Twelve Notes About Summer School

Today was the first day of the second session of summer school.  Twelve notes about this summer so far:

  • On the first day, I asked kids to write down a few hobbies and interesting things about themselves so I could learn their names better.  One boy put down for his first hobby, “smoking.”  A girl wrote one word: “lesbian.”
  • One boy put down “tattooing” as a hobby.  I can’t help but notice just how many kids have tattoos now.  They’re not small, either.  Maybe a quarter of the boys in summer school have large tattoos on their arms, and it’s long since become very common for teenage girls to have lumbar tattoos.  These aren’t amateur tats done by friends in their bedrooms, these are professional store-bought works.  Clearly, they’re getting these either with parental approval or money, or at least without opposition.  What are these parents thinking?  Permanently scarring the body of a teenager?  How do they think this will affect them in life, already setting the bar of acceptable behavior that low?  If they’re getting tattoos at 15, what do they think their children will they be doing at 25?  Volunteering to read to blind orphans at the hospital? 
  • On the first day of class, I noticed two kids who spent their down time between assignments doodling in their notebooks.  They drew mushrooms and one girl decorated a graffiti-styled “420,” a popular reference to marijuana smoking.  She also had a 504, which isn’t surprising–I’ve come to believe that much of America’s special education, therapy, and remediation for teens is just treating their drug use. 
  • When I asked students to write interesting things about themselves for first day introductions, several put down their ethnicity. Continue reading

Summer School Follies

First of all, I like summer school. Its compacted time frame forces it to be rigorous, disciplined, and serious. Tardies and absences get hammered pretty quickly, daily quizzes and grade updates keep the kids on top of their game, and the fact that they (or their parents) had to pay for it creates an immediate investment that improves their own efforts. These kids may have messed up, but their desperation now brings out the best in them.

 

However, this summer I’ve noticed that too many kids come into summer school in an entirely wrong state of mind.

 

And I don’t just mean the stoner who asked to go to the bathroom about an hour and a half into the first day of school, and who never came back.

 

One boy just this morning looked at his failing grades in my class and rattled off his list of excuses, clearly a well prepared and rehearsed litany that he’s used comfortably for years. I can only surmise that he started this class, as he may start all of his classes, intending to “see what happens,” and fall back on his excuses if and when he fails. I just can’t get people like this to be more proactive, to overcome the fatalism that got deeply instilled in them somewhere along the line.

 

In June, a girl with special ed problems gave me two papers that had been due the week before, both very poorly done, and without any discussion with me about it first. Continue reading

The Insidious IEP And Frivolous 504 Portend A Nightmare

I was assigned to substitute teach for a period of a special education class yesterday (actual substitute teachers are relatively scarce in Las Vegas, and teacher absences often need to be filled in by other teachers on campus during their prep period). It was quite an educational experience, but not for the class—for me.

 

As soon as the bell rang, the students started yelling obscenities at each other. It seemed in good humor, but it was still shocking to hear such extreme vulgarities shouted across the room so casually. I asked if they watched their language better than this on a normal day.

 

Naw,” one teenager replied. “We all got IEP that say we cuss.” The rest of the class chimed in their agreement. I understood the implication. You see, even having the mental faculties that necessitated being in a special ed class, these kids all knew that they were part of a system that essentially amounts to diplomatic immunity for those who have mental or emotional problems, and they were happy to take advantage of it. My hands were tied.

 

Perhaps the most outrageous offenses of the nanny state in our schools are the IEP and the 504 Plan. They are an increasingly-popular aspect of the government’s many “fairness” doctrines meant to guarantee that everything is equally easy for everybody. Here are more technical definitions:

 

IEP: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Individualized_Education_Program

 

504 Plan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_504_of_the_Rehabilitation_Act

 

It’s not just a special ed thing; a significant fraction of America’s middle-of-the-road and even honors students have these now. Basically, if your kid isn’t doing as well in school as you’d like, or isn’t naturally as gifted as somebody else, or just feels bad about their reputation as an airhead (I’m not exaggerating), you can pitch a fit and the school will have to bend over backwards to lower the bar for him. An IEP or 504 can get your child less work, more time to do it in, preferred seating in class, or whatever you can dream up. (Anybody else thinking of that old sci-fi classic, “Harrison Bergeron?” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Bergeron)

 

It can be for just about any reason, but it seems like most of these get issued for that granddaddy of bogeymen, ADHD. Parents who come to school and chant this magic word get whatever they want. Even though the correlation between intellectually lazy homes and this bad habit of lackadaisical impulse control are obvious, we all pretend not to notice so the parents don’t get offended. (The same student who answered my question above told a friend right before the end of class, during a conversation about drug busts, “My mom’s got plants bigger ‘n me!”) And the students suffer the stigma of the dunce diagnosis for the 21st century.

 

Before I go on, let me defuse a potential misunderstanding. I’m not saying that these things are inherently evil, or that nobody should use them, or something like them. There are certainly situations—such as burn victims, sexual abuse victims suffering trauma, or those with dyslexia—where reasonable accommodations might be acceptable. Like the over-prescription of drugs such as Ritalin, the big problem here is how often these are employed, and how egregiously they are abused.

 

It’s bad enough that the government codified this excuse for accepting failure with so many loopholes to be exploited; what’s far worse is that so many parents are eager to milk it for all it’s worth and then some. Don’t you believe that America is full of parents who expect the schools to absolve them of responsibility for poor parenting, or that the schools should raise their kids for them? Teacher’s lounges are full of IEP horror stories. One mother bragged to me that she went to five different doctors before one would say her daughter had ADHD, so the mother could get the little favors from the school that she wanted.

 

As a counselor one year, a couple asked me about a 504 for their son, and after reviewing his grades, I saw that he had been doing well in every class for a year. I told them that a 504 didn’t seem necessary. They were livid. They were entitled to what they wanted, they said, and they declared their boy’s inability to take care of himself. Their son was right there. I wish they’d seen his face.

 

Of course, the ultimate IEP legend in this neck of the woods is the mother who found out her son had skipped school every day for two years and not graduated. However, since he had an IEP, she sued the school district for not keeping a better eye on her baby. And she won.

 

Anybody have the numbers on just how many of these things have been issued each year, and how much they’re probably increasing?  Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of a parent being denied an IEP or 504 plan, or any absurd “accommodation” they requested for one. Anywhere. Ever. Shouldn’t that send up some red flags?

 

In our increasingly victim-oriented national climate, snowballing from the tobacco lawsuits to the current witch hunts for scapegoats for obesity, which were only jokes on late night talk shows five years ago, I think I can see the next wave in this irresponsible dependency trend.

 

In the future, the public schools’ regulations will carry over into the workplace.

 

And it will bring our economy to a grinding halt.

 

Today, any parent who throws up their hands and lets their kid waste their life doing nothing in school can be given all the special options they want. When this generation that’s been used to practically having its diapers changed by the liberal safety net enters the work force and finds themselves unable to hold a job because they can’t focus, follow orders, or interact with others, they will return to the confines of that safety net. How much longer will it be until some lazy opportunist claims, “I’m being discriminated against at work for the same conditions that demanded legally-binding accommodations in school!”

 

It’ll go to the courtrooms. And if McDonald’s is seriously held liable for obesity today, GM and Microsoft will be required to continue the school system’s mandated lower expectations tomorrow.

 

Just imagine. You can’t reprimand an employee who only does half their work because the work environment distracts them; you have to send them to a special isolated room so a supervisor can assist them.

 

You have to give the best office to the guy whose constant profanity keeps others from doing their work because he has a “condition.” You can’t even fire the guy who takes twice as long to do his job as everybody else, and does it wrong, you can only file endless reports on it and confer with a professional babysitter.

 

You won’t be able to punish incompetent employees; you’ll have to bend over backwards to make them feel good, even at everyone else’s expense.

 

Maybe when this experiment with feel-good coddling cripples our economy, we’ll realize our national discipline has been on auto-pilot for too long.