There are some things that make me really, really angry. Every once in a while, one of them hits me from behind when I wasn't expecting it and I go on a mad rant and generally terrify whichever poor sod is in my general vicinity when I go off like a bomb (sorry, Mom).
It happens rather a lot during an election year. (For non-US readers unfamiliar with the madness over here, there are elections all the time but the "big" ones are every 4 years, when we elect a president and a bunch of senators and representatives to boot.) So far this week I've gone on tears about abortion, capital punishment, general stupidity, Wall Street, and health insurance. But I'm not going to get into those today (for starters, it'd take PAGES, and then there's the fact that I don't feel like broadcasting all my opinions to the whole bloody world any more than y'all want to read them).
No, the one burning my butt today is education. Or lack thereof, really. I've had a couple of conversations today that just point out to me how very, very flawed things really are. One was with one of my best friends from college; the other with one of my 8th grade students. I'll take them one at a time.
My friend has three kids (two sons and a daughter), and her daughter (the oldest) is now in 1st grade. Which means she gets actual report cards (even if they're not marking a hell of a lot yet). The bit that got both of us hot under the collar? Next to the category "Reading Level", there are two possible boxes for checkmarks, depending on how the student is doing. These boxes are labeled "Below Grade Level" and "At Grade Level". See the problem here?
THERE IS NO OPTION FOR "ABOVE GRADE LEVEL".
Now, my friend is a sane and reasonable person and knows her kid isn't a super-genius or anything, but she's still a 1st grader reading at a good solid 3rd grade level and there's NO WAY TO RECOGNIZE THAT. Nothing. You're either at or below. And people wonder why the US is falling behind other nations? Excellence is simply not rewarded. If you're doing well, or even okay, you're ignored in favour of bringing up the lowest-performing students to a minimum-competency level. Do I think they SHOULD be brought up? Oh hell yes. Just not at the expense of the students who have the kind of brains who could change the world, but are instead being devoted to figuring out ever-better schemes for goofing off without getting caught.
The second conversation concerned one of my own students, who is putting together her schedule for next fall, when she starts high school. She has currently opted for all honours-level classes, except in science because she's worried about the workload. She's not worried about being able to understand the material, or that she'll get swamped by the math aspects (she's fine with math), but simply about the sheer volume of homework. But she's also concerned about being held back by the kids likely to be in such a class, whom she described as "the kids who smoke pot, or, well, they don't smoke it YET but they WILL, by the time we're juniors or so". I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at that one. This particular system doesn't stratify the kids UNTIL HIGH SCHOOL. Which means kids who can do algebra standing on their heads are in with kids who are still struggling with long division. Guess who gets the attention? Do they need it? Sure they do. Should they get ALL of it? Give me a break.
And this loops me back to the political landscape again, and the topics and issues that are getting increasingly complex as the world follows suit, and I look at the education systems that are tangential to my life and think, holy hell, how can people who came up through schools like these even be able to comprehend the basics of the economic mess, the complexities of health care reform, or the real hot-button issues like abortion rights? And if they can't understand it (hell, I can barely make sense out of some of it, and I'm not trying to be a brat but I have a very good brain banging around in my thick skull here), then how can they cast an informed vote on the matter?
I firmly believe that every citizen of a country has the absolute right to vote and to have a say in how that country is run. But if those citizens don't understand the impact of their votes, then how are we ever going to get anywhere?