Ravins’, Rantins’ and Revilins’ #1

I’ve got a gripe. It’s obvious by my 3 r’s title. They (whomever they are ) say that if you don’t vote, then don’t complain; only your vote gives you the right to do so (of course that’s not true, but that’s what they say). Well, I hope that my career in government schools gives me the right to gripe. More than that though, perhaps a right to be taken seriously. There are so many things that go on in government schools that if the covers were ever pulled back and the truth bared most parents would surely home school their children. While working in the system and watching the deterioration in government schools, I would often comment that in ten to fifteen years the parents and students serious about education would either home school or attend private/charter schools. However, my hat is off to the large number of dedicated teachers and administrators who are doing their best to make a difference in a losing battle with political, bureaucratic, and social powers that won’t allow them to do their jobs.

All of that sounds like I’m getting ready to give some here-to-fore unknown revelation that will make a difference in government schools from this point on. Well, I’m not. Voices with much more experience, knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom have been getting hoarse for decades without any seeming significant results. I am, however, going to point out three little items that have been irritating me for some time; I’ll reserve the big ones for later. Now don’t dismiss these as being silly or nit-picky, sometimes the little things have a big impact down the road. Before you start to point and laugh, just think of Rudy Guliani’s success in New York City using his broken window theory. The little things matter, because if neglected, they turn into big things.

My first gripe is, simply, holding a pencil (now don’t click out, hear me out). This comes under the R of ‘ritin’. School kids in general have terrible, and I mean terrible, handwriting. Many, I suppose, could find jobs helping doctors fill out prescriptions. They have abandoned cursive writing and defaulted to printing crude looking cave script. They are so steeped in this style; not possessing the fine motor skills of cursive writing, that they have trouble signing their signature! I remember my oldest sister (years and years ago) taking a class in high school titled “Penmanship.” She spent a lot of time completing assignments that included one exercise in drawing circles that started very small and increased in size to produce a cool looking design of concentric circles all in a fluid motion of one continuous line. All of this developed the small muscle control of the thumb, index and middle fingers necessary to control the pencil in producing impressive “Alexander Hamilton” cursive writing.

The kids today couldn’t learn to do that even if they took the class. Why you ask? They can’t hold a pencil! That’s right. Just watch a number of students (now many adults) hold a pen or pencil with a grip that looks similar to the first time a toddler grips a crayon. It takes the developed finesse of the tips of the thumb, index, and middle fingers to nimbly move the quill in precise, coordinated movement. The “baseball bat” grip will not work. Educators will argue that how the pencil is held doesn’t matter. It’s what you write, not how you write. Besides that handwriting is going out of business; soon it’ll all be keyboard. Well, maybe so. In fact the keyboard may be obsolete very soon in favor of voice activated “keyboarding.” Of course that will be a big problem because they can’t talk either. Whatever happened to speech and debate?
There must be a direct correlation to writing and eating. The same folks with the “caveman” grip usually hold an eating utensil with the overhand grip and shovel it in. The “Emeril” grip is only used for tasting the soup.

I’m not finished. That’s only one out of three. My second gripe (readin’) is the pervasive use of the word “fith”. I have heard many teachers, almost all students, and even a T.V. sportscaster use the word “fith”. I once asked a student, using “fith”, how it was spelled. She replied, “f,i,t,h,”. At least she learned some phonics. Over the years I did my best to retrain students to say “fifth”, although they had a hard time getting in the second “f”. And why didn’t the teachers over the years correct them? Well, maybe they didn’t know the difference. Does it say something about our educational system. Saying “fith” just sounds ignorant. On national T.V. I heard a doctoral candidate say “simular”, another increasingly mispronounced word. A doctoral candidate? Come on, people!

O.K., here’s my last one (‘rithmetic). U.S. secondary students are coming in near the bottom among industrialized nations when it comes to math. When I would have students moan about failing math and not knowing why, the first question I’d ask was, “What’s 7 times 6?” Ninety or so percent of the time I’d get, “Uh, um, uh”, and then they would make a wrong guess. I’d then inform them that was half their problem. Without knowing the “times tables” they can’t divide or multiply. They may eventually get the answer but it takes so much time they can’t finish a test. Again, the defensive response from educators is that they can use calculators. Using calculators is no substitute for the mental discipline of doing math. The best math students know their “times tables.”

Well, that’s it. My three gripes about the 3 r’s; serious problems with being able to write, cipher, and talk. I do have other gripes concering the failure of government schools, about which I will rant in the future.

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