Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Why I can't shut up about our lousy government

Sometimes I'm sure people wish I'd shut up about our lousy government. There are times I wish I could as well. Part of the reason I can't is because I read, routinely, the things my students write and the stories they tell are often horrible.

Every Friday I have a free reading and free writing period. Students can basically read for half the period whatever they wish, and then write about whatever they wish for half the period. I do this because I want to obliterate the idea that reading is something you are forced to do and your selection is what your teacher tells you to read. I want the same idea to get across for writing. Yes, in a sense, I'm still making them read and write, but I'm freeing them to read and write what they want. As an aside, I'm convinced my reading and writing ability became highly polished because I was obsessed with sports and read Sports Illustrated, which is very well written, as young as eight.

Engaging in the reading process is part of our standards for one, and two, student writing is better when they choose their topic. Beyond that, my other teaching philosophy is to develop the tools to light a fire for their own intellectual curiousity. Half of what a teacher does is break down the mysterious into something more approachable. When I took bass lessons years ago I noticed that. Ninety percent of what I know is based on all the reading I did on my own. Maybe ten percent was from school. I want to teach them to want to learn new things and not to rely or limit themselves to teachers to do it.

The stories I read in free writing are horrible. Everything from there is no food in the house because mom and/or dad pissed it away in the poker room, to verbal and physical abuse (a lot and yes reported) to dad is in jail to massive family medical problems. There are more horrible and shocking specifics that I can't mention. The number of parents who are flat out off-the-island and left their high school kids to run things is amazing. Even when the parents are here, these kids tend to have the essential parenting duty for younger siblings.

We think everyone is in the giant bureaucracy and they are all making a reasonable salary. This isn't the case at all. In fact, I'd say at best one in four of these kids have parents with a half decent job in the bureaucracy. I'd say one in five are actually on grade level. Some are quite literally on elementary school grade level. I got my schedule for this term today, and I had 35 students in one English class. This is ridiculous and it is a disservice to the students. Many are repeating the class because they put in no effort at all and got F's, but here they are again, which happens to be unfair to the kid who wants to learn only to have their teacher's attention diluted from overcrowding.

These kids, with the rarest of exceptions, aren't discipline problems at all. They are seniors after all. The Freshmen don't share this quality as much. Intellectually they mostly are aware of the importance of education and the need to prepare for the future, but in terms of putting together a strategy to do those things, they are completely lost. They don't see the relationship between action and results. Many are working for $3.05 and they are disillusioned by it already. Many have parents working for these wages and are disillusioned by that as well.

Last year for accredidation we had to put together some data on parental education levels. Very few parents got through college, many didn't get through high school, and this was at a time when the schools in the CNMI were much worse. I took an informal survey and couldn't find one student already lined up for a four year college and we're in April. They did an NMC survey at my school, and the students aren't that enthused about NMC, either -- not that I blame them. Parents have instilled a fear of the costs of college, which is understandable. However, what are the options. Skip college and you won't have those debts, but you'll most likely be broke in perpetuity. These kids have the blue passport that lets them at least get the student loans.

Overall the system here is dysfunctional. You can't have kids witnessing their parents sitting home on welfare because that is better than $3.05 and not instill a model of laziness and no ambition. You've got to break that cycle. There might have been a time that was flush enough for the current cheap labor/bloated government model to at least work for the local people, but those days are over. The garment factories are already folding with $3.05. If you can't get all these local people in the bloated government, and you can't, then you've sold out your people if there are no viable private sector jobs paying a living wage, which there isn't. A lot of people here are suffering, and a mere ride through Kobler and Dandan and other places should make that obvious. I see very clearly the consequences of this piss poor government and hear the stories of those most adversely impacted. I can and will pack up and leave one day. It won't be as easy for many of them. I'm not sure anyone is speaking for this demographic, as there is no money in it, but more people should.


The Saipan Blogger said...

I believe I read somewhere that the Covenant Party claims this demographic as supporters, but I can't back that up.

Jeff, do you notice a difference between the children of contract workers and the children of "locals?"

BoReGo said...

The assessment data can be interpreted many different ways in regards to who is doing better (socio-economically and ethnically). I can take one look at the PTA and report card day sign up sheet at my school and make sad assumptions.

The Saipan Blogger said...

....and another thing.

I'm not a teacher, but how different is this situation from that in inner city or indian reservation schools? Poverty is poverty is poverty.

The government can't be completely faulted for poverty. There are other factors like racism, alcoholism, drug addiction, lack of education, social pressure to be fotten gaga, and other cultural factors that make breaking the cycle of poverty very difficult. It is almost impossible.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

There are few to no Chinese. There really aren't even that many pure Filipinos -- I think those kids go to school in the PI by and large. Overall, I don't think there are that many sons and daughters of contract workers in the high school at least, but many outer island students come over here and sometimes have little experience in English, which makes their lives tough. I don't think the schools in these places are very good, either.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

In the big cities, I think drugs, violence and broken homes are the problem. Those are more private individuals screwing over private individuals. Here the problem is more lack of ambition, and the government setting up a bloated third world labor supply that screws over the citizens via wages. There are certainly similarities in the two, though, I agree.

BoReGo said...

There is a lack of opportunity here. I remember getting ready to graduate from high school and thinking "I can't wait to get out of here". Who wants to be a doctor at CHC? Who wants to be part of the corruption in our government or to work in an agency that is so lackadaisical? What is there to aspire to? It is partyly our government and party our faults for not giving our children any kind of incentive to get out of their ruts. When you live in an environment where the biggest event is getting the ice chest out on the weekend, what kind of goals are you going to set for yourself.

Look, I'm probably stereotyping here, but I'm 36 and I still see the same thing I did when I was 16. The thing is, I want to be part of the change. And I want these kids to want more for themselves.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

That is why people like you Yvonne are so important to this place, as well as the young people.You had it right the other day about the role of education. THe problem I see is that the kids get lost in junior high. I think the elementary schools here are very on par with the states, but many get lost in middle school (where it is especially overcrowded and lots of bad peer influence), and the early part of high school is spent weeding out the problems until the latter part of high school where they can have a fighting chance to get with the program. A lot of damage happens between 7th and 9th grade, which is a tough age. There was a great story on the problems in junior highs in the NY Times, which I tried to link to but couldn't find it again. Part of the point of the story was a lot of teachers want no part of junior high, preferring elementary and high school. I'm part of that group. I'd rather have needles in my eyes than be at Hopwood.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

I found that link about the middle schools: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/17/education/17middle.html?em&ex=1176350400&en=18b3b1b8957a72e6&ei=5070

BoReGo said...

Thanks Jeff, I know what you mean, but it's not just people like me. I WISH young local people (and older young locals like me) would step up and be more involved, but eduators as a whole have such an enormous impact. Infact, any adult does - good or bad. My psychology teacher in my senior year of high school took me to see Rain Man when it first came out. She asked for my opinion on things. She said things I didn't want to hear about myself, especially that I was competent, but not competitive. As an administrator I hear students' candid feelings about their teachers when they are conferencing in my office.

A teacher has such a profound impact, and we hear that all the time that it becomes rhetoric, but it's so true. You can almost tell which kids will survive the year by the teacher they get. And by survive, I mean emotionally too. Like you, I hear a lot of things I don't want to. Hey, but what an advantage for us! We know where to begin because we get the inside scoop. Keep encouraging your students to speak their minds and hearts.

I know there are many more factors that affect student learning, and we are trying to tackle them. I am so proud to be in the company of teachers who care like you, people like Steve who work tirelessly to try to improve learning conditions for behaviorally challenged kids, people like Saipan Writer who makes reading sound like a magical journey, Angelo who instructs by action, gosh there are so many. Don't shut up about anything. Let's not tire of wanting the best for our children.

Okay, no more - soap box is starting to buckle:)