I really do hate to pile it on, but sometimes things just happen in a certain way as to preclude the possibility of just letting something rest and perhaps fade into the background after a spell. This week, the New York City Department of Education has done some truly stupid things -- banning words that might hurt people's feelings, reinstating school bus services it cancelled despite court orders not to, rejecting tried-and-proven reading systems so as to not show the true depths of the incompetence of it's battalions of overpaid-unqualified teachers -- that there's no way in hell that some things will ever get to die a natural death.
What follows is a synopsis of a discussion I had with my sister last night regarding my junior-high-school-aged nephew's history assignment.
UPDATE: Great response to this post. I'm asking everyone who has a child in a public school, but especially in a New York City -- and specifically on Staten Island -- to pass this post on to everyone you think might be interested...and to the so-called Chancellor of Schools, himself. I'm assuming he'll be able to read it without his lips moving.
Also, if you're intrested in whatever else the City of New york has failed do to educationally, as well as learning about the stupidity of the public workforce entrusted with your child's education, simply click the Education and Public Schools tags at the bottom of this post.
Before we get into the specifics here, I have to say this about my sister: she is heavily involved in her local schools. She is a member of the PTA -- has been since her first-born, now aged 16, entered the public school system -- and has spent years raising funds so that her children's school always had everything they've needed, and a little extra whenever possible.
Mention my sister's name to any PTA Board member on this island, and they'll all not only know of her, they'll all tell you they wish she was on their PTA, because she gets shit done. Especially raise money. Now, why it is that a public school should have to raise outside funds is a curious question, and we'll get to it in a moment. I just want you to know that this is a person that is plugged into the educational establishment. She's almost famous in these parts for all the good she does for the community and school.
She is currently a certified teacher's assistant, as well, and works at a couple of local public elementary schools. She is the insider's insider, inasmuch as she isn't a political appointee, or a professional educational bureaucrat: she's a parent who cares, and she's made it her business to stick her nose wherever she damned well pleases, to ensure that things in the schools are as good as they can be.
Which is why last night's phone call shocked the shit out of me.
It begins with my nephew asking me a question about a history assignment. He needs information that, apparently, is not available to him in his textbook. This is a common occurrence: my nephews come to me for help with homework all the time, especially history. I tell him where he can look the information up online and have complete confidence that the answer(s) he gets will be correct (otherwise, he'll just rely upon Wikipedia, which is like going to see a blind brain surgeon with missing fingers to have a tumor removed from your ass).
I then ask to speak to his mother. I ask her why Mikey didn't just look the answer to what should have been a routine question up in his textbook, only to be told that he does not have one. I thought she meant that he left his textbook at school, but she corrected me: he does not have a textbook for his history class. In fact, none of the kids at his school has a textbook.
And when I say "none of the kids has a textbook", I don't mean to say that textbooks don't exist, because they do. Unfortunately, the school doesn't have enough of them, so students have to share textbooks. And when we say share we mean that the books must stay in the school for fear that someone will walk off with them. According to my sister, some 600 children in this particular junior high are making due sharing something on the order of 150 history textbooks in his grade.
They apparently can't afford to buy any more.
Mind you, this is in New York City, in the 21st Century, in a system which costs local taxpayers over $12 billion a year.
So, I asked (because I'm a clueless asshole with no sense not to ask any question to which the answer is obvious) that if the school hasn't got the scratch to buy actual textbooks, why isn't it taking any of the money that's being spent on information technology infrastructure and (that was something on the order of several million dollars just last year in this borough alone) making the books available online to the students?
Well, stupid me, the school can't exactly do that because....wait for it....there will, invariably, be students who don't have access to a computer, and since making the books available to students who do have one would be (you guessed it!) a discriminatory practice, the school just decided it would be better that NO ONE HAVE ACCESS to a textbook, except under lock-and-key conditions inside the school itself.
Hold on; it gets worse....
Since there aren't enough textbooks, and those that exist aren't available to students to take home or to refer to after school hours, the students are expected to take extensive notes during class. Twenty-five percent of my nephew's grade in any subject will be based upon the quality of his personal notes. Invariably, because Mikey is a lazy-ass 14 year old (show me one that isn't?) he takes horrible notes. Worse, in the seven years of public school education he had prior to arriving at this book-and-computer-less holding facility, he was never taught how to take comprehensive and effective notes.
Mostly because the school system was too busy teaching him to put condoms on bannanas and why it was a bad thing to make fun of someone with a humpbacked lesbian mommy and daddy, I figure.
This is why Mikey needs to call his Uncle at 9 p.m. in order to answer questions from a photocopied worksheet about the Progressive Movement's effect on American policy in the years leading up to-and-inclusive-of The First World War. Apparently, the teacher may or may not have covered this subject, but if you had to depend on Mikey's notebook to decide the question, you'd probably think it wasn't even mentioned.
Personally, I don't think it was; I think the worksheet was more than likely completely unrelated to anything "The Teacher" lectured his/her students on, because quite frankly, I've done enough of Mikey's history homework this year to believe that he's quite possibly being taught by chimpanzees.
So, I asked the other obvious question: if things are this bad in your kid's school, why the hell haven't you taken him out of it, yet?
The answer I got stunned me: there's no better school available. The others are far worse, and the few better ones are a minefield of personal politics, red tape, and union stupidity. You can't get your junior-high-grade kid into one of the so-called "elite schools" on this island without knowing someone, and doing something for somebody else, and I wouldn't be surprised to find out there's a a cash-for-a-desk scandal waiting to be exposed any day now.
She then proceeded to tell me about a few of the recent troubles at my younger nephew's elementary school:
For a start, the school never has any supplies. By "supplies" we mean office supplies, for like, the administrative staff, and many kids (the immigrants, legal and no) can't afford supplies because Mommy and Daddy have to send half their minimum-wage paychecks back to Mexico to keep grandma in tequila for her heart condition, and pay the mortgage on Uncle Ernesto's Pot Farm. Every year, every student -- except those excused by the protocols of Politcial Correctness, of course -- is presented with a shopping list of materials they are to bring to school before they even get to walk through the front door, unless they're a minority, and which case, all is forgiven. It's another way in which Whitey must pay for the legacy of slavery that even native Chinese and West African immigrants are routinely excused from all sorts of requirements, but I digress.
The list includes things like:
Copy/Laser printer paper
Rulers and protractors
Erasable markers and whiteboards
Read-and-write enabled CD's
...and so on and so forth. Apparently, the school system doesn't supply these items to schools anymore -- the money that would have been budgeted instead diverted to refinish gym floors in schools where gym classes are no longer held because it makes the fat kids feel bad about themselves -- so the parents must. And it's not as if you've purchased this stuff for your own kid's benefit: it goes into a central collection, and gets doled out to the kids who's parents DIDN'T shell out the money for the supplies.
God forbid the Custodian (who gets a budget which he apparently spends on new trucks for personal use, and snow removal, and little else) should go out and purchase Lysol and brooms and that pink sawdust shit they use to scoop up vomit. First of all, his union says he doesn't have to, second, there isn't enough money for him to do so after he's seen to paying off his bookies, and finally, ask him if he gives a shit? He's got a job where he's allowed to legally steal, and he can't be fired for it.
Anyways, my sister informed me that in my younger nephew's public school there was recently a minor kerfuffle over the hiring of two new teachers, one for fourth grade, and the other for fifth. For some reason, both of these teachers insist that their students hand in written assignments written in script (cursive). This shouldn't be much of a problem, right?
Except that it is. Mostly because students are no longer being taught how to write this way in 2nd or 3rd grade. Penmanship is no longer a part of the curriculum, and apparently, neither is grammar, because if you've read some of the things these kids write you wonder just what fucking country you've been mysteriously transported to.
Why isn't basic penmanship in the basic curriculum anymore? Because the school had to find a way to pay for the bi-lingual education of a slew of new schoolkids speaking Russian, two kinds of Chinese, and Spanish. that's why. The Courts and the State say they have to.
So, I asked again "Why the fuck are you leaving your kids in schools with no books, no penmanship programs, no gym, no computers, and you having to spend your days and nights raising funds to keep the heat on, and spending an extra $1,000 a year providing notebooks and pencils to the children of other people who are too fucking lazy, stupid, or poor to do it themselves?"
And she laid out her alternatives;
Catholic schools cost an average of $4,500 a year in these parts. She has one (her oldest boy) in a Catholic high school, and pays $7,000 a year in tuition -- and she only got a "break" on that because the kid happens to be an outstanding baseball player. She has four boys to raise, and if she put them all in Catholic schools, she'd be paying somewhere around $21,000 per year (the cost of an entire year of college). How many people can afford that kind of scratch -- for 12 years of primary and secondary education -- when you have four kids ranging in age from 6 to 16?
She also informs me -- although I don't know how she knows this, or could prove it -- that the local Catholic schools are "two years behind in math and sciences" compared to the City Public Schools. I find this point to be somewhat suspect: after all, her kid's public school apparently doesn't even have textbooks. I think this may be a point of teacher's union propaganda that she may have uncritically swallowed whole.
Homeschooling: since my sister doesn't have the patience to sit with the kids, and can't be bothered to go out and get herself certified, or to deal with the bewildering and contradictory city and state educational bureaucracy, this will never, ever happen. My sister is eagerly awaiting the day when her four boys -- who fight and argue constantly like girls -- get the hell out of her house. Keeping them home an additional 8 hours a day is the absolute last thing she wants to do, if only for peace of mind. Then again, with both her and my brother-in-law working, they'd have to hire a tutor to do the job, and with kids aged 16, 14, 12 and 6, the workload on that poor soul would be enormous, as would the bill.
The Public Schools are where it's at, but only by default. The quality is uneven, the bureaucratic paralysis and stupidity of the system is manifest and all-too-obvious. The taxes keep going up to pay for it (she asked a pertinent question: there was just a $700 million dollar lottery this past week. That money is supposed to go to the schools. How much do you think actually got there without taking several detours through the pockets of union bosses, the professional bureaucracy and politicians?), and the level of service keep going down, but then again, the system was designed that way.
New York City hires the bulk of it's teachers from the New York City University system. A system so infamously bad, that on average, 25% of it's students are in remedial classes repeating middle and high school. The City Educational establishment both recognizes and denies this reality; it recognizes it when it comes to getting more money for lower education, claiming the system is under-serving the poor and minorities -- i.e., the 25% in remedial studies -- and refuses to acknowledge that it's recycling the Cream of the Crap when it hires those very same failing minorities in order to avoid discrimination lawsuits and puts them in a classroom.
The System has a huge dropout problem, particularly amongst Black and Hispanic students, but can't do anything about the problem because it's ringed about with issues of Political Correctness. For example, truant officers are sometimes accused of "going after" black and Hispanic students in much the same way law enforcement is, i.e. that they're racially profiling kids in the context of truancy. That the majority of truants might be black or Hispanic is a question that's never examined, and which can never be asked aloud. If you can't even approach the problem openly and honestly, you'll never begin to solve it.
The Education establishment in this city is a full to the brim with people who couldn't, on a good day, find their own asses with both hands and a flashlight. There are currently thousands of not-up-to-snuff teachers sitting in so-called "rubber rooms" or on "administrative reassignment" who are everything from simply incompetent to convicted child molesters, none of whom can be fired because of Byzantine work rules negotiated between union and politician, or even disciplined with as much as a nasty note in their files. Each one still draws a paycheck, a pension, and accrues sick and vacation time which they're all going to bank and get paid for when they finally "retire" after 30 years of reading the newspaper at Education HQ.
In the meantime, parents have to buy toner for the Principal's office printers. They have to send their kids to school with Purel because otherwise everyone might get the Flaming-Bleeding Ringworm, SARS, and Atomic Avaian Flu, and formerly-eradicated diseases that all the illegal Nicaraguan and Chinese anchor babies brought with them, and no one expects them to get basic immunizations for. The schools spend money to indoctrinate the kids on the importance of "being nice" without engaging your critical thinking skills, but not a dime on teaching them how to write and express themselves properly. They shut down gym classes at a time when there's an "epidemic" of childhood obesity in order to spend the money on (often-necessary) capital improvements to the school buildings, which may have been neglected for years.
Teachers that are drawn from the absolute worst-performing strata of a once-proud-but-now-little-more-than-a-diploma-mill university, and hired according to the dictates of political correctness and not competence. Criminals -- both alleged and convicted -- left unpunished in rubber rooms to draw paychecks. A bureaucracy in which the Left knoweth not what the Right Doeth, and the very people who support the system through exorbitant taxes are hit up again and again for basic supplies and money to keep the lights burning and the heat on through a variety of fundraising schemes.
No textbooks and no computers, and no attempt to do anything to alleviate this situation because a) no one is going to pay for it, and b) using technology to fix the issue leaves too many people -- the ones who came here illegally, and the ones who have become akin to an endangered species by 40 years of deliberate government policy -- can't manage to make the choice between investing in a $250 laptop computer or buying more gold teeth, crack and hair extensions with this month's welfare check.
This is, incidentally, the largest municipal public school system in the United States, supported by the second-highest taxes in all of America.
All I have to say is "tar" and "feathers".
You know, in the old Soviet Union, bureaucrats who failed this spectacularly were often exiled to Siberian work camps, given public show trials, publicly executed, or simply disappeared in the dead of night. It's quite possible the Russkies, for all their other faults, may have been onto something.