By Monica Chen
Schools have become so bad in the past decade that some fundamental things need to be said:
The point of schools is to teach, to impart knowledge, to provide a space and the support for kids to learn and to be curious, to imagine.
Schools and teachers currently are controlling and abusive when they should be nurturing and open. Teachers are there for the kids, not the other way around.
I cannot believe these things have to be said, that these basic parameters for good and bad when it comes to the educational system have to be recognized.
It should be about kids. Teachers have horrifyingly, willfully made it about themselves.
Here are some negative changes that I have noticed with schools in the past decade. Unfortunately, I have not seen anything positive:
1. Politics in every part of the educational system, even in math workbooks. Harder to identify than Critical Race Theory but it is obvious. There is no room for imagination and learning. Students are made to swallow a ton of politics even in the most apolitical subject — math. This is like gaslighting, but the way this abuse works is so sustained and painful that it needs a new term. It is torture. “You must swallow my political view of the world in order to learn algebra.”
There is no room for these kids to let their minds wander and be curious. Having politics be this much part of education is what happened in China at the height of Communism in the ’50s. America is doing the same thing now, but it is more intrinsic to the learning process. It’s also more vicious because there is an entire party that wants to pretend it’s not happening at all. It is actually more abusive.
More on the curriculum: I remember reading “James and the Giant Peach” in Fifth Grade, “Number the Stars” and “The Giver” in Sixth Grade. Then I remember “All Quiet on the Western Front” in high school, and William Faulkner. I had some great teachers, had time to learn and dream. Do kids still read those books? Are they still taught? Or have they been rejected for not being “equitable” enough?
2. Nauseating self-absorption on the part of teachers, ranging from laziness to overt abuse.
Some of the teachers I see on social media, I can tell that 20-25 years ago, it would have been obvious they were bad teachers that kids would’ve avoided — impatient, incompetent, even cruel. But now, they use technology and a whole suite of learning tools to mask that. The entire administration also supports the fantasy that they are good teachers. How can this go on?
More on social media: Some of the teachers are constantly on Twitter, reacting to political news. Why? Some of the teachers use these big hashtags to amass support across different schools and different districts for things that do not benefit the kids in their own schools. Why? Some teachers are in touch with teachers in England. Seriously?! If my parents had taken advice from their Chinese counterparts in their own fields, they would’ve been slammed for being patriotic so fast. But these white teachers can take advice from some British woman? How about focusing on the needs of your own students in America?
I’ve also seen schools ogle kids on their social media. How creepy is it for an elementary school to admire the physique of an “alum” who is now in middle school or high school?
On the sexualization and grooming of children: I am certain that all of my teachers would have been shocked, and completely rejected allowing books with sexual content in school libraries. And why are teachers talking to kids about sex? For my teachers, sex ed was awkward enough, they definitely did not want to talk about it any further. Why would they? They were adults. We were kids.
3. Actual contempt and hatred for the very students they teach. Some people, I realized, went into the very subjects where they hate the students the most. Completely abusive.
I realized this last year with the “#Together4ELs” hashtag.
“Together for English Learners.” OK, are we talking about Language Arts which also teaches English? No, it’s English as a second language students. Immigrant students. ESL students.
Speaking as a former ESL student, and I had a very good ESL teacher — all that’s needed for ESL students is teaching them English the normal way. Oh, and kindness. She was kind. I was out of ESL within six months. We were never humiliated and used like trained monkeys to show off our “growth” or whatever so our teacher could tweet and get some likes. We were not patronized and managed. That hashtag should be changed to “#Together4Ourselves.”
4. The teachers unions protecting the worst teachers and not supporting good teachers who were speaking up during lockdown and the mask mandates, basically all saying versions of: “This is horrible for kids. Are we sure this needs to be done?” Like other organizations — the ACLU, the NAACP, Ms. Magazine — teachers unions have let their very constituents down. All of these organizations that are supposed to protect the people they purportedly are for did the opposite when it mattered.
5. Shutting out and turning off retired teachers as well as would-be teachers from working, even as substitute teachers, assistants in classrooms and librarians and library assistants. Who would want to deal with the control, the abuse, and the politics?
6. Other things: The blinding lights on sports fields. The changing school hours to make them more similar to adult work days. “Teacher work days” when the teachers can’t deal with the political wind shifting and suddenly need a break. Again, these changes are for the comfort and self-absorption of the teachers, not for the good of the students.