Wednesday, December 07, 2005

No Cheaters Left Behind, Only Children

My friend Nina sent me this article:

The author's tirade is a bit heavy-handed, but, mostly he's right. Having a meritocracy is not all bad; capitalism can reward those who work's just that the two do not always coincide. And those rich white guys who hold power and say that their success is due to the "system" working don't seem to be suffering from Post-Working My Ass Off Syndrome. Take me for instance; I'm a white male who is not rich but defintely living a comfortable life...and my success is not due to my work ethic. I see countless people around me working harder--and often for less (but I probably get out of the mansion more often than some of those higher-ups on the "food-chain").

No Child Left Behind is ridiculous, and here's what the author of this article doesn't tell you. This act is a nice thought, but it's a shot of Pepto-Bismol given to a cancer patient. It has a nice name, and it does absolutely nothing but leave a sour taste in it's victims' mouth. Before this act, some high school students graduated without being able to read or write at the appropriate level. This "social promotion" has been going on for many years and at all levels of schooling. Now, thanks to NCLB, if you fail a standardized test you may not move on to the next level. How does this help disadvantaged kids? The smart kids, even most of the middle-rung kids won't be hurt outright...only the lower end kids (the ones who are not passing). THE ONLY KIDS WHO CAN BE HURT BY THIS ACT, THE ONLY ONES WHO CAN BE LEFT BEHIND ARE THE DISADVTAGED KIDS. I put that in caps so you can see it clearly. If you don't get it yet, please re-read and say the words slowly: The only kids who can be left behind are the most disadvantaged kids.

Some folks may believe that this law will cause lazy teachers to finally get off their butts and do actually teach these darn kids to read and write. These folks are the ones who made this law, and these folks have not been teachers...or if they were teachers they have somehow lost control of their ability to reason clearly. The teachers who teach the most disadvantaged kids (like Special Ed students) or the ones least proficient in langauge skills (like ESL students) are the ones who work the HARDEST. And their students are the ones who need additional resources and teaching strategies--and assessment strategies. There are countless examples I could give to illustrate these points, but I'll just end with the simple logic of the previous statement; these teachers are the most hard-working of the bunch.

As absurd an act as NCLB is, there is too much attention focused on just this one law, for it is just one example of how our educational system reflects our national set of values based on capitalism. It pays to put barriers in front of the lower class and to make it easier for those like us (I'm talking about rich white guys) to succeed. It doesn't pay to spend money on programs that help the disadvantaged because they are the weak links in our golden chain. If a rich white guy happens to have a kid with ADD, he will have the money to pay for all the tutors he needs to get his kid into Harvard. Why should I pay money for a system that would actually help those kids (and such a system, realistically, would cost a ton of money)? Screw the dumb kids who aren't able to pass their tests; they can either work harder or die. This attitude stems from the social Darwinism that is at the heart of American capitalism.

Theoretically, I suppose Darwinism and unrestrained capitalism aren't necessarily evils. If that is our national conclusion, that the strong should rise to power and stay there, then I wish we would just be up-front about it. It seems cruel to tell a child that if he just works hard he'll succeed or to tell a child that the meek will inherit the earth when we all know that the meek will be making minimum wage and that success will depend more upon your skin color, quality of education and finincial background than your work ethic.

Our educational system in California, for example, pushes cheating. Don't believe me? Ask any high school teen-ager. We teach kids to have good morals while at the same time tell them that only the strong survive. If you want to meet the right people, we tell them, and if you want to be successful, you naturally need to go to the right college, and to get to the right college you need to take multiple AP classes, earn a high GPA, participate in extracurricular activities, win the Nobel Peace Prize and get a photograph of you with the Pope, the President or Paris Hilton. Kids cheat because it is the most reasonable way to deal with this very real dilemma. And here's the thing: it's the higher-end kids who are learning how to cheat the best! Take an honest poll of all the students who attend our most prestigious universities and I bet 90% of them have cheated multiple times in high school. I bet most of them have cheated during college. Why wouldn't they cheat after college? Why not embezzle? Why not cheat on a spouse? Why not wag their finger at the United States and say "I did not have sexual relations..." or lie to cajole support for the invasion of another country? Cheating is survival skill; those who cheat the best are our most successful students and leaders.

And the author of this article is also right when he says that teachers should lie. Wheras he states it sardoncially, I state it seriously. The best teachers are the ones who cheat well and often. Teachers should cheat to get their lower-end students to pass standardize tests that could close doors to them. Teachers should cheat all laws or standardization that will leave children behind. Teachers should cheat by throwing out curriculum which makes it easier for administrators to do their jobs of sorting; instead, teachers should teach curriculum which is valuable to students and brings each of them towards learning to read and write. And the best of these teachers will show these students the Darwinism that is at work--and ways that they can take advantage of it. Some may even point out ways to take the system down.