three minute record(s) do you have in mind, who else shares your view, and are you seriously contending that you learned nothing more valuable during your years of education? This is the kind of platitude that normally finds a comfortable home in valedictory speeches.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:02 AM on August 9, 2010


While she makes good points about our education system (our fucking ridiculous education system), I feel like she is a bit dismissive about the barriers most face for a high school degree. To her, it was the ability to take a test and do extra credit. To a majority of the people in that room, it took so much more effort - and perhaps it means a lot more to them.

I can make a C+ feel like A Congressional Medal of Honor, and an A- like a slap in the face; how dare you waste my time with anything less than your very best.
posted by Evilspork at 9:07 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Clyde Mnestra, it's Springsteen. The poster child for smart creative talented kids who have no interest in squeezing themselves into the box their teachers & parents think they belong in.
posted by headnsouth at 9:14 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Which leads me to ask a question she will probably never answer: since you are smart enough to have noticed that this process was killing your mind and soul, desiccating them, and grinding them into something that could be used to brew espresso; given that, why did you not just walk away as so many of us did? The only answers I can come up with are: A) cowardice or a lack of ambition, in which case I respect your opinion not one bit, or B) you really aren't all that smart.

Nicely judgmental.

To answer your question: I was lied to, repeatedly, from birth, about the importance of school. I wanted to go to college and thought that if I had a GED, rather than a "real" diploma, I wouldn't get into the schools I wanted. When I openly considered dropping out, adults freaked out. "You can't drop out, you're too smart!" They treated dropping out like it would be the end of all of my potential.

But really, it boils down to I was a child. It was hard to see over the adults.

I also didn't have the option of starting college a year early, like you. A choice, by the way, that fits the narrative of intellectual potential quite well, and is not that daring. While you're sneering at the people who decided to stay for whatever reason, I'm just thinking you're unreasonably smug.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 9:17 AM on August 9, 2010 [5 favorites]


Please, be precise. What three minute record(s) do you have in mind

Yakety Yak by the Coasters. or perhaps Birth School Work Death by the Godfathers.
posted by jonmc at 9:25 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Clyde Mnestra:Please, be precise. What three minute record(s) do you have in mind

jonmc: Yakety Yak by the Coasters. or perhaps Birth School Work Death by the Godfathers.

Or Synchronicity II by the Police. Or Ants Marching by Dave Matthews.
posted by headnsouth at 9:36 AM on August 9, 2010


Gotta Get Up by The Bottlerockets (audio)
posted by jonmc at 9:41 AM on August 9, 2010


Cool Water by The Talking Heads.
posted by localroger at 9:57 AM on August 9, 2010


To continue in my surly mode here, claims to have learned something from a record often boil down to something that the listener already knew and felt but found nicely expressed in a record -- resonance, rather than learning. Certainly I can't dismiss the possibility that someone learned more in *some* sense from Bruce, or the Bottle Rockets, or from one of Uncle Sheldon's asides, than they learned in school. (Though I'll be damned if I will concede the possibility of learning a single thing from Dave Matthews.)

I'm sure many would claim -- following the minstrels that themselves were typically no great shakes at school, and might have a little bias on the matter -- that they learned more from a particular song than all the books they ever read.

Of course, that doesn't have any bearing on whether schools should do a good job at teaching people how to read, or maybe even help on music appreciation. So again, strikes me as neither here nor there.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 9:58 AM on August 9, 2010


Clyde, one thing you obviously didn't learn in school is how to detect humor.
posted by jonmc at 10:03 AM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Anyone who's followed your posting history long enough, jonmc, would assume you were being dead serious.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:04 AM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Please, be precise. What three minute record(s) do you have in mind

subterranean homesick blues by bob dylan

and when i die, to a child by laura nyro

ode to billie joe by bobby gentry
posted by pyramid termite at 10:05 AM on August 9, 2010


Pope Guilty, that'd be pushing it. Somebody's who's followed my posting history long enough also would know that I'm a major league Springsteen fan and that I like to kid around. Plus it was kind of an obvious joke in this thread.
posted by jonmc at 10:08 AM on August 9, 2010


Clyde, one thing you obviously didn't learn in school is how to detect humor.

jonmc, I am guilty -- I thought, originally, that you were quoting Bruce and agreeing with him, as he wasn't being humorous and your comment was in keeping with other school disparaging remarks upthread. This was my first error. I then failed to pick up on the signals as you broadened the joke with your examples of songs about bowing to authority, etc. Why couldn't I have been more adept at detecting -- nay, reveling in -- the humor?

Now why you think school would ever be good at teaching humor, I'll probably never understand. They're crap at things like that.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:13 AM on August 9, 2010


segregation and exclusion of low-income and non-white students

...

the solutions will not be implemented within a political system that allocates more resources to the education of some children than others


Marty Marx has noticed an enormous elephant in the room.

Still Separate, Still Unequal
posted by mrgrimm at 10:16 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Burn a Flag (July 4)" - The Visitations
posted by mrgrimm at 10:20 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


that you were quoting Bruce and agreeing with him, as he wasn't being humorous

He was using hyperbole to make a point. I'm the son of a grade-school teacher and the husband of a high school teacher, so I obviously understand the value of education and understand that it needs to be publicly available. But as a mediocre student with a lot of learning disabilities and other issues, it often seemed that my outside interests and just life in general might be teaching me more than the classroom, so I know what Bruce was getting at. Plus he's a rock musician, I hope he'd learn more of his craft from records than in class.
posted by jonmc at 10:26 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


jonmc, believe it or not, I was not aware of either your posting history or your personal history, so none of this was apparent to me. Now that it is, I am newly confused as to the degree to which you are/were joking. Maybe "halfwit"?

P.S. Yes as to Bruce's personal lessons, though I actually think well enough of his lyrics to think that he might have picked up something in school that > any particular record. And don't know who the "we" is in his song.

P.P.S. For those others citing songs, Schoolhouse Rock should have made the cut.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:36 AM on August 9, 2010


And don't know who the "we" is in his song.

Him and his guitarist/BFF Steve Van Zandt.
posted by jonmc at 10:39 AM on August 9, 2010


I cannot conceive of a curriculum which allows, for example, a test consisting of nothing but T/F.

I can. Prepare to have your mind blown:

At college (UC Berkeley, which is hardly a second rate institution) I had a multiple choice math test (Vector Calculus, I think) which included proofs.

Multiple choice proofs (not "pick the right proof", but "pick the correct statement that should go here so that the proof makes sense"). Awesome.

T/F at the high school level seems completely reasonable by comparison (and if the student/teacher ratios are out of whack it may seem like the only option).
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 10:43 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not John Kerry? Figures.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 10:47 AM on August 9, 2010


Just chiming in again to say I hate when people declare that someone's argument is irrelevant or should be ignored because they're privileged enough to articulate it.
...
I may not know what poverty feels like, but that does not mean that I must cease all efforts to reduce it or eliminate it. I would actually suggest that it is imperative upon those privileged people who have the luxury of time to challenge contemporary problems to do so, or else who will?


Totally fair, knapah, and I apologize if I came off as making this sort of declaration. There's a difference between saying that an argument has gone astray because privilege has made important facts easier to ignore and saying that an argument is essentially flawed because it comes from the wrong sort of person. I agree with you 100 percent, but I can and should make that distinction more clear in the future.

Three minute education challenge answer: Chelsea Hotel #2 has most of the stuff I wish I'd learned in high school but didn't because I was too busy being smug.
posted by Marty Marx at 10:53 AM on August 9, 2010


How about the part where she says if not for her favorite teacher, she would have been "doomed."

In other words, "This one is cool, but the rest of you suck could go eat a bowl of dicks."


I have no problem with this. I had a 2 or 3 decent teachers in school, and I had a LOT of total waste-of-space "teachers" in school.

But I had one teacher -- in 3rd grade! -- who made a huge difference in my life, and whose infectious love of learning changed my path, even years later. I credit him with my interest in computers (this was before desktops were prevalent), science, history, music, and everything else I like today.

If one person can have that much influence on 9-year-old me, imagine what a few more like him might have turned me into. Unfortunately, most of the rest of my teachers could go eat a bowl of dicks.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:33 AM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is a hard problem, and not merely theoretical or philosophical for those of us with children. This is the stuff that, quite literally, keep us up at night. My child is only 6, and we have already dedicated hundreds of hours to this issue.

(All the below is simply my opinion, in case that is not obvious enough).

- Many public schools are substandard.
- Many teachers are underpaid and under-trained.
- Many areas do not have private schools, or if they do, they are so prohibitively expensive as to not be an option, even for solidly middle class families. (A friend in another city sent his kid to a private school that cost $6,000 a year. The only private school in our area costs $20,000 a year solely for tuition. That's... a big difference.)
- Many private schools are not academically superior, but have another motive (i.e. religious, etc).
- Many parents are not financially capable of having 1 parent dedicated to homeschooling.
- Many parents are not intellectually qualified to homeschool their children. (and I am flummoxed as to why this is rarely, if ever, addressed in homeschooling conversations. These conversations usually start from the default position that everyone is imbued with the intellectual, emotional, and practical abilities necessary for homeschooling their children, and this does not appear to be so for a great many people/families).
- Homeschooling fails to prepare children socially, which is as important to long term success as academics.
- Most academics, professionals, athletes, artists, and politicians are products of public schools.
- Many people who went to private school are now "average joes", often by their own choosing. Not everyone wants to be a doctor or academic. And that is, and should be, fine.
- A lot of people don't NEED to go to college. Not everyone is interested in, or capable of, postsecondary education.
- Public schools have a lot of problems. Reminding everyone that even the best students suffer is important.
- Some people worked their asses off only to barely graduate. Telling them how easy school is and how dumb it makes you is kind of a dick move.

Like I said, this is hard.

The problems, contradictions, and potential minefields even in my very simplistic outline above should be obvious.

There is no one solution, except to make public schools superior to private schools at no cost to parents. This is impossible, and still does not necessarily govern outcomes.

Homeschooling I consider to be particularly vexing due to the social/environmental aspect of it. Going to a "homeschool association" play-date once every 2 weeks or some kind of joint outing/field trip once a month is no substitute for learning how to interact with peers on a daily basis. Very few people live and work in isolation or with only family members.

I strongly believe homeschooling places children at a distinct social disadvantage, regardless of how "smart" they are, but I readily admit this is a personal bias based on observation, not any sort of empirical data.
posted by discountfortunecookie at 11:49 AM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Homeschooling I consider to be particularly vexing due to the social/environmental aspect of it. Going to a "homeschool association" play-date once every 2 weeks or some kind of joint outing/field trip once a month is no substitute for learning how to interact with peers on a daily basis. Very few people live and work in isolation or with only family membe

Few homeschoolers I know live and work in isolation or with only family members. I go to my local gym and in the afternoons it's silly with homeschoolers in the program they have just for them-the program that blows any public school PE totally out of the water. They have a similar program at the Y, I'm told. Local homeschool associations sponsor classes together (my son took a writing class with a group when I was homeschooling) and many homeschoolers go to large churches with very active children's ministries and youth groups. Plus many of them do scouts and other equivalents....etc.

And for what it's worth, one of my son's roommates at USAFA had been totally homeschooled thru 12th grade and still got in. You don't get into USAFA without interviews and proven leadership ability along with the grades.

Yep, there are wack families in homeschooling. There are also wack families in public school. It's just that when they are in public school the wack is blamed on something other than homeschool. ;-)

Besides, most time spent in public school is PREVENTING the little scamps from socializing. Either that or the socialization they are getting is the totally negative kind. As someone who did both homeschooling and public schooling for my own kids, trust me, public school socialization is nothing to be thrilled about a lot of the time.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:02 PM on August 9, 2010 [4 favorites]


Homeschooling fails to prepare children socially, which is as important to long term success as academics.

Is there any evidence for this? Honest question.
posted by twirlip at 2:04 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Man, you've got to have some pretty loaded parents if you can find a way to feed yourself beyond subsistence in the middle of an urban area without a high school education...

What do you think the high school education actually does? Do you really believe that the ability to do jobs available to high school graduates depend on the academic knowledge ideally gained from high school? Nah... when it comes to employment, a high school diploma is primarily a signifier of class and a willingness to play by the system's rules.

Erica's message wasn't, we all could have totally supported ourselves if we had just dropped out. Her message was about the inadequacies of public school education. She cares about learning beyond bureaucratic credentials and it's really frustrating to see people here getting mad about that. She's taking issue with the system that holds up the stupid hoops, not denying that there are personal gains to be had in jumping through them.
posted by randomname25 at 3:05 PM on August 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


Nothing wrong with public shcool at all.
posted by headnsouth at 3:11 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who's Schools? Our Schools!
posted by shinybaum at 3:19 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Brilliant speech. Amazingly feisty, honest and spirited. I wish her the best in her journey and that she be able to keep her brave heart in tact as she makes those healthy changes in the better world she envisions.

Stimulating post, St. Alia of the Bunnies. Thanks for the inspiration and hope.
posted by nickyskye at 5:36 PM on August 9, 2010


I can't resist. Will these parents be "teaching" them science as well? If the Man is my adequate but generally unremarkable public school science teachers, give me the man over this socially harmful self-deceptive indulgence any day.

Hopefully they won't be using these textbooks.
posted by homunculus at 7:55 PM on August 9, 2010


Can't go into to much detail, Very tired and ready for bed. We started Home education last year and she has more social interaction than she did at school. Full day arts coop on Fridays, Horse lesson and full SAturdays at the barn and ply dates with friends, She agrees that she sees her friends now more than ever. The social thing was my biggest worry, it turned out to be the easiest to achieve, Starting our second year tomorrow...Can't wait!! It's the best choice for us!!
posted by pearlybob at 9:39 PM on August 9, 2010


From homunculus' link:

Federal statistics from 2007 show 83 percent of home-schooling parents want to give their children "religious or moral instruction."

"The majority of home-schoolers self-identify as evangelical Christians," said Ian Slatter, a spokesman for the Home School Legal Defense Association. "Most home-schoolers will definitely have a sort of creationist component to their home-school program."


83 percent want to do religious instruction.

So while I realize that is probably not the intent of the majority of MeFi homeschooling families, it is for the overwhelming majority of those that choose to homeschool.

Of my Facebook friends that are now homeschooling, I do not know a single family that is doing it for reasons other than religious indoctrination. And it at least appears to be gaining momentum every year.

I hope this helps explains that those of us that are suspicious of it as an institution have some basis for our concern.
posted by discountfortunecookie at 8:14 AM on August 10, 2010


Do a google for secular homeschooling. We are out there. More and more every year....
posted by pearlybob at 11:23 AM on August 10, 2010


discountfortunecookie: 83 percent want to do religious instruction.

It said 83 percent want to do religious or moral instruction. I'm an atheist who meditates with a buddhist sangha in a UU church, and if I were homeschooling my kids I would have answered "yes" to that question too. What parent wouldn't want to include moral instruction in their child's education?
posted by headnsouth at 12:39 PM on August 10, 2010


headnsouth: I would assume 100% of parents want to do "moral instruction" of their children regardless of homeschool or public/private school.

The implication of the question is, what is the primary motivation, what is the actual reason you homeschool as opposed to not. In this context, moral is for practical purposes a homonym for religious, and hence why it is used interchangeably in this statistic.

If your primary motivation for homeschooling was for moral instruction, then I'd be a little suspicious of that too.

I am instructing my child in how to live a moral (and ethical) life, but that is not the primary function of school. It's not even the secondary function.

pearlybob: I know you are out there, and I'm thankful. It just appears that while you may be in the majority in a place like MeFi, you are still in the stark minority in the population as a whole.

And to be clear, I think parents should be able to do whatever they feel best for their child, as I expect that privilege. But, I have to be honest when I say I question the motives of those homeschooling parents in many instances.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that "most" homeschooling in America is for the purposes of religious indoctrination by Christian evangelicals. And I think those parents are shortchanging their children's educations and futures for questionable reasons.

And I don't even necessarily have a problem with the indoctrination. Indoctrinate them all you want after school and all weekends. But for god's sake let Billy go to school and actually learn a few things that are not in the Bible or a "Biblically consistent" textbook.

That such a thing even exists gives me shivers.
posted by discountfortunecookie at 2:58 PM on August 10, 2010


You tell them, you spirited young colt! Rally the 105 or so students who graduated with you! Shout out to ~200 parents! Get your message out through small mixed news site (and then get re-published through an educational company site) about how you are a slave in training! Maybe she is simply being brash and idealistic and starry-eyed and enthused about stickin' it to The Man, but a school with more than 500 students is not The Man.

In short, what Lemurrhea said about being a grade-gunner. You aren't the only kid in class, so you're bound to be bored if you understand everything and the teacher is teaching to kids who don't yet comprehend the lesson. You focused on grades instead of the lesson, because that was how you were judged, not what was there to be learned. You were the best robotic bookshelf, not the best student. If you're the valedictorian of your school yet you feel like you were an indoctrinated slave, the only thing holding you back was you, not teachers and not the system.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:19 PM on August 10, 2010


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