Thursday, September 11, 2008

This Makes Me Furious! (And makes my job harder)

I am completely against the idea of paying students for grades. So seeing this story first thing this morning in the Chicago Tribune made my already stressful morning that much more infuriating.

As anyone who has read my stuff knows (thank you, to my seven awesome readers!), I teach in a low income African American high school on the South Side of Chicago. My students are reluctant learners at best. They are several years below grade level in reading and math. Most of them (90%) receive free or reduced price lunch. Many live in public housing projects. To say they have many challenges in their lives would be an understatement.

Trying to motivate students with these challenges is one of my greatest challenges. My kids don't see the value of education. All they really seem to understand or appreciate is money. So paying them to get better grades makes the idea of learning as its own reward impossible.

And this is a problem, in my opinion. I want my students to be independent thinkers and learners. This is hard, as they have received subpar educations all their lives. But I don't think it's impossible. If I could just help them believe in the idea that education matters. Monetizing their achievements (and I use that word lightly, as grade inflation is a huge problem) further reduces the idea that learning should be its own reward.

When I went to graduate school to become a teacher, I dreamed of having these amazing rhetorical discussions about literature. I thought maybe I'd have a "Oh captain, my captain" moment like in the movie "Dead Poets Society." I dreamed I would have many such moments. It hasn't happened yet, but I can still dream.

But I think that one of the reasons I haven't had any of these moments is because my kids don't know how to think that way. They don't know how to let literature carry them away. The magic of language is lost on them. They know how to find answers to recall questions in a story, because that is all they have been taught to do. But they have no clue as to how to delve deeper into a text and really absorb it. It breaks my heart.

Now they will have even less of a reason to figure out how to do that. Now they will do exactly what they think the teacher wants them to, so they can get the grade and earn from $20 to $50. They won't care what they learned, they will just want the grade so they can plan on their next shopping trip.

So many of my students are on public assistance. They get vouchers to help them pay for rent. They get a Link card (electronic food stamps) to pay for groceries. They know that having another child will increase the amount of assistance they get. Many of them live with parents or guardians who don't work.

They don't see the value in much of anything. Which is tragic and sad.

I am not arguing against public assistance programs -- please understand. I think we have an obligation to help those less fortunate. But the problem with these programs is that they don't seem to give people the tools to not need help. My kids take it for granted that they will never have to pay full price for housing or have to pay for groceries.

And now they will take it for granted that school is just another way to perhaps make a little money. With no thought into what school is supposed to be.

If we raise a generation (not counting the ones we've already raised) who can't think independently, then who is going to write the next great American novels? Who is going to figure out how to solve our energy crisis? Who is going to tackle the problems that my generation and the ones before have left?

This is another example of how we further cripple our poorest children. It is almost like we want to keep them poor and in need of our assistance. I just don't understand when this is going to stop or when we will figure out that our current system of public education is not working.


Butternugget said...

I heard this as I was waking up on NPR and thought "that is the most stupid thing I have heard of in a long time".

My initial thoughts were, one, people will really be going out of their way to cheat to get more money, and two, god forbid you are the teacher who gives a student a grade that prevents them from getting their cash.

Your ass will be grass as they used to say when I was in high school.

foxxychica said...

I agree wholeheartedly with you on this one. I grew up with parents who demanded that I got good grades. I had a cousin who always promised us $5 for every 'A' we earned. (I am still waiting on it.) I think this does undermine everything that we (teachers) try to do. I think this is setting students up for failure. When/if they go to college, they will not be compensated for getting good grades.