Friday, December 17, 2010

Write it, and you will offend...

Can you write a blog without being offensive?

The answer to that is a qualified yes, provided you are willing to stick to the following topics: product reviews, cooking, art, feel good memoirs, travel and shopping. In order to be inoffensive, a potential blog must be devoid of colorful language, personality, opinion, and humor.

It's the difference between Cormac McCarthy and J.K Rowling; No Country for Old Men might be a great book, but it will never capture the imagination quite like Harry Potter battling Voldemort. The more thought provoking and evocative an idea, the greater the chance of stirring controversy and angering the reader. Religion, politics, crime, ethnicity, education, celebrities, medicine, war, sports; all guaranteed to piss somebody off.

Especially if you are trying to be funny.

My profession is full of controversy; I had no idea that teacher's invited so much hullaballo until after I became one. Even though most people have never taught in a public school, everyone has an opinion on what's wrong with education, and the #1 target: teachers.

When America loses a war, we don't blame the soldiers for being cowardly.

When crime goes up in a neighborhood, we don't blame the police for eating too many donuts.

But when public schools fail, the first people we go looking to blame are teachers - usually for being lazy.

So for all our detractors, haters, and critics, I'd like to hear from you on how you would fix the following situation.

Let's take the following kid: we'll call her Maria.

Age: Going on 17
Years in School: 3
Days absent: 112
High School Credits: 20
Credits needed to graduate: 240
Learning Disabled: Yes (Reading disabled)

Maria's been pulled out to make up an inter-coordinated science test. Inter-coordinated science is the class students get after they've failed biology at least twice. Heavy set and wearing thick mascara, Maria wears a black hoodie and black jeans, ghetto wear 101.

The instant I enter the room to collect some paperwork, Maria's looks up, distracted, ignoring her teacher as she puts down her test, waving.

Two years ago I spent two hours trying to get her to write two paragraphs. When she refused to cooperate, I refused to give up, when she deflected my attempts to help her, I deflected her excuses - all of her whining, complaining, and attempts to wheedle her way out of work fell on deaf ears.

Two hours later, I'd failed.

The next day we tried again, but Maria refused to give in. She refused to bring paper, she refused to bring a pen, she refused to study, to bring her books, she refused even to copy what I wrote down on the board. It was a siege, who would break first, the teacher, or the student?

In the end, Maria won. I had other concerns, other students that needed my time and help. Students who wouldn't fight me every step of the way - students who wanted to pass and graduate.

Two years later, and she is on a different teacher's case load. She waves to me like she is greeting an old friend. "Hey, Mr. Leiken!" Maria calls out cheerily. "How are you doing?"

I grunt. "What test are you taking?"

"I don't know, some intercourse test."

"That's inter-coordinated, Maria," the other teacher corrects.

"I know what intercourse is," Maria replies, waving her arms. "Yah-ah!"

I glance around my room, except for another kid quietly taking a test in the corner, its empty. I pull up a chair, sitting down across from her. It's time for the "talk".

"Maria," I ask, "what are you going to do after high school?"

"What you mean, do?" Maria answers, rolling her eyes. "Get a job, duh!"

"Doing what?"

"I don't know Mister, a job. I'll work for my family or something."

"Well, what do they do?"

"I don't know."

"So let me get this straight, you are going to get a job working for your family but you have no idea what it is you'll be doing."

Maria sneers, "I know what's up Mister. You don't need to worry about me."

"So what are you going to do about money?"

"You can just get money from EBT. (Electronic Benefits Transfer - or Welfare) That's what my Mom does. If you have kids they give you food stamps."

"So you are planning to have kids just to get food stamps?"

"No!" Maria scoffs. "I'll just lie or something." She glances at both me and the other teacher. "Don't the two of you get food stamps?"

"No, Maria," the other teacher answers, "we work for a living. We've never been on welfare."

"Well that's stupid," Maria scoffs. "You should both go down there and tell them you need food, they'll give you some."

I refuse to let her change the subject. "Maria, what are you going to do for a living?"

Maria picks up her test. "I need to take this test, Mister Leiken."

"After you answer my question. How old are you?"

Maria thrusts the test down. "I'm 17 in January. But in my head, I'm already 17."

"So what happens when you turn 18? If you've got it all figured out, why waste your time in school?"

"I have to stay in school or I get in trouble with my Mom! If I'm not in school she doesn't get food stamps."

"But what happens after you are 18? They won't be giving her food stamps anymore because you'll be an adult. Is your Mom going to let you hang out around the house? Won't she expect you to go get a job?"

"Psshhh, I'll just live in the garage." Maria snatches up her test. "I really need to take this test Mr. Leiken."

"Why? You are just going to fail it."

"You can't say that!" Maria snaps angrily. "You don't know that."

"Have you been in class? Have you studied? Have you done any of the homework?" I look at the test, its empty of answers. "The entire time you've been down here you haven't even answered one question, and now you want to take the test because I'm putting you on the spot. What are you going to do after you turn 18?"

Silence. Maria and I stare at one another, a class of wills, but this time I win the siege and she breaks away. "I'll just go to adult school. Then I'll get a job at McDonald's."

"Maria, I believe you don't do the work not because you are lazy, but because you don't believe you can do it, so you give up before you even try."

"I think you're right, Mister."

"You can retake classes, but you can't make up time. Even if you passed every class from now on you wouldn't be able to graduate until you are 20." I rise from my seat. "If you don't want to learn, fine. But if you don't want to be here, you need to think about what you are going to do, and you need to figure it out soon."

I leave the room. I have ten more just like her on my case load, it's not the learning disability that impairs her ability to succeed, it's the attitude. There are at a minimum five hundred kids at my school just like her - who treat school like a social playground, a place to "kickback" and get away from home.

At least five hundred kids who refuse to bring their books, to come on time, to bring a pen or a pencil, to turn in homework. Five hundred? It could be a thousand. A thousand kids who don't try and fail, but fail to even try. Is it any wonder the graduation rate is only 50%, that my district ranks lowest academically across all of California but is first in teenage pregnancies?

Yep, it's clearly all because we're lazy, shiftless, money grubbing, union protected teachers.

And Charter schools are the answer!

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