Monday, April 6, 1992

Day 1 of my last week, hard to sound so gloomy but I have had enough of the daily grind of these irritatingly self-indulgent crybabies who know nothing except their wants. At the end of each day I sit back and wonder, I have been wondering even more as I have been reading Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol, the main argument of which is that if socially, racially underprivileged kids were to receive the same advantages as rich suburban kids they would benefit to a similar degree. I used to think this as well; he talks to articulate urban youngsters overwhelmed by their inabilities and disadvantages, wishing they had the same opportunities and the same range of offerings as their rich cohorts. I read these reports and felt that YES these kids need the same opportunities and YES they need enough books and YES they need greenhouses and planetaria and YES they need small classes and YES they need dedicated teachers and YES they need rebuilt facilities, painted, repaired and beautiful and YES they need field trips and YES the parents need choice and ALL would be well with the schools.

However, I have spent the last 9 weeks discovering that this is not true, you cannot provide quality facilities and then assume that challenged, dedicated, and interested students will somehow magically appear (or transubstantiate from those vicious, hard-boiled gangsters of yore). Parents do not show up for anything nor respond to direct pleas for any help. They provide nothing for their students except expensive coats and gorgeous shoes. No one has pencils, pens, paper, notebooks, homework, attention or interest. Parents don't seem to help, or if they do it is so subtle as to be virtually invisible. At the suburban school where my son attends, a PTA meeting draws 300 parents (of a 700 student body); PTA meetings at my daughter's urban elementary school draw 6 or 8 mostly white parents from a 130 member, mostly black, student body. There is little opportunity to involve anyone in their children's education when they evince so little concern from the very beginning. They are begged to attend and bribed; pleading teachers make individual calls to attempt to get something yet they cannot even get pencils. (The only kids with pencils and paper are those who like to draw and spend their classes creating attractive, though irrelevant, pieces of art.) So, I am not sure that Mr. Kozol has all the answers; clearly it is wrong to dump and run but just as clearly is it wrong to spend endlessly with no apparent gain. There is still a 50% dropout rate still a 20% absentee rate and still a huge inattention rate compounded with surliness and antagonism. Does money fix any of these things? Even one? The jury is still out, but one wonders how long people (taxpayers who are basically cheap, racist, and angry) will wait for a verdict. Then what?

Hours 1,2 and 3 began the MMAT test (officially) today and I watched them take it (most of them tried relatively hard, though some, too many, finished in remarkably short times. There was nothing to do except watch and walk around. Not too exciting, informative or challenging (though I did talk to a history teacher about team-teaching WWI history and literature, good idea that has been successfully done in the past).

Hour 5 managed to struggle through Chapter 6 of Animal Farm. It is impossible to get them to pay attention (or at least I have no idea how to tackle it and no one has offered much in the way of help), they are convinced that there is no relevance to what they live or how they are. They hate reading, especially LONG books (I try to point out that most books are much longer; they respond with all the better reason to never read anything). Life has some surprises about that I think, though they are convinced that nothing will happen to them without their consent. They read part, I read most, and we managed to finish it, though who knows what the concept of finish means in these circumstances. It is nice and comforting to think that maybe some day something will strike home and they will recognize a literary masterpiece when they see it as a result of my teaching, but this feels like a seed that has fallen on very rocky soil that happens to be on the main road as well.

Hour 6 had another wasted class today, and it was not all my fault. I feel ready to give up on them and they are more than ready to give up on me. It is mutual disgust at this point, and I am ready to move on to newer and better things. Aren't we all? We attempted to do the written version of Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, and they were totally inattentive (if they could do it quietly that would be one thing, but they are so loud and irritating, other than Gibson, who sits very quietly and waits for ...?). They just diddle and fiddle and waste and pout and whine. They too have some surprises ahead of them, though I have no idea where those surprises will be. Neither do they, but I hope it is not the morgue or the pen. Talent they have, discipline they are totally without. Struggle all the time, achieve nothing, and moan about it is their motto. We read aloud, they understood nothing, and they complained while they sat. Tomorrow we will finish the story, watch the film again, and see what happens. Four to go.

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