I used to educate my students

By Alan Haskvitz

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It was just a few years ago when I couldn’t get to school early enough. Excitement about my newly chosen education profession made me confident about my decision to leave the business world where everything was justified by one criteria; was it good for the bottom line (e.g. Money).

Little did I know that after two decades in the classroom I would have a serious case of deja vu when suddenly the only thing that really mattered was another bottom line (e.g. test scores).

Pondering this remarkable irony, I began to piece together the events that had turned my energy and enthusiasm for education into the chore of driving students to better answer inane questions. In the past I had my students write bills, contact elected officials to carry them, and act as lobbyist to pass them through the legislature. That empowered them and they learned a lot about the real world and making a difference, They wrote letters to the editor, pressured publishers to support their cause, evaluated primary resources, anticipated arguments, and raised money to fly to Sacramento to testify. They were learning how the political system really works.

Today this type of learning takes up too much time. I must cover the State mandated curriculum that the State mandated tests are based upon and which the State mandated guidelines for success are printed, as are the public results.

Two Days per Section

In social studies I must teach 12 major concepts in less than 36 weeks and herd my students through 70 social studies oriented subgroups. Since the State tests are given several weeks before the end of the school year I really have about 150 days to accomplish this not allowing for school assemblies, emergency drills, student absences, and any number of disturbances.

Just so the governor and other elected State officials understand why I no longer have time to educate my students here is just one of 12 major standards in the State mandated history and social studies curriculum for eighth graders:

  1. List the original aims of Reconstruction and describe its effects on the political and social structures of different regions.
  2. Identify the push-pull factors in the movement of former slaves to the cities in the North and to the West and their differing experiences in those regions (e.g., the experiences of Buffalo Soldiers).
  3. Understand the effects of the Freedmen’s Bureau and the restrictions placed on the rights and opportunities of freedmen, including racial segregation and “Jim Crow” laws.
  4. Trace the rise of the Ku Klux Klan and describe the Klan’s effects.
  5. Understand the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution and analyze their connection to Reconstruction.

That does not seem so impossible. However, given the State mandated school calendar I have approximate ten days to cover this data. So that gives me two days to help the students grasp the concept of the Reconstruction, implications for the geo/political/social structures that were impacted, review the geography and how these past events caused future events. Trust me, it gets more impossible. Lawyers spend years studying the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments and the many ramifications they represent. Due process, civil rights, and suffrage are all terms that need to be explained and understood. I have two days to accomplish this feat.

Realizing that it is unlikely for 13-year-olds to acquire this knowledge in less than at least a week, I have modified, integrated, and decided to short some topics while hoping that the State mandated test does not decide to ask them a question about the area I neglected regardless of whether or not it is of interest to my students.  One thing for certain, I never shortchange any religious topics as the State mandated tests are well weighted with questions about that topic.

You might find it of interest that the standard, “Enumerate the advantages of a common market among the states as foreseen in and protected by the Constitution’s clauses on interstate commerce, common coinage, and full-faith and credit,” is listed under the major heading, “Students understand the foundation of the American political system and the ways in which citizens participate in it.” I have no idea how 13-year-olds are going to handle this level of knowledge, but in the 50 minutes I have to teach it we cover the basics of economics, banking, and what interstate means. And I thought that working in the deadlines of the business world was tough.

What my students used to learn by doing in their writing, supporting and having passed real legislation has now been replaced by the State mandated need for them to understand common coinage and full-faith and credit.

Only Half the Story

I have only told you half of  the story. The State mandated eighth grade tests also covers what the students learned in grade six and seven. So I also have to help them review the major events that have occurred in the last 3000 years as 50 percent of the State mandated test is based on what they covered one and two years ago. In case you forgot, these students don’t always remember what they learned yesterday as any parent can tell you.

So I’ll play by the rules and follow the State mandated curriculum and prepare the students for the State mandated test. I’ll teach, but I am not sure they will learn. Sadly, for many, their grasp will exceed their reach. Sadly for me, when I decided to be a teacher I also lost two thirds of my Social Security benefits as well.

Alan Haskvitz

Ex-business man

Member, National Teachers Hall of Fame