It’s Mother’s Day in America and I got pensive this week about how we meet the needs of children here. Teachers operate in loco parentis so in a way we act like mothers too. My students took the AP Spanish examination on Tuesday last. Advanced placement (AP) exams are university level exams you can take in High School and that way you save time and money later on. It sounds good, right? You also get to prove how smart you are. My students came out smiling so I hope that’s a good sign. I did my best for them. I wish them well. The sense of relief was huge and the joy was real. I paused to reflect on my AP experience, the stresses of High School, an education system that exploits students and teachers alike, and a government that does not see education as a right and a priority. Despite the seeming attractiveness of it all pressure, greed, and negligence often send our children down the wrong road sometimes with dire consequences.
The first problem is the pressure. It hits students, teachers, administrators and I guess families too. The AP exams are now seen as a requirement rather than an option for the super-motivated or naturally fast learners. I see my exhausted students and feel for them. I watch some get broken by the weight of it all and a part of me dies. Why we are putting children through university-level courses when they are in high school? I watch them work their hearts out, sacrifice all their free time, and stress too much. I know that most of them won’t get jobs. They will have a large amount of debt to deal with to pay back the insanely high costs of third-level education. Some have already fallen victim to too much stress and that is utterly unforgivable. Teachers and administrators run around trying to accommodate the Board’s needs to the neglect of valuable school teaching time and we are worn out. That feels like exploitation. Why are we on this path?
The second problem is greed. When we are set challenges for a good reason, we can rise to them but if the motive is suspect, why should people devote their time to it? The College Board that sets and corrects the AP exams makes a LOT of money out of this. They regularly send me reminders about conferences in Hawaii and other far way places as if I had the time, money or inclination to go that far away to hear lectures when some of my students can’t even afford the AP examination fee. It feels all too much like the excesses and cluelessness of corporate America. All the preparation teachers do when they submit the courses to the College Board is not rewarded by thanks or pay. Teaching to a test is not ideal especially if the test makers are in it for the profit and the perks.
The third problem is negligence. When we devote so much of the school year to this, we neglect the needs of the students. I will be writing a whole new AP course plan for next year during my summer months trying to figure out what the College Board wants as they have changed the course again and that is another unpaid task. I question the point of it all. My family will get neglected once again. They joke that that’s fine with them but as a mother I feel the weight of living here where if you are not careful you will be drained of every free minute of your day. I have missed so many milestones in their lives. Although the president in the cartoon is different now we still spend far, far more on war and killing than on education. That is neglect of the highest order.
Cause and effect: I know that part of my writing this is post AP examination recovery. Are we all victims here? Will the pressure the exams put on everyone involved be worth it? I weigh it all up and it does not come out well. My students have other pressures outside school and want school to be a refuge, not another pressure point. Some tell me they could not wear certain colors of clothing on their way to school for fear of offending gangs. It IS Los Angeles after all. Today’s news talks about 49 people murdered in Mexico (not too far from us) http://alturl.com/e5xns My students fear gangs who get their power from drugs. Blame those who sell them but blame also those who buy them and ask why the problem exists. Those drugs are the refuge of the despairing and those who have given up on the system and who could blame them? When students know they are not respected, when they are treated as customers or commodities or fools something gives. Where does a wrong path lead? For some it is to a bad place and another institution that has been turn into a profit making business. Please look at the images in http://alturl.com/hjbrw and know we failed these children and continue to do so.
Conclusion: I live in an upside-down society where the needs of the truly vulnerable are scorned and the culture teaches people that it is a sin to be poor. It seems to me that this is not restricted to my region but is endemic in the U.S. The values are warped and they disrespect children and cause them harm. Education should NEVER be a business and students should NEVER be considered customers. Education is a right. Our government does not see it as a priority and that is a crime. Education is now viewed as a business and a means of generating revenue for test companies. May no adult ever be fooled by phrases like ‘No Child Left Behind’ or Michelle Rhee’s crazy policies. May no person in charge of education ever see it as a business. The madness must stop. Get the MBAs out and the real qualified teachers in. That is my prayer this Mother’s Day as a mother and as a teacher.