PTSD: Post-Traumatic School Disorder

PTSD. Post-Traumatic School Disorder. If it’s not an official variant of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, it should be.

There are times when I’ll be going about my business and someone says something that sets off my Post-Traumatic School Disorder. Like tonight. Someone asked whether colleges might give students grief about using religious curricula and a helpful woman posted a link to an article about a lawsuit against the University of California citing discrimination because it has refused to recognize credits for some whose high school science classes used Christian curricula. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/20/us/university-is-accused-of-bias-against-christian-schools.html )

The article was too much for me. Memories came flooding back of some of the teaching I’ve seen go on so many times in schools. Or, rather, the lack of teaching. I thought of a science teacher I had who taught almost nothing but spent the vast majority of his classes telling jokes about flatulence and burping and belittling Freshmen. I thought of a biology teacher I’d worked with who did one lab a year with his students–and that was only because he took a lab that another teacher had set up and used it when he knew an administrator would be peeking into his classroom–yet his students received full credit for a science lab course. I thought of the teacher whom my students said taught them less math the previous school year than I taught them in one week; I was sure they were brown-nosing as they told me that he never actually taught them anything but put his feet up on the desk and read a newspaper every class. When I saw him in action, oblivious as two students fought, one banging the other against the classroom wall so hard that framed artwork in my class, on the other side of that wall, came flying off the wall, I realized they weren’t exaggerating. Yet his students got as much credit from his class as they did from mine. (And administrators weren’t surprised when I complained about his lack of teaching; they’d heard the complaints before but didn’t want to leave a classroom without a teacher.) Or the art teacher who explained that students at a local public school, who’d all received certification in a computer program, couldn’t even open a new file in the program; the schools were giving certifications to get cash awards for the schools and the teachers administering the programs as well as recognition for students, schools, and teachers; companies were hiring those students expecting them to know the computer program as well as others who truly learned the program. I thought of teachers who came hungover, or perhaps even drunk, to class repeatedly. Or of teachers who never cracked open the book that the school district assigned for the class. Or of classrooms that used a parade of substitute teachers who never even tried to teach the material. I could go on and on…. I’ve seen these sorts of things happen so many times in so many different schools.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that there aren’t great teachers in classrooms. There are. But there are a lot more bad ones than there ought to be. And today’s systems of evaluating teachers don’t seem to eliminate them. Evaluations by administrators are often done with enough notice for the teachers to put on a good show for the few minutes the administrator is present. But also, too many times the observations aren’t really done; administrators are too busy and just fill in the paperwork and backdate it. And then there is the crazy rating system in our local schools in which computers generate overall evaluation scores for teachers; somehow high scores go to those who don’t do well on observations nor do their students’ test scores improve much while low scores go to those who do well on all other measures; it’s a system that a local principal compared to voodoo because he couldn’t explain where the numbers came from but they are used to judge teachers (and set pay raises).

So when I hear that a system of universities has deemed certain curricula as not up to their standards, I start to have flashbacks. Flashbacks that make me wonder: If they are going to critique the educational value of certain textbooks, are they going to actually go in to public schools, too, and verify that students are actually being taught what the course description says they are? And if not, why not? They should! If students can pass the entrance exams and know the material, then why should it matter if the textbook used is on their approved list or not? And when did freedom of religion mean that a government-run university system could single out religious education as not good enough?

Of course, that’s not the only thing that sets off my PTSD. Talking about school bullies will do it, too. Or articles about guns in schools (or anywhere else for that matter since I firmly believe that this country’s schools are to blame for a lot of our gun and all the other violence problems–I’ve faced a gun in the classroom, but I’ve also seen how bullies have been allowed, despite claims to the contrary, to run rampant; victims have been taught to never defend themselves and no one’s taught to exercise self-control; school unintentionally teach so many that they are an exception to all rules of behavior and that there is no justice as they sweep so much under the rug and then pounce on something trivial; and well, all of those factors together lead to people who are out-of-control. Or so I’m convinced.) Or school standards or rules or other things that are, in reality, often nothing like they are in theory.

So, please forgive me if I seem to take these topics to heart too much. Or if I get fed up when someone goes on too long about something they think will be a magical cure for some societal ill that leaves out the reality of the role of schools.

Okay. So I’m not one of those homeschool moms who wants to be all nicey-nice about schools and never say a word against them. But that’s my PTSD at work. And that’s another reason we homeschool.

Cheryl
chavivah@yahoo.com

 

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