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No child left behind – Don't ask me… I didn’t do it.
Confucius taught about 3,000 students during the course of his life time 2,500 years ago. 72 of those 3000 were his best and proud apprentices. When you divide 72 by 3000, you get 2.4%. That is not a bad success rate for presumably the best philosophy teacher in China history. At least he made great impact on those who ‘wanted’ to learn from him. However, under our current NCLB laws, I don’t think Confucius would be hired back next year if he works in California.
Among all famous students of Confucius, I remembered one particular student, ‘Zai Wo’. For some reason, he was sleeping during the middle of a bright sunny day in his dorm when everyone else was studying with Confucius. After Confucius learned the reason of Zai’s absence, he had a long sigh and said, “You just can’t carve on a piece of rotten wood, nor can you paint over a wall covered with manures.” Of course Zai did not know that his famous nap earned him the worst name in Chinese history. It is too late for Zai to erase his bad reputation with Confucius. For thousand years, many poor Chinese students who couldn’t learn for whatever reasons are teased under the name of ‘Zai Wo’.
Well, I found out that there are a lot of ‘Zai Wo’s in the classes I that have taught – from kindergartens through high schools. Don’t we have NCLB to help them to learn better? Why do we have students who rush through our schools years after years that are not prepared or ready to learn? Who failed them?
If Zai were to stand in front of me, he will probably give me a very valid reason why he was regarded as the ‘un-teachable’, ‘un-moldable’, or ‘un-shapeable’ student by Confucius. Maybe this was the reason:
His kindergarten teacher always put him in the corner so he won’t disturb the class. Most of his school days were spent either in the class corners or the principal’s office at the teacher’s convenience. His mother was too busy to read to him. She couldn’t afford private tutors to help Zai anyway. She always believed that it was the school teachers’ fault that her son ‘never’ learned what he was supposed to learn. It was not until he entered middle school that they ‘found’ out he had ADHD, Autism or whatever. After that, his mother was so angry that she requested the school to include Zai in the main stream class rooms so he would not be left behind like before. Besides that, Zai had an aide assigned to follow him around and echoed what the teacher said about the class work.
Life would be perfect for Zai if he didn’t have to go to school nor be put with other same age advanced peers. His classmates were impossible for Zai to have conversations with. How could Zai get his days passed without feeling sorry and sad? That was the reason Zai fell to sleep… in the middle of the day. Who won’t?
Zai could still point fingers to all those teachers who ‘failed’ him before he met Confucius. However, even if he exhausted all 10 of those fingers pointing at bad teachers, Zai was still the person who had to suffer with the poor education he got. By the time he met Confucius, it was already late for Zai. A lot of time had passed by. His puberty hit him before Algebra did. He hated Algebra, because he didn’t understand why he should bother learning y=x+2, nor did he comprehend why he needed to pass Algebra I before he entered high school under NCLB laws. All Zai knew was that his counselor told him “It was the law.” Zai ended up in a class filled with other kids who found values in drugs and ditching schools after Confucius gave up on him.
Ever since Zai started his 8th grade Algebra I, he ignored his teacher and cheated on his tests. He had figured out that the school couldn’t and won’t hold him back. All he needed to do was to make sure his day was filled with the meaningful things – naps, food, chattings, and drugs.
So, back to our topic of NCLB? I believe that Zai would tell me, “I don’t care what NCLB, or No teacher left behind? No school left behind? No nation left behind? No money left behind? Give me a break! I didn’t start it. I didn't do it. It was not my fault”:
1. In order to survive under NCLB, schools are busy in making the average good instead of making the individual good. Even if Zai was the worst among his race – Asian, his pathetic CST scores would not be any threat to the school because 99.99% Asian studied well and loved to study J. So, in the eyes of the school officials, whether Zai succeeded or not was never an issue to them at all. Lucky or unlucky for Zai?
2. Forcing a child to catch up even if he couldn’t is a torture to that child. Not everyone should graduate from kindergarten in one year or elementary schools in 5 years. Grade promotion should only happen when the skills are learned.
3. The only time when a child really learns is when he is motivated from within. Any meaningful knowledge can be a waste of resource if the recipients are not motivated to learn.
4. If NCLB only threatened schools but not the parents, students like Zai will continuously suffer and fall through the cracks years after years.
It hurts when I see kids like Zai at age 14 on a daily basis struggling on the most basic fundamentals in math. I know what they don’t have but I don’t know how to give those missing parts to them in time before they go on to high schools. I can almost imagine they will give up on math, sooner or later. What can I do for those kids under these circumstances? Don’t I become the teacher to be blamed in the future if I can’t find ways to help them out this year? If so, I am a bad teacher in the eyes of NCLB.
Even though I am only a student teacher at this current time, I already feel the shame when I can’t help them out. The ambitions that I have are diminishing everyday by the realities. The truth comes sooner than I have expected. I am not that powerful as I think I am.
On the other hand, I hope that NCLB can be improved by also tightening up the responsibilities of parents when it beats up the school teachers at the same time. Parents are not off the hooks when their children don’t learn what they are supposed to learn. I have parents who complained about the amount of homework – even when the homework was about basic stuffs. For those parents, what they taught their children was more important than what the teachers taught – I only want to put in lesser homework but I expect much higher grades. If their children don’t get the grades they ‘expected’, they are upset and they demand NCLB to punish teachers who assign lesser homework. Well, maybe Confucius was right, you can’t top off a wall covered by manures. L
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