Like all children, I went through periods when I hated school, and made up excuses and potentially life-threatening illnesses in order to convince Mom to let me stay home for the day. But, in general, those days were rare, as I always enjoyed learning. My occasional hiatus usually had more to do with being tired or fighting with my friends than it had to do with school.
Most of the classrooms of my youth ran like well-oiled machines. My teachers were knowledgeable, and enforced discipline and order in ways that were both fair and effective. Talking during class was taboo, and disrespect was simply not tolerated.
It was rare for a student to even try to bend the rules or show disrespect. When they did, they were sent straight to the Principal’s office and punished, mostly through detentions, suspensions, or expulsions. Sometimes they were even sentenced to manual labor, reporting for duty early on a Saturday morning to spend the day scraping gum off the bottom of the desks or scrubbing the black scuff marks from the gymnasium floor. Parents were always called immediately, and the punishment at home often far outweighed any the school administrators could dream up. We were a generation of kids who were grounded, given additional chores, and spanked when necessary.
Disrespect was simply not tolerated.
When I first started teaching, I was appalled by the things kids were doing and getting away with in schools these days. At first I thought it was just me–a rookie teacher in a Bronx high school is bound to have some problems, right? But it wasn’t just me, and I soon learned that it wasn’t just the kids in the Bronx either. As a whole, the educational system in the United States has taken a nosedive and splattered headfirst on the pavement.
Teachers are paid a pittance for the incredibly important job they do, and are being abused with extra duties, activities, committees, and meetings that they are forced to attend outside class. Instead of being able to focus on instruction, teachers these days also take on the role of head disciplinarian (an assignment that used to fall under the Principal or Vice-Principal’s job description). Unless a child actually pulls out a weapon and threatens to use it, it is virtually impossible for teachers to get a troubled child removed from class. Not to mention the fact that classrooms are so overcrowded they are literally stuffed with students. There are never enough textbooks or supplies, and many teachers even have to buy their own paper if they want to make photocopies for assignments.
Somewhere along the line, our nation adopted this soft, touchy-feely attitude toward children, and the problems with it are becoming apparent only now that it is literally blowing up in our faces. We are afraid to discipline children, or correct them, because we are afraid we might hurt their feelings. Kids are out of control, in classrooms and at home. They have no sense of right and wrong, no respect for their elders (or anyone else for that matter). They certainly aren’t learning anything because, God forbid, we can’t make them memorize anything anymore. We can’t make them diagram sentences or write long essays or read entire novels, because that would just be too much for them. No, no, no, we need to reward them for jobs half-done. We need to hold their hands and walk them through the watered down curriculum that even a monkey could decipher if properly trained.
In the infinite wisdom of our elected officials and administrators, we have severely cut our art music, and physical education programs–the very programs that give our children creative outlets for their abundance of pent up energy and emotions. I have one friend working in an elementary school without recess. An elementary school without recess!!! The school day stretches from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, with only a 15-minute break for lunch. Is it any surprise that approximately 6 million children are being diagnosed with ADHD in the United States every year? Is it any surprise that our children are beginning to lash out and bite the hands that are trying to feed them?
Our children don’t need to be coddled, and they certainly don’t need to be medicated. What they need is to be kids. They need to be given adequate time each day to run and play and stretch, not just their bodies, but their imaginations as well. Then, when it’s time to get serious and learn, they need rules and discipline and consequences. Children learn by imitation, by trial and error. If we want them to grow into well-rounded, respectable citizens who can really contribute to our society, then we need to stand up and be role models. We need to figure out how to fix ourselves, then do what it takes to fix things for our children.
The burden is all of ours to bear, for we do not live inside individual bubbles where the rules that govern the whole have no effect on us. It’s time for all of us to step up and take responsibility for the state of our world. Only then will it possible to roll up our sleeves, dig in, and do what it takes to fix it.