"We went to the Moon as technicians; we returned as humanitarians." --Edgar Mitchell

"We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the earth." --William Anders

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Priorities, or Why We Can't Take Education For Granted

Let's just get this out in the open:  I think we should colonize other worlds, and I think we should do it yesterday.  There is no greater aspiration that I have than to facilitate the beginning of a diaspora of the human race to the rest of the solar system, and even (or especially) beyond.  Perhaps "trickle" would be a better word than diaspora, though, to begin with.

And that's all I feel I need to say about that, if all that stood in the way was the engineering.

Except that there are so many other things that go into such a feat.  Some things I can think of off the top of my head are education, politics (unfortunately), and public interest.

I can't articulate how important education is.  And it's very difficult for me to express my outrage and dismay at the lack of real attention and importance it receives on a national level.  Oh sure, lip service is paid; but nothing really gets done.  I was lucky - I went to a public high school that competed with the local private schools, especially in math and science.  My brother, however, was not so lucky.  My family had to find a private school for him to even have a shot at having the same quality education that I did.  Once you dig to the bottom of it, though, it's not facilities or even curriculum - although that is very important.  It's the teachers.  Twenty years from now, I'm not going to remember how many students I had to share my classroom with.  I'm going to remember the pre-algebra teacher I had who taught me nothing, the geometry teacher who changed my life, the English teacher who bent over backwards for me, the calculus teacher who was always giving me a challenge, and the chemistry teacher who never underestimated me.  These are the stewards of our future.  I've read a lot about unions, both good and bad; I've heard a lot about salaries, and how much we actually spend on education.  I don't particularly want to get into either of those things: I don't think they're the real issue anyways.  Important, yes, but not the root.

I had a completely different rant prepared, but this says it as well as I think I need to: education shouldn't be the back-up major in college.  I have known too many people to switch to it because it's the "easy" major that they completely outweigh the talented and dedicated individuals who make education their life's work.  As much as I hate to admit it, when I first find out someone is majoring in education, my first reaction is not respect.  Which is not what I want my reaction to be at all.  I want these people to be my role-models; they are going into a profession which I think is so incredibly important that it should only be entrusted to the best of us.  This is not to say that I have absolutely no respect for all teachers (please see above, where my list mostly consists of incredible teachers), or those who are learning to become teachers.  It's just a gut reaction that I have to put back in line, as someone could have judged me by my major when I was majoring in linguistics (which felt like the easiest thing in the world), and they do judge based on my current major.  (Funny story - I had a friend tell me one time that the aerospace kids were like a cult.)

I keep getting off-topic trying to justify or make up for my initial reaction, so let me say this and avoid that whole mess altogether: the better our teachers are, the better our students will be.  The better our parents are, the better people will be.  There are quite a few teachers, and those aspiring to be teachers, who will crack the negative paradigms, and better serve their students.  But then there are teachers like the one my brother had in middle school.  This... educator... upon having a boy enter her reading class with a thick southern accent in the middle of suburban Las Vegas, decided not to really test his abilities, but rather, assumed that he was completely illiterate, based on how he read aloud - where Mississippi became Missippi because of the dialect.  Let me tell you something about this boy: in sixth grade he had a reading level so far beyond his classmates that he borrowed books from his big sister (in college) and his dad, instead of going to his school library.  And yet, he was being given failing grades in his reading class, and being told by the person in authority that he was deficient, and years behind in reading, and that there was no way he could catch up - that he just wasn't smart enough.  I think this was the first year he started calling himself stupid.  Our family was up in arms!  My father, who is generally very genial, had nothing but venomous things to say about and to this woman.  My mother initially assumed he wasn't doing his homework, and so made sure that he read his assignments.  When this didn't solve the problem, she started having conferences with the teacher - and these shocked her to her very core.  This woman just wasn't interested in helping my brother.  She had made her judgement, and that was that.  Based on his behavior since that class, where he assumes he's too stupid to solve a problem, or do well in a class, and just gives up, this woman significantly affected the rest of his education.  He is as smart as I am, and interested in similar things; he just assumes he can't do it.  The ironic thing is that she assumed he was illiterate because he came from Mississippi, where he would have a received a better education than what she gave him.

So for the number of good, dedicated teachers that it took to get me where I am today, it took one bad teacher to derail my brother's self-confidence, which is still affecting him.  I think it's our job to make sure that people like that never make it in front of a classroom.  The fewer individuals like my brother's reading teacher, the fewer lives they will negatively impact.  I honestly have no idea how to do this.  But I know where to start: I will encourage people I know who are fair, interested, and talented in their pursuit to become teachers.  Because regardless of my initial reaction, I know that they have gifts I don't (patience being one of them), and I admire that.

So that was emotionally draining.  And longer than I intended...  I think I'll save politics for another day.

No comments:

Post a Comment