Our education system is failing our children.
Not the teachers themselves…but the system.
Today I assisted with a sixth grade humanities class working on their essays from the past week. Many of the students were just launching into their first body paragraph; many of the students had not started their thesis sentence. Unfortunately, the assignment was to make an argumentative essay about whether West African trade had a positive or negative impact, historically.
So many students sided with “positive impact” arguments because they didn’t know what it meant to have a “negative impact.” They understood the word “positive” and wanted to associate with that.
One of my favorite students was in detention today, but I found his introduction in the stack of essay startups. In it, he’d accused Europeans of being lazy, which is hilarious. He’d only written two sentences, but he understood the effects of the slave trade, at least.
Another boy, who is beautifully sincere, who mentioned in our first meeting that his older brother was shot in their apartment complex, and that he sometimes doesn’t go to after-school programming because his mother doesn’t want him to travel home late, finally made the connection between temporary economic prosperity and the longterm, human effects of the slave trade. He wanted to change his argument. We worked on that, while discussing different viewpoints and likely counterarguments.
And in that small way, I feel like I made a difference today.
But really…sitting in a classroom with so many little black children who, judging by their words on the page, might be arguing that the West African slave trade made a positive impact—not because they believe this, but because their literacy scores are so low…is absolutely heartbreaking.
Standardized tests don’t make sense for these kids. The measures assessing their intelligence don’t take into account how smart they are in their own dialect. They don’t return to home environments that support their success within a “traditional” academic setting. In many cases, they speak a completely different language.
And so it takes longer for them to read, it takes longer for them to understand these jargon-dense, boring sentences about history…
…to be continued…
…oh yeah, and then I went to help another class working on their essays: the special education cohort within the seventh grade. I had no idea what they were studying or how to even introduce the assignment. I spent most of the period researching basic concepts in a textbook that wasn’t helping me out much, and then teaching a seventh grader how to tell time using a clock with hands. So that’s cool. #setuptofail