Monday, June 22, 2009

A Rant About Education

Do people not read anymore? Especially classics? My daughter bears an Arthurian name...and no, her name will never be used in this blog, there are too many predators out there...and yet every person who hears her name asks me if I named her for some mundane piece of crap. Only one person has ever hit the nail on the head. It amazed me, although maybe it shouldn't have. When I grew up and attended elementary school, there was focus on spelling, focus on sentence structure, focus on writing, focus on reading. I can't say I was thrilled by everything on the reading list: a good bit of Shakespeare bored me to tears. But there were things that I did like, and find myself going back to even now, thirty years later.

Case in point: I dropped out of college, and returned to it some fifteen years later (only to drop out again when I got pregnant, but that's something else again), and for my English class, I had to choose a book and an author about whom to write. I chose James Herriot, as I was a pre-veterinary major. When I was a child, "All Creatures Great and Small" was considered a classic. Even if you hadn't read it--and every child who loved animals had read it, especially the ones who wanted to be veterinarians--you knew what it was. There was even a PBS series made about the book, by the BBC, of course. James Herriot was one of the most popular authors for children at the time. JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, James knew who he was.

So, no longer owning the books, I went to the local library, and was stunned. Not only did they not have the books, the librarians had never even heard of him! I don't think I would have been as shocked if we were only talking about the younger generation of librarians, but these were people the age of my parents!

This is the point where I realized how spoiled I was. I grew up in a school district where parents were involved, where the teachers focused on what we would need in life, where the library wasn't just another building in town. My mother was a librarian in that library, and she involved my brother and I in it as much as she possibly could. It wasn't hard in my case: I did, and do, love to read. But we grew up in that library. Mom would ask us for suggestions on movies and books and music, and she would put them before the board. As a result, our library generally had the latest in everything, as well as the classics and everything in between.

And parents knew the teachers, made it to every PTA meeting, followed up on the work we did at school, and made sure we knew it. It was an honest case of it taking a village to raise a child.

Our library wasn't huge, certainly not on a scale with the New York Library, with its majestic lions. But we had a children's library in a separate building that in and of itself is one of the biggest children's libraries I have ever seen. And we had educated librarians stocking the shelves, people who genuinely loved what they did; it wasn't just a job to them. They used the library, their children and their children's children. If there was a book about it, they generally made sure there was at least one copy somewhere on those shelves. James Herriot was certainly there. That library was where I discovered him.

It was just as well I had to drive fifty miles to the nearest bookstore to buy the books in order to do my report. I bought almost the entire series, every title they had, and I'm very glad I did. Six years later, I still have the books. They are dogeared now, because I have read them that often, and when she is old enough, my daughter the animal lover will receive her own copies to read. With any luck, she will follow in Mama's footsteps and want to be a vet also, although that isn't as important to me as her happiness is. But I have learned, since that incident, how far our educational system has fallen. When people don't recognize where my daughter's name came from, when books like "All Creatures Great and Small" are unheard of is sad, and it is frightening, to see the route our education is taking.

I pulled my daughter out of preschool. PRESCHOOL!! And why? One of the reasons was the fact that the teachers can't spell! And for crying out loud, they don't even bother to use spell check when sending letters home to parents! If the teacher can't spell, how can s/he teach my child to do so? More and more people are pulling their children from the atypical school and putting them into accredited home school programs, and this is where we are going to place our daughter. Sure, it will tie me to my home more, perhaps, than I would actually like, but I count it as worth it if my daughter graduates with the ability to read, write, and speak her native language of English properly. This is a global world now, people, and our children here in America are already handicapped by our educational system. Children in Germany are doing trigonometry in elementary school, okay? Our children need to be able to compete for careers on a global scale, and they won't be able to do that if they're speaking Ebonics (and as a Black woman, let me tell you how much I loathe that. There is a time and a place, and the workplace is not it!) and can't read, write, and add two plus two. We need to teach them their own language. We need to make their education well rounded--I don't care what DeVry says about their classes, they are not well-rounded. They need history, they need art and music, they need English, the sciences, the maths, they need every advantage we can give them. We need to give them teachers who can actually teach what they need to know. Whether we like it or not, it does take a village to raise a child, and the village they will be playing in is much larger than the one we had. If we don't make them capable of holding their own in this world, as parents, who will?

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