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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Portfolio Piece #2: Generation of Idiots

Trying a little something new.  Something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  For the next few days, I will be posting the pieces I submitted for my Writing Minor Portfolio.  They are all from classes I took Sophomore to Senior Year at Keene State College.  Most of them are memoir in nature, but a few are slightly different.  These are pieces I love, but know still need work.  If you would like to know more of the stories behind the pieces, let me know and I will be happy to share!  Also, any and all constructive feedback is always welcome – just because these were the final versions to be submitted doesn’t mean that they are perfect.

Oh, and also?  These are mine.  Do not steal them.  Thanks.

Generation of Idiots:
Every Child Left Behind
Written for Creative Non-Fiction, Sophomore Year.
“A teacher has two jobs; fill young minds with knowledge, yes, but more important, give those minds a compass so that that knowledge doesn't go to waste” (Mr. Holland’s Opus, 1996).
This country is raising a generation of idiots.  Rather than teaching children how to think, schools are teaching them how to memorize.  My first day of high school, way back in 1992, my social studies teacher, Mr. Bohi, taught us a very important lesson: “What is thought is often more important than what is.”  He taught us about perception, how we, as a country, put values on things which have no intrinsic value.  He made us think, give our opinions and stand by them.
I know a woman who has been a Special Education teacher for thirty years.  In her time, she has seen many changes to the education system, the worst of which came after the turn of the millennium - No Child Left Behind.  This program focuses so much on standardized testing that the main focus of educators is to cram as much information into young minds as possible.  When she suggested to her Principal a Native American parent should come in and give a presentation, as it would be educational as well as entertaining, the principal answered:  “It’s not in the curriculum, so we can’t do it.”  This is a serious problem facing many teachers today.  Since the federal government is not footing the bill for all this Education Reform, it is up to the individual states.  The result?  An increase in time, money and effort spent on curriculum for the standardized tests, and nothing left over for enrichment or enlightenment.
So, what is No Child Left Behind?  In an effort to find a clear-cut definition, I turned to, the official Education Department web site.  The most information I received was the Overview - the Four Pillars of NCLB:
·        Stronger Accountability for Results.  “Under No Child Left Behind, states are working to close the achievement gap and make sure all students, including those who are disadvantaged, achieve academic proficiency…. Schools that do not make progress must provide supplemental services, such as free tutoring or after-school assistance; take corrective actions; and, if still not making adequate yearly progress after five years, make dramatic changes to the way the school is run.” (
So, they check up on the schools to make sure all students are passing the tests, and if they aren’t they have to offer more assistance.  Sounds good, right?  In theory, sure.  Most schools should be offering these kinds of programs, anyway.  But, who’s footing the bill?  Is the federal government going to pay for all these required programs?  I think you already know the answer to that one.  So, if low-income school districts are required to offer these services, where is the money coming from?  Where the money always comes from in times of budgetary crisis: the arts, class trips, vocational programs, etc. (Fletcher, 161). 
·        More Freedom for States and Communities: “Under No Child Left Behind, states and school districts have unprecedented flexibility in how they use federal education funds.  For example, it is possible for most school districts to transfer up to 50 percent of the federal formula grant funds they receive under the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants, Educational Technology, Innovative Programs, and Safe and Drug-Free Schools programs to any one of these programs, or to their Title I Program, without separate approval.” (
While this sounds pretty good, note how it is possible for most schools - not all.  Which schools are included, and which aren’t?  Also, do you really think that schools are going to use their funds like this?  Sure, they might use them to increase teachers’ salaries, which they can, but really, is giving that kind of freedom to individual schools such a wise move?  And what about those who don’t have much funding to begin with? 
·        Proven Education Methods: “No Child Left Behind puts emphasis on determining which educational programs and practices have been proven effective through rigorous scientific research.  Federal funding is targeted to support these programs and teaching methods that work to improve student learning and achievements.” (
Why does this sound familiar?  Oh, right. uses the same thing in their advertising!  Does the government really think selling NCLB in the same manner as an over-priced singles web site is helping their cause?
·        More Choices for Parents: “In schools that do not meet state standards for at least two consecutive years, parents may transfer their children to a better-performing public school, including a public charter school, within their district.” (
This is laughable to me.  If the entire district is under-funded, who’s to say that one school is better than another?  The scores may only be marginally higher, and there is still no guarantee that your kid will benefit from this move.  Also, according to Edward Fletcher in his essay “No Curriculum Left Behind: The Effects of the No Child Left Behind Legislation on Career and Technical Education”, “only 2% of students have taken advantage of the option to transfer to another school” (160).  I mean, let’s be serious - what kid is going to want to change schools and leave all their friends just because the school is failing, in the government’s eyes, to “educate” them?
The federal government sticking its nose into education is nothing new.  Since the beginning of the United States of America, it has played some kind of role.  That role has varied throughout the years, but it has always been there (Anderson, 6).

The national government has supported education since the beginning of the republic, and there have always been different ideological perspectives on the appropriateness of federal involvement in general and with regard to specific programs. (Anderson, 6)

            Teachers and education majors alike are concerned over the amount of control the federal government has over education.  Recently, I mentioned to several education majors here at Keene State college that I was writing a piece on No Child Left Behind and the education system here in the U.S.A..  Each time, it was met with the same reaction: an eye roll, a groan, and “I hate No Child Left Behind!  The education system sucks!”  This is coming from students who have been through the program.  They are asking for more; why not give it to them?
Indulge me while I look back to a better time in education… Back in my day, as we old people say, education was truly valued.  I consider myself lucky to have gone through the town of Hanover’s school system, K-12.  There were resources galore at our fingertips.  We were required in fourth grade to take French, and were given the option that same year to learn the violin.  Many held out until fifth grade, when you were allowed to take up a band instrument.  We had choruses for third, fourth and fifth graders, putting on various concerts throughout the year.  In second grade, we had Colonial Days - a time when we would study colonial life, and have two days to live it - we farmed, made our own mugs, worked with the blacksmith, cooked, and attended school, complete with a dunce cap and tardy sign.  In third grade, we studied Japan, and put on a Japanese Festival.  All the third grade students ran various booths: serving rice and teaching how to use chopsticks, making hats, a tea ceremony, flower arrangements, and more.  We learned Japanese songs and folktales. 
My fourth grade teacher had the freedom to teach us about Ancient Egypt, and read to us from The Hobbit.  In fifth grade, we got to learn all about Medieval Times, and put on the Medieval Festival - a two day event during which we sang Medieval songs, put on skits and plays from the olden days, reenacted battles, learned dances of the time, and jousted.
My high school offered a lot for people who were struggling academically.  I was enrolled in one such program, The Dresden Program, but never really took advantage of it.  But it was there.  Our theatre and music programs were excellent - when you’re turning people away at the door for the spring musical, you know you’re doing something special.  There was a lot of freedom, and a lot of educational options.  It truly prepared us for the freedoms found in college.  We were taught to think, encouraged to question, and learned more than what was in a text book.  The lessons learned inside and out of the classrooms have stuck with me more than a decade after graduating.  We never asked to be taught just what we needed for the test - we took it all in.
I feel sorry for today’s youth.  It is becoming more evident that they are not being challenged.  In one of my classes, we were told to visit a web site to supplement what we were learning in class.  One student asked “Is there something specific we should be looking at for the test?”  To which my professor answered “Just look around it, it’s got a lot of stuff on there.”  Student: “But is there anything specific for the test?”  Professor: “Just look around at it.”  Me: facepalm. “Really?!  What ever happened to learning for the sake of learning?  Damn kids today…”
More like “damn administrations today…”  They are teaching for the sake of passing tests.  Kids are learning that it isn’t useful or important to learn about the world around them unless it’s going to be on a test.  Is this really what we want to be teaching them?
In an effort to save their own asses, school administrations are now lowering their standards to make themselves look good.  In his article for the “New York Times”, Sam Dillon reported

A new federal study shows that nearly a third of the states lowered  academic proficiency standards in recent years, a step that helps schools stay ahead of sanctions under the No Child Left Behind law. (Dillon)

            This way, their test scores read better, but this is unfair and confusing to parents (Dillon).  They think their kids are learning more, but really, all the schools are doing is dumbing the lessons down, “allowing a lower score on a state test to qualify as proficient”. (Dillon)
            In reality, academic achievement has hit a lull.  When the National Assessment of Education Progress test was administered in 2009, the results were surprising.  Student achievement was actually slowing down.  Before No Child Left Behind, achievement was growing at a pretty good clip. (“No Child Left Behind Act”). 
I have pondered the idea of being a teacher in the past.  I wanted to be the cool history teacher who reenacted battles, made the entire class sit on four desks to show what is was like for slaves crossing the Atlantic, and asked the opinions of students regarding the validity of their text books.  What once would have been considered progressive is now antiquated and inappropriate.  The standardized tests don’t care if you know how it felt to be an African slave, so why bother teaching it at all? 
No Child Left Behind sounds like a good idea - it’s a catchy name, but it doesn’t deliver.  If we want to overhaul the system, standardized testing and redistribution of funds isn’t going to cut it.  The average kid in public school has little interest in learning for fun - they never have.  Programs like Colonial Days and Medieval Festivals are needed for just that reason.  Teaching the arts and vocational studies are just as important as math and science.  Not everyone is cut out for Harvard, or even Keene State, why not give them a chance to learn and excel as well?  As Mr. Holland so eloquently put it, “Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want… Sooner or later, these kids aren't going to have anything to read or write about” (Mr. Holland’s Opus).  You can force these kids to memorize all the facts in the world, but sooner or later they aren’t going to have any opinions or thoughts of their own. 

Works Cited
Anderson, Lee W.  Congress and the Classroom: From the Cold War to No Child
Left BehindUniversity Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State
University Press, 2007.
            Dillon, Sam. “Federal Researchers Find Lower Standards in Schools.”  New York
Times 30 Oct. 2009: Education, n.p.
            Fletcher Jr., Edward C. "No Curriculum Left Behind: The Effects of the No Child
Left Behind Legislation on Career and Technical Education." Career & Technical Education Research 31.3 (2006): 157-174. Education Research Complete. EBSCO. Web. 15 Nov. 2009.
Mr. Holland’s Opus. Dir. Stephen Herek.  Perf. Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly,
            Jay Thomas, and Olympia Dukakis. Hollywood Pictures, 1996.
Unknown.  “No Child Left Behind Act.”  New York Times 15 Oct. 2009: n.p.
U.S. Department of Education01 July 2004

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