There are a thousand things that I need to be doing instead of writing a blog post, but I must write while the wound is fresh. I fear that time will scab over the cut with “perspective” and leave only a small scar that becomes a vague reminder of a past injury and eventually fades into obscurity.
I spent three hours this morning, as I do most Thursdays, with twenty two beautiful children in my son’s kindergarten class. The children, with only five days until summer break, were abuzz with the anticipation of special treats, end-of-year parties and the impending vacation. First grade is around the corner, and so, the class launched into exercises intended to strengthen their understanding and utilization of long and short vowels. The day started like most school days with announcements, attendance and an overview of the day’s events. Unfortunately, it followed the all-to-common descent into classroom chaos that typifies my son’s experience in the Atlanta Public School system.
I have been serving in the classroom on a regular basis since the beginning of the school year. My initial involvement was motivated by a desire to strengthen the Stewart Center’s relationship with the school while keeping an eye on Ty’s educational experience. During the course of events I have grown to love Ty’s classmates. As we near the end of the year my heart breaks over the wasted time and endangered futures that are a product of a failing teacher and an incompetent parateacher. Kindergarten is a sacred time in the educational lives of children. Sadly, numerous children in Ty’s class have been sacrificed on the altar of bureaucracy, incompetency and apathy.
August was a season of hope and potential, but too many hours spent in a chaotic classroom have resulted in some students being ill-prepared for first grade and stigmatized by behavior problems and learning challenges. Let me be clear. Every child in Ty’s class is capable of academic success regardless of race, gender, family income, socio-economic background or mental capacity. There are differences in children to be sure; however there are no social, familial or educational realities that can be blamed on five year olds. No excuses – parents must parent, communities must support and schools must educate.
A teacher unable to assist struggling students without losing control of the rest of the class and a para-teacher disengaged with the students, except to bark reprimands once chaos has erupted, leaves well-mannered children in dazed confusion while others intensify their disobedience in order to attract the attention they crave. I sat with a boy this morning whose IQ is most definitely higher than Ty’s but who receives constant reprimand because of his behavior struggles and the underserved label he earned during the fall semester. Unless something unexpected happens, his life’s trajectory will be much different than Ty’s…and it all started in kindergarten.
Not every kindergarten class in Ty’s school is in such desperate shape, but not every kindergarten class in the local private or charter schools are in great shape. Failing schools are a result of failing teachers, administrators and ultimately failing communities. All is not lost. Ty can read very well for a kindergartener and has matured and grown throughout the year; evidence that there are other factors at play besides classroom atmosphere…but what about the others – those that do not have the same family and community support?
Do we need more charter schools, more private schools, more lottery (gambling) funded pre-k programs, better colleges of education, vouchers, stricter hiring practices, more teacher unions, less teacher unions…who the hell knows? One thing is for sure -the “sell-outs” in congress, the bureaucrats at the Department of Education, the ideologues on radio nor the commentators on cable news have a clue how to fix the problem.
I would love to use this experience to advocate for the Stewart Center and other organizations that support children, but today I can only write as a parent hurt by the reality that my son and twenty one of his friends endured what must be one of the worst years of instruction in the history of education. Yes I volunteered, yes I spoke with the administration, yes I spoke with other parents and yes some changes were made, but real solutions do not come easy and I am left crestfallen about the prospects for our education system, our community, and the future of our children.
As I conclude this blog/rant AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” is playing on the radio and I can’t help but wonder “who is on the Highway to Hell?” Is it the Atlanta Public School system, our society, the unfortunate kindergarteners with a bad teacher or those of us that sit by and allow this disgrace to continue?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” – MLK Jr.