True (School) Stories!

US graduatesSchools across the US have primarily one purpose – to prepare students for what comes after high school. Not every student has the same plan after high school. Success doesn’t necessarily mean that every student goes on to college, although that may be a goal for many students. Some students may be ready to enter the workforce immediately after high school. There are many options.

What happens when students spend time in high school varies tremendously. Students are affected by such things as location of their high schools. Small rural high schools are vastly different from inner city high schools in a large metropolis. Other factors that may vary are socioeconomic status of the students, whether students attend a public or private school, extracurricular opportunities, and types of support staff offered at a given school just to name a few things.

One thing that is true for all students in high school across this great land is that they are all part of intricate stories playing out in our high schools.  Many teachers write books about their own teaching experiences such as Ed Boland did in The Battle for Room 314.: My Year of Hope and Despair in a New York City High School.

The Battle for Room 314

Boland was intricately involved in the world of fundraising. He had a passion to raise money for disadvantaged students and in part through his efforts many disadvantaged students were given opportunities of a lifetime. Many went on to Ivy League schools and successful careers. At some point, Boland wasn’t satisfied with just fundraising and decided he actually wanted to teach disadvantaged students. This book differs from others of it’s type in which a first year teacher takes over a classroom and wins educational victories. In Boland’s case, this is a story of an idealistic first year teacher meeting reality head on and trying to figure out how to navigate through a broken educational system that is seriously failing students. For anyone wishing to get a big dose of reality of what American high school is like in our large cities, this is the book for you.

The next story I came to was very different. In light of all of the recent school shootings, this is a heart wrenching book worth taking a look at. It is written by the mother of  Dylan Klebold, one of the two shooters from Columbine High School. This mother agonizes over what went wrong.

A Mother's Reckoning

Dylan Klebold and Eric shot and killed 12 students and a teacher at Columbine High School. They also wounded 24 other people before taking their own lives. Dylan’s mother was as horrified as everyone else but had the added stigma of being a shooter’s mother. For about 16 years, Sue Klebold poured over all of Dylan’s possessions looking for clues as to how (or if) she had missed warning signs. How could her child be involved in something so horrific? Could she have stopped it? Sue lived with grief and shame and shares how she began to come to grips with what happened.

I did not personally know anyone at Columbine, but I do personally know some of Rachel Scott’s family. Rachel was one of the first victims. She was shot for her faith, making her one of the first American Christian martyrs. There is a movie about the Columbine shootings and shows how Rachel became a victim. I highly recommend the movie I’m Not Ashamed.

I'm Not Ashamed

Years before Columbine ever happened, I was working as a Special Education teacher in a Middle School. One of my students was labeled Learning Disabled/Gifted. He was a very bright student who had some academic struggles. Rex (obviously not his real name) was also a very troubled young man. He was extremely bright-and had absolutely no conscience. I remember telling other teachers that Rex was either going to end up a multi-billionaire or in jail. He was the type of student who was bored easily and would try inappropriate things just to see if he could get away with them. His plots could be elaborate. Though I tried not to show it, I always had one eye on Rex. I was tipped off by another student  that Rex was planning something during a school dance–one that I happened to be chaperoning. I knew Rex…I informed the administration about his possible plot during the dance, and sure enough all adult eyes were on him that evening and an unloaded gun was confiscated from him at the dance. Thankfully no students were harmed during this incident and Rex was disarmed easily. I do not know if he brought ammo with him, but his offense was enough to get him expelled from the school. It was actually quite sad. I lost track of Rex but it would not surprise me at all if he ended up a career criminal. Rather than actually chaperoning the dance that night, I ended up doing all sorts of paperwork trying to get Rex placed in a different school where hopefully he could also get in depth emotional help.

Do you have a true school story you’d like to share? Do you have a favorite true school story?





Primary Education

Books and Apple

In the United States, there isn’t a national curriculum like in many other countries. Curriculums, in general, are left up to the discretion of each individual state. States set educational standards that are used to design curriculums, but that also allow school districts to have some input as to what the children are taught.  Click this link to find out about Educational Standards in Indiana.

Although there is no national curriculum in the United States, there is fairly consistent thought on what things should be taught at what grade level. Whether there should be a national curriculum is a serious debate for another day. Today, I’m just interested in discussing some of the books offered at the Fulton County Public Library that can be used to help design curriculums.  This is true if you homeschool, teach in a public or private school, or even just are looking to incorporate good materials into your grade level or subject matter. Some parents may just want to use these materials to supplement their children’s learning experiences.

When I was learning how to teach and also when my children were in school there was a lot of talk about the “Dumbing Down of America.” An internet search of this topic will turn up all sorts of interesting hits. For my purposes here, I will suffice it to say that what our children are currently learning in school isn’t necessarily what we (or the generations before us) were taught.  Sometimes this fact is understandable due to updated information that made previous information irrelevant. For example, we no longer teach children that the earth is a flat plane which ships could sail off of if they got too close to the edge. Due to advances in Science, we can now confidently teach that the Earth is a spherical object in space and that ships will not sail off the edges of the Earth, but can in fact safely sail around the world. However, in other instances there is concern that we are intentionally not teaching students information that hasn’t changed and that actually should still be taught. This type of information may include aspects of history, economics, mathematics, and many other topics. This has led to all sorts of conspiracy theories which I couldn’t even begin touch on in one post, but I will just say that I think there is some room for concern. I’m not promoting conspiracy theories, just the need to be aware of what is and isn’t being taught.

One way to know how much subject matter has changed is by frequently reviewing older textbooks or educational  type books. That is why I am a big fan of book series such as The Core Knowledge Series and similar type series. These books are titled things like What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know.

What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know

These books go up at least through the 6th grade and it’s a fascinating thing to use one of these older books (c. 1990’s) to compare to your child’s current school books. Although in the US schooling is compulsory, it’s still a parent’s responsibility to ensure their child receives the best education possible and there may be times when you will fill the need to “fill in the gaps.”

Even a school cannot teach literally everything. I believe that the very best teachers teach students how to learn by giving them the skills to find information on their own. They need to know how to use resource materials and where to find those resource materials. Good teachers also instill in students a love of learning.

Libraries such as Fulton County Public Library and other similar libraries are great learning resources. Libraries perform a vital function by protecting books by preventing censorship. For instance where would you go to get an older textbook? Many are now out of print and though you may stumble on one in a used book store, your luck at finding one would be much better at a library.

There are times when community members might challenge a book from a school district–or even from a library. What would happen if all of those challenged books were suddenly banned and/or destroyed?

Libraries will protect books in their collection by defending their right to exist. I don’t have to agree with every single book in a library in order to respect it’s right to be there. I do not personally agree with censorship efforts even though there are books that I wish were not in the collection. If I object to say the Koran in my library and successfully get it removed, I wonder how long it would be until someone else objected to the Bible in my library? Censorship is not the answer, education is. Children need to be taught critical thinking skills and how to evaluate information objectively. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a Christian, but I invite people to objectively examine the Bible. I also think that there may be reasons I need to examine what’s in the Koran.

Libraries usually have a “Banned Book Week” to draw attention to books that have been challenged.  Below is a previous display of banned or challenged books at Fulton County Public Library.  Libraries have protected these and many other books over the years. Banned book week  is usually the end of September into October–thus the somewhat Halloweenish theme. During this time period, patrons are encouraged to read the “banned books.”

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Though that might have seemed like a bit of a tangent, my point was that libraries will protect even old text books so that patrons like all of you Dewey Hop readers can go and compare them to current text books and make up your own minds as to whether or not schools (or other institutions) are censoring information to lead-or mislead- in a particular direction. Education and critical thinking skills are vital.

In addition to finding curriculum content information, there are also resource books available designed to help enhance the actual teaching of concepts. Here are just a few books of this nature available at the library:

A+ Activities For First Grade

Glues, Brews, and Goos

Phonics Patterns

Do you think the US has a problem with censorship? Do you have ideas to help prevent censorship?