We find ourselves asking the question, “What is wrong with our society?” more often than we would like. From an increase in school shootings and teenage suicides to harassment and cyberbullying threats. And, of course, as an over-analyzer, I have been thinking about what is causing our society to shift in this way and what I can do to fix it.
For one, I blame standardized testing. I believe one of the fundamental purposes of public schooling is to teach our people to be functioning citizens. Schools are the warehouses of our future generations and provide an easy access point to disseminate information and procedures through. For example, in Nazi Germany, curriculum included lessons promoting anti-semitism. In American schools, we say the Pledge of Allegiance to engrain in our citizens the importance of pride and patriotism. During the Cold War era, students were taught how to react during a bomb threat and in P.E. classes, we teach kids what to do when attacked by an alligator. If ever an organization wants to enact a policy quickly, they target schools because schools can provide a mass arena of communication transit. Instead of banging on the doors or sending out pamphlets to every single address, an organization can easily tell one principal, who can tell 60 teachers, who can then reach 1,500 students in a rapid amount of time.
One fundamental purpose of schools is to socialize our citizens. As any teacher knows, we do not just teach content in schools; we teach the importance of goal setting, how to recover from a ghastly mistake, personal responsibility.
A few weeks ago, my freshmen read an article about gun control and were supposed to answer some questions about speaker, audience, purpose in small groups. About fifteen minutes into the activity, my attention was attracted to a group of boys, arguing vehemently in the corner. As I was on my way to break them up, I realized they were arguing about their opinions of gun control laws. So, I decided to sit back down at my desk and let them converse. If any administrator, district official, standardized-test maker came into my classroom, they would certainly scrutinize this decision. Certainly, T-CAPs and ACTs are looming in the corner. And certainly, because I let my kids argue for twenty minutes about gun control, we did not get to the lesson about integrating quotes or citing our sources or the proper usage of a semi colon. But, what they are learning is how to have an intellectual conversation with their peers. They are bonding with their classmates, learning how to appropriately disagree, and how to socialize.
Because of the emphasis on standardized testing (especially since it will be tied to teacher pay) and the increase in work load of teachers, I believe we are forgetting to instruct on how to be human. I am completely responsible for this as well. I teach three different preps. I am also the head coach of a brand new dance team. I am working on my Master’s degree, among the other stuff I have going on in my personal life. This year, I must meet with an evaluator six times, which means I have to fill out a form for each time. I also have to upload evidence of my teaching to an online platform. I also have 158 students; it takes me about two weeks to learn all of their names, let alone what kind of personal and family issues they have going on. There are certainly some days, especially during evaluation season, that I am unable to be present for my students. I always worry that, because I am so inundated with so many tasks, meetings, and reforms, I am not doing the most important job I have, and that is being there for my students. I worry that I am not seeing those suicide signs, I am not witnessing the bullying, I am not catching the obvious eating disorder symptoms in the corner. I believe standardized testing has caused us to be removed from our students and more focused on creating robotic, monotonous, disengaged beings.
Part of this issue, I believe, stems from the technological age we now live in. In teacher preparation classes and professional development sessions, the focus is upon using technology in the classroom; “Look at this cool, new iDoodle project that your kids can use to present their ideas”, “Have your kids post an online discussion in class using Tag-Xedo”, “Organize your paper using Prezi”. Yes, I do agree that technology is wonderful and allows us to access and share so much more information than ever before. However, think about what all of this requires the student to do: sit behind some kind of electronic equipment, stare at the screen, and push buttons. It is not asking kids to interact directly; it does not force them into potentially uncomfortable situations, where they have t to interact with other students. And, then think about what they do when they get home: sit behind the same kind of monitors, playing video games, Tweeting, Facebooking, etc.
I think another issue is parents. In order to survive in this economy, both parents need to work. Which means, generally, there is no parent to greet the kids when they get home. And, when the parents do get home, both are exhausted from their own days that they want to stare at the wall. On their weekends, while running errands, it is easier to occupy their child with an iPad, rather than sit at dinner and listen to the child make a racket. And, this creates a society in which children are not reprimanded, they are allowed to talk back, they don’t know how to fix their own problems. I can’t tell you how many e-mails I get on a daily basis, criticizing me for their child’s mistake: “Bobby told me he turned in that assignment, so your calculations must be wrong”, “I am not understanding why my child is failing your class; she says you hate her”, “You should let my child re-take that test. He just wasn’t prepared”. To me, most of these comments are an effect of the parent feeling guilty for not being present in their child’s life and therefore, it is easier to take it out on me rather than admit to themselves that they should be monitoring their child better.
I believe we are in a societal crisis. I believe the impacts of standardized testing, technology, and dual income households, although appear to be slight, are causing us to be disengaged, monotonous factory workers. We no longer appreciate interpersonal communication, because we can do it all from behind a screen. We no longer teach our kids how to stand up for themselves, so we see bullying becoming a more severe issue. We no longer take care of ourselves and our mental health, because we are numb and don’t know any differently. I believe this is a much more wide-spread issue, one that perhaps cannot be changed by any law or any one organization, but must be conquered by personal choice. So, in an effort to save these kids’ lives, I vow, as a teacher, to continue teaching socialization; to continue letting the vehement boys argue in the corner; to encourage the kids I coach to put away their cell phones and enjoy the time they have together. I vow to teach how to be a human, however uncomfortable, awkward, and controversial that may be.