Reaching for the Stars…But Will We Ever Get There? -by Gail GerardThe great thing about Star Trek is that it has inspired so many people to reach for the stars, to wonder what exactly is out there, to see whether or not aliens (whether they be Vulcans or little green men from Venus) actually exist. It makes you have hope for the future, hope that one day we’ll stop fighting each other and start working together for a brighter tomorrow. A tomorrow without hate, anger, greed, envy, and the problems that having too much money, or not enough, always brings. It makes you want to believe that even a juvenile delinquent from the middle of nowhere in Iowa will one day overcome those obstacles, and become the captain of the greatest starship of them all.
But I have to admit, some days it’s hard for me to believe in that dream. I look at the state of public schools in America and wonder, what are we all striving for? It seems like the only way to get ahead is if you are fortunate enough to attend a private or charter school. It seems like that if you’re in public school, you’re just (as Pink Floyd said) another brick in the wall, another factory worker they’re churning out because public school kids aren’t fit for much else than that in the eyes of the government, and perhaps even the world.
My son attends a public school because we have no choice. The charter schools in our area have waiting lists hundreds of kids long, and they draw only a handful of new names per school year by lottery. So the chances of getting in are slim at best. There are no private schools in our town. The nearest one is a good thirty minutes or more away. It would mean an two hour commute for me (the one who’d be doing the driving, since I’m the one who gets to stay at home) every day, plus the added expense of yearly tuition and at least twice yearly (if not more) purchases of uniforms for my son, who is growing like a weed. Add in supplies which must be purchased at the beginning of the year and then replenished as the year progresses, and you’ve got a significant expense that puts private school right out of our budget. So we’re limping along in public school, doing the best that we can.
Yet the public school is failing not only my son, but thousands of other kids across the United States. Teachers don’t teach because they love to teach anymore. They teach what the state tells them to teach in a routine of “Drill, test and kill”. Drill, test, and kill means you teach to whatever standardized testing the state board of education has come up with that year, you test the child on it, and then you ‘kill’ it, meaning you don’t bother to do anything else with the information you just learned. You just move onto the next subject. School has ceased to be fun for many children because it’s one long day of drilling information into their heads, regurgitating it back in the form of hours of homework, and endless rounds of testing. Public school has ceased to be a place that inspires kids. Instead, it’s all about making sure they pass that state test which changes every year or two. Just because you passed all sections of the test in one grade (say, fourth) it will have changed by the time you get to the next round of testing (say, sixth grade) and you’ll have to start at the bottom all over again because they won’t be testing for the same skills.
It’s even tougher if you happen to have a child in the special education system, like I do. Bubba J is already handicapped by issues completely out of his control — Asperger’s, ADHD, hypotonia (which makes it difficult to hold a pencil correctly, and damn near impossible to write clearly), and what we’re beginning to think is dyscalculia (dyslexia’s red headed, math-related step-sibling). Although he is allowed certain things in the classroom (the ability to use a calculator in math, for example), these things are taken away from him when it comes to the state tests. Instead of the test sheet, a sheet of scratch paper and his calculator, my son will have to juggle four separate pieces of paper (test sheet, scratch paper, a multiplication chart which is allowed by the state testing rules, and a chart numbered from one to one hundred) in order do to his test. Trying to fiddle with that many pieces of paper is not only time consuming for him, but frustrating as well, because often times, once he’s figured out the answer to a problem, he’s forgotten it by the time he gets back to the test sheet because he’s had to wade through a mess of paper and writing. It’s tiring for him, and causes him to melt down because it just takes so long. In the past when he’s had to take the state tests, he also got counted off because he simply took too long to answer questions, since they are only given a certain amount of time. Asking for extensions or extra time to take the test isn’t allowed, because it would somehow be unfair to the ‘normals’. They don’t get extra time, so why should a special ed student who’s clearly struggling?
Everybody says that we need to prep our kids for the future, but when the majority of them go to public school, I don’t see how we can, to be quite honest. Public schools are failing our kids, and by failing our kids, we are handicapping the future. By handicapping the future this way, it’s going to make it that much harder to ever reach those goals that we see achieved in Star Trek. In fact, I’m forced to wonder if we’ll ever get there at all. I know that it won’t happen in my life time. Perhaps in my son’s, if things change. But I don’t know if that change will come, or if it does, if it will come in time.
I’ve got my fingers crossed.