Thursday, February 17, 2011

Of Walkouts, Strikes and Telling a Child To Stop Being Intelligent

I know that this blog deals with autism spectrum disorders and how to help your children, but a recent event set me thinking about the average child’s issues and what they face at school as well. That event is the present walk-out by so many teachers in Wisconsin that the state basically canceled school for several days in a row. Now no matter which side of the debate you happen to be on, the issue actually is who is really suffering in this sick-out? The answer is, each and every single child that attends public school in the state of Wisconsin. Listen I have a father who is a teacher and a union member and my grandfather started the butcher’s union back in the day when the world was truly Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, so I am well aware of the benefits and the need for unions historically.

I have to say though that there is just something so hurtful about harming those you are sworn to uplift, in this case the children, no matter what the issues happen to be. In contrast,  the teacher's union in our district just gave back a lot of "givens" from their latest contract because they knew in this economy the town just could not handle the cost and it was give it up or drastic cuts would have to be made. These teachers understood that and I thank them for that. You see, they are smart enough to think in the long run, because they also know that a grateful public will be happy to grant them practically anything they want once the economy turns around. Good faith and a care for our children go a long way in garnering respect.

So how does this fit into my blog…let me tell you. I was thinking about the impact that a teacher has on a student. That when you send your child to school they look up to the teacher and learn from their insights. That a teacher is there to not only mold the development of information intake, but to help turn your child into productive and excited learners. Their job is to grab hold of your child’s instinct to want to learn and to produce by teaching them to be better than they were the day before. Unfortunately it doesn’t always turn out that way.

When I was in 5th grade, I was given a book about the history of Jews in America. Now this was way before there was any interest in ethnic pride or identity politics, which my conservative friends will pooh-pooh, but which I can understand being a minority and all. Well for a young Jewish girl growing up in the deep bible belt of the south (My sister and I were the only Jews in our school) the idea that there were Jews who contributed to the American experience even before the rush of immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century was just amazing. I can even feel the pride right now as I remember how that little ten-year-old girl felt reading that book. There was even a section in the book that surmised that Christopher Columbus may have been Jewish (or at least descended from Jews). This of course was before it was decided that Columbus was an evil-imperialistic SOB.

I was so excited I ran up to the teacher and showed her the book. Now instead of trying to garner my interest, instead of making feel that it was a possibility or something that could have been, she made fun of me in front of the entire class and sent me back to my seat. Her response was “Well you believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want.” I remember that the boy sitting next to me actually told me that everyone in class heard what happened and I responded that I didn’t care. But of course I did and I immediately told my mother when I got home about what the teacher said. My mom, being the terrific lady that she is, promptly made fun of the teacher and her ignorance. Since then anytime you act or think like a fool in our home, we just use the line “Well you believe what you want…” To this day, over 40 years later, we still use that memory to denigrate the ignorant and close-minded.

The question becomes what would have happened to my desire to learn and explore if my mother hadn’t belittled that teacher and her ignorance. It was a hard choice she faced because she wanted me to respect the teacher and behave in school. But she felt that my self-esteem was more important and that she knew that I could handle learning and secretly thinking that the teacher is a moron. (By the way we are talking light years ago, during the civil rights movement and shortly after the Rev.Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. This school event actually took place in Memphis, Tennessee. We moved there one month after Dr. King’s death. You can  bet I have some more interesting stories to tell, things you just wouldn’t believe in today’s world.)

I also was reminded of another interaction with a teacher, this time with the rabbi who taught history when I went to school in Israel during my sophomore year in high school. I was part of a wonderful program called The High School in Israel. You spent a marking period learning and living in Israel and were taught by American teachers on an Israeli campus. It was and is a terrific program. The interesting thing about it was that it was not limited to just Jewish students. We had a huge group of Christian students who took part in the school and it was quite interesting to see their reaction to walking in the footsteps of Jesus, as we walked in the footsteps of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, and modern history as well……(It is one thing to study history it is another thing to touch it, smell it and let in envelope you. It is why one of most favorite things to do is the Freedom Walk in Boston. You stand at the birthplace of the United States and you marvel at the bravery. I remember visiting Washington D.C. and going on a tour of the Capital building with the boys; we were able to stand in the room that housed the original House of Representatives. On the floor is marked the place where Abraham Lincoln’s desk sat. I stood over that star and just never wanted to leave. We also saw the original room where the US Supreme Court met. I swear you really could feel the presence of all those beings from so long ago. I can understand those who travel to Gettysburg and sites all over the Untied States. I definitely understand historical reenactors. Listen, the reality is that not every decision a nation decides is a correct one as we all know, but it makes us as a nation who we are today. Our history truly is our glory and it is our soul. Embracing it gives us an idea of where we come from and where we have yet to go.)

Well anyway the point of the story about studying in Israel is that as a child who loved history I had read and learned everything I could about Jewish and Israeli history before I went on the program. So I knew so much before it was even taught. I would raise my hand all the time and ask alot of questions. Unfortunately the other students had no idea what I was even talking about most of the time. The rabbi who taught the class took me aside one day and told me that I needed to be more humble in my knowledge. Yep he told me I talked too much and made others feel bad. That he understood being humble in the face of learning because he had studied Talmud (the Jewish book of laws) and it had taken him years to just read 150 pages (It was such an event  I even remember the number of pages he had told me he had read through). He told me I needed to not be so upfront and in your face with what I knew. Now as a young teen, enamored of the adventure that I was on, thrilled to be on my own without my parents, I took what that man said to heart. I remember catching myself when I went to offer an answer or ask a question. I remember becoming very timid in my desire to learn for the rest of the trip and changed whom I was and what I thought I could accomplish.

Now as a woman of 50, having my own children and quite a bit of education under my belt, I realize that that teacher was many things, but a rabbi was not really one of them. For anyone to tell a child to stop being excited about learning is a sin. For anyone who is supposed to shape and build the self-esteem and the mind of a child to tell the child that they need to be more humble and not try to be so smart is ignorant and shows an inadequacy in that teacher (I do wonder if he would have said the same thing to me if I was male). I obviously got over the idiot Rabbi. Went on to higher education and graduate school. But it still sits there just because I remember that 15 year old girl half way around the world, who had was told by someone she was again supposed to respect, that quite frankly she was just too excited about learning. What a frakin’ moron that Rabbi was.

Actually you would think that things like that wouldn’t happen in this day and age anymore. Unfortunately I heard a very similar story from one of HSB’s classmate’s parents years ago. Apparently there was a boy in HSB’s 5th grade class that was so very excited about learning that he constantly asked questions and wanted to know more and more. He was drawn to school. Just reveled in his education. Well the social studies/homeroom teacher actually told him that he asked too many questions and that he was to stop talking in class and just write the list of questions for after school when she would answer him. The mother undoubtedly was beside herself. I told her that I really didn’t think there was too much she could do other than complain to the principal of the middle school. I think this is one instance that if he had been a special education student that there were alternative avenues that could have been taken but that nothing existed for regular education students.(An issue that is not regularly discussed or recognized.)

I suppose the stories beg the real question, which is how does a teacher do that to a child? How does a teacher dash the desire to learn? How does a teacher think nothing of the child in front of them and decide that the child is too much of a bother? By the way, that was one God-awful year when HSB was in 5th grade, between the social studies teacher’s idiocy and the special ed teacher’s incompetence, I lived at that middle school. I have to tell you that I so do not wish that on anyone as long as I live, especially a child. I remember a talk with the vice-principal of the middle school in discussing this social studies teacher and the issues with the special ed teacher. These two did not get along and their fighting ended up hurting the students. I told him that the two of them were acting like children and that they needed to grow up. He just smiled at me as if to say, if I could do that with the two of them I would. Well, luckily that social studies teacher did leave the school system even though she had tenure and the special ed teacher was told to leave that she did not get tenure. But still why we all had to suffer at the hands of those two highly inadequate individuals is beyond me. (Sometimes teacher contracts are not a positive thing.) I actually lost track of HSB’s classmate, but this being a highly competitive school system I am sure he did just fine in the end. By the way, that mom of his was really pissed off and I am sure the vice principal got an earful from her as well.

I suppose the point of this post is to try to understand why some people become teachers when they obviously have no love or care for children. Why do they waste our time and our children’s futures when they truly care nothing for the children they teach? Do they really think its all about civil service benefits? It is sad really; so many teachers are wonderful thoughtful and hardworking people (like my father). They truly have a calling to educate the next generation. It is hurtful that all teachers should be lumped together with those teachers who are useless and selfish morons. But ultimately it is sad that any child, regular or special ed, has to deal with those who actually don’t take their obligation to mold and shape the minds of the future seriously. Something truly is wrong with some people's perspectives, purposes  and responsibilities associated with becoming  an educator. We, as a society, do need to find a way to fix it.

Until next time,