Thursday, November 01, 2007

Is this what whiplash feels like?

Some of you might remember me from my last post (it seems like years ago) when I was trapped at the world's most uptight and homophobic girls' school in New York. (Which meanwhile is doing a stage adaption of Lillian Hellman's "The Children's Hour").

Whoa, the very school that enforced a top-down rule NOT to mention the word "gay" (unless students asked) during the Day of Silence is staging what?

Goody!...Which one of my former students gets to kill herself?

But I I'm back.

But this time, in "the hood."

Literally – I'm consulting (as a tech freak & geek) at a high school in the South Bronx, which is literally the poorest county in America.

Yes folks, AMERICA.

So I basically went from the richest to the poorest in a matter of months.

(Is this what whiplash feels like?)

Here are a couple of important things I have learned:
  • Kids are kids, rich or poor.

  • Kids model their behavior on the adults they see, and tend to be products of their environments.
For instance:
  • Last year the rich kids all took cabs or daddy's limo and probably never stepped foot in a subway.

  • This year the poor kids haven't taken the subway, because, in their minds, there's nowhere to go.

    They live and have been raised in the South Bronx which still has the vibe of post-war hell. No matter how many condos and STAPLES super stores go up on Third avenue there's still plenty of empty lots and boarded up buildings to make you feel like shit.

Don't believe me? Take the 2/5 up to 149th and Third Avenue ... then walk north up Third.

I DARE you to contradict me, but you might wanna...take the bus, it's kinda rough up there.

I'm rambling, but I hope everyone reading this out there realizes how privileged we all are to have received decent educations and be able to read and write well enough that we're compelled to join this blogging community.

A week ago I sat in on an 11th grade English class where the teacher had to remind her students what the word "plot" meant.

Last year I had fifth graders who could read better than the lion's share of kids I've met in this public school's 11th grade class.

This year the 11th grade teacher has 90 students to teach. However, the budget only provides 30 books. Meaning, she can't give the students reading homework (if she can't give them the book to take home).

Can you imagine being a junior in high school and only being able to do your literature reading assignments in class? I'm boggled. Have we returned to the one room school houses that my mother's oldest siblings attended in way-Northern Minnesota?

How is this POSSIBLE?

Last year, I'd roll my eyes at the "let's send money to India for starving baby elephant" assemblies, because I knew that not three miles away kids were starving and growing up in a broken system that would rather let the poor people remain functionally illiterate than gain the strength to fight (or even join) the system.

We're in trouble folks.

You want proof? Just look at your local public school.

Still don't believe me?

Imagine if the only guaranteed meal you'd get that day was a school lunch.

(Which, where I'm consulting is: a pre-packaged pb&j sandwich on wheat bread, a bag of carrots and a carton of skim milk...mmmm, Please sir, can I have some MORE?)

And I don't know how to fix any of this. The deeper I dig, the more disgusted I get! It's a rabbit warren of bullshit to get certified. So it's no shock that most of the people who could have other career options avoid the public schools! You make better money and you don't have to deal with metal detectors, violence and intense poverty in your face.

Better yet, your heart might not get broken (as quickly).

And it doesn't help that every few years someone drops another bullshit bomb to "reorganize" the school board. Which usually just means some crap like No Child Left Behind (which hasn't done shit except make Bush's buddies who pitched all the assessment tools even wealthier.)

Or shuffling the power structure by firing, rehiring and creating all these tiny schools in the place of big ones, so the salaries, potential and mindset can also remain...minimal.

Look at the statistics: No one (across the country at this point) wants to send their kids to public schools. It's become the marker of class separation. Did you see the AP/Yahoo headline this week about how 1 in 10 American schools are "drop out factories" ??!

(Meaning only 60% graduate, and that might be with a barely passing grade.) I have 11th graders who can barely read at my new school! And they're "passing" students who will graduate in less than two years.

Even in the boonies of the Rocky Mountains my dad didn't want me in the factory-vibe public school. It was only the mid-`70s and public schools were already too crowded.

Let's be honest. My dad didn't go to a public high school, because in the height of post-WWII America his school was already over-crowded and setting up multiple shifts of students to deal with the growing post-war population boom. His family had money, his father was a business owner.

Is it any surprise that my father achieved a white collar career path?

People of means know that public education isn't what it used to be, possibly even a route to downward mobility.

And with that, I'm still navigating the crap shoot to get certified so I can try and help these kids.

Or be found dead in a dumpster in the South Bronx
after pissing off one too many suits in power?


At least this time I put the noose around my own neck instead of getting strangled by some uptight society wife on the Gold Coast. I'd like to see any of those plastic biddies even attempt the bus ride to the South the Bronx.

the pearls
Good Heavens!!! NO!

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Anonymous kat said...

I agree with you, even if I haven't gone to the Bronx (at least intentionally).

With all the friggin' money we have in this country, it still amazes me that we have poverty. And, as a society, we seem more concerned with what is going on in other countries than our own!


3:07 PM  

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