The changing landscape

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Driving into the school parking lot one morning I noticed something, and realized how oblivious I had become to its presence.  I really noticed for the first time that every day there is a squad car at the middle school I go to.  Over the years I have worked as a school psychologist at many middle schools and high schools, and this is common.  Even more common, and in fact is as “natural” as seeing teachers in the schools, is to see uniformed police officers.  Maybe to some people this does not seem like a big deal, but this particular morning it struck me as disturbing that somehow the presence of a squad car has become part of the school day routine.  I felt saddened and angry that a “natural” part of the scenery of a public school is a squad car.  I was saddened because this really hit home in my heart the condition our schools are in, and angry because we have let this happen.  What does this say about our society, our parents, our children, and the way we have to do education?

It seems that we have lost common sense in parenting and education.  Anybody reading this article has heard stories from people who talked to people who grew up in the first half of the twentieth century, grew up themselves then, or whose parents or grand parents grew up then. During that time period students did with much less, and much more was expected of them.  Today, this has basically flip-flopped.  Now kids have much more and do much less, both at home and school.  Why have things changed?  Is it that we think so little of our kids today?  I have to wonder.  We say we love them, yet we give them more and settle for less and less from them.  We have heard how our parents and grandparents did without things in school that today we consider critical, such as a desk, air conditioning, adequate heat, and a lunch.  At home they may have had only one toy (that was handmade), hand me down clothes and shoes, no snacks or treats, etc.  Yet their behavior was much better and they learned more than kids today.

In the early 90’s I went to a local, small workshop to hear a retired teacher talk about her experiences.  She was in her 80’s, had long been retired, and for many years of her career taught in a one room school.  She pointed out that she didn’t have to worry about “including” certain children in the regular classroom, because there was only one classroom.  (For the noneducator, “inclusion” was one of the buzz words in the 90’s, and everybody was expected to do it).  Everybody was included in her classroom.  And grade levels weren’t necessary.  What would be the point?  Everybody just progressed at their level, on their own schedule.  If eight year-old Johnny was still struggling learning to read, then eleven year-old Susie helped him out.  And he progressed at his own rate.  He wasn’t the sharpest kid in the class, but he learned all that he could.  Teasing and self-esteem weren’t problems because there were no grade levels, and Johnny didn’t have to receive F’s because he wasn’t where Susie was when she was eight.  Behavior was not an issue, because the kids were grateful and happy to be in school, and good behavior was expected by their parents.  When somebody did act up, as all kids will do from time to time, she would remind the child that she might have to talk to their father, and this usually shaped him right up.  Of course a swat with the yard stick on the desk might be necessary once in a while to get someone refocused.

Because of technology and the historically relative wealth that even the poorest of us has in this country, we have the time to worry and contemplate things that people never even thought about before.  Today we worry if our kids will like their meal, and so we give them choices and varieties of treats because they are “picky eaters.”  Throughout history people were generally worried about eating at all.  They were worried about the crops getting enough rain, harvesting the crops, cold weather, starving, freezing, and now we worry if we’re going to get the new release when it comes out on DVD!  I believe that our predecessor’s needs and circumstances naturally required a mind set and lifestyle that didn’t have room for a lot of the nonsense we participate in today.  Education is an obvious example.  Instead of being grateful that we are getting an education at all, in wonderful facilities, we demand more incentives to come to school.  I don’t get it?  Imagine if a teacher from a hundred years ago could walk into a classroom today what her reactions would be.  Then imagine what her reaction would be when we told her that kids talk back to teachers, don’t pay attention, don’t work, are absent a lot for no good reason, and are tardy for no good reason.  She would be in utter disbelief.  Could you imagine trying to explain to her why this is so?

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