Thursday, September 22, 2011

An Education Guess

While on an "Assist Fire" call the other day, I was standing outside an apartment.  A woman, who had undergone neurosurgery and survived other calamities, lost control and a concerned loved one dialed 9-1-1.  No knowing how she'd react to the arriving paramedics, the dispatcher sent me along in case the need for Doctor E.D. arose.  The letters ED stands for emergency detention but I'll leave that explanation for another day.  To my pleasure, the lady received her assistance well and my presence proved to be unneeded.

As I stood there in that long hallway, an African-American male called out my name from the far end.  I answered with an apprehensive, "I am."  Okay, how bad did I piss this guy off to recall my name?  What's on his mind?  Where's his hands?  Where's cover?  All these things jockeyed for position with my brain operating in tactical planning mode. 

"Do you remember me?" He asked coming down the hall.  I noted the light tone that he imposed.  I caught the gleam of enamel in the single functioning light fixture that he passed under.  Not a sneer or bared teeth ready to bite but a smile of acknowledgement, of perhaps, friendship from this stocky man in his twenties.  I apologized that I did not switching my brain to facial auto search, running with the efficiency of a quad core processor. 

His smile grew wider.  He told me his name was Eddie (not his real name) and reminded me that he was the tall boy in Mrs. Meixner's Fifth Grade class.  It had been about fifteen years since I last seen him.  He gave me a brief synopsis of his years before politely excusing himself to return to his apartment and his wife.  Well, he actually noted that I still shave my head before he did turn away.

Twenty five years ago, I earned an appointment to attend the very first DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) Academy held in Springfield, Illinois.  Having originated in Los Angeles, LAPD sent several officers including Sgt Van Velzer, Sgt Webster, Lorrie Bostic and Patrolman Joe out to the flatlands to tutor us.  For two weeks, we lived and breathed classroom management and curriculum content while honing our public speaking skills. 

An important component to this instruction and one that was the easiest for me to conquer was the ability to laugh at myself.  I try to only be serious when the moment dictates it, not as a matter of lifestyle.  I returned to my PD to apply all that I learned with a vengeance.  For five years, I preached the gospel of DARE to fifth and sixth graders.  We discussed issues regarding self esteem, decision making and consequences of our actions, both good and bad.  And, we talked at length about drugs and their effects. 

Personal challenges caused me to turn down a promotion and take a job offer in the Mad City.  After five years here, I regained DARE Officer status only after attending another two week academy class.  But alas, before I had the chance to cash in my second Certificate of Completion in the classroom, eggheads determined that DARE had no measurable impact on children without supplemental instruction.  You think!
It was never intended to be a stand alone program.  Why in the world would a reasonably sane person believe that participating in a class, held once a week for seventeen weeks, could insulate a tween running the gauntlet of growing up anyway?  Nevertheless, DARE tanked but we moved on with similar instruction.

I always worked the night shift because 1) I'd rather be leaving the city when the sun is rising than coming in with a couple thousand commuters, but more importantly, 2) it worked better for family life.  Working fifth detail showed me why on any given day in school, I would find little zombies roaming around unable to stay awake much less learn.  On any given night, responding to a loud stereo or a disturbance, I constantly entered homes and apartments to discover little people still awake when they should have been having happy dreams in their beds.  These households usually consisted of parental units who are kids themselves, not wanting the role nor accepting the consequences for pro-creation.  These are the kids who never graduated high school themselves and know no value of education.  Those darn consequences. 

Now, things haven't changed.  More kids are having kids.  These days, consequences are not even mentioned especially when headlines blare news of indiscretion, lack of integrity and down right criminal activity perpetrated by renowned people who are not held accountable for their actions.  And, people still believe that a few hours in a learning facility can override the lasting effects of a toxic environment.  It doesn't matter how gifted an educator is or how high the expectations are placed on a child, everyone has to be on board with the educational process. 

We have to start being honest with kids too.  We do no favors to anyone by being afraid that we'll damage a kid's fragile Id if we tell him that college may not be an option right now, if ever.  Heck, I did all right in school but I wasn't ready to attend college right away.  I went into the armed forces to pay for school but also to learn some things about me that I couldn't or wouldn't have learned otherwise.  Is it to say that telling a kid that college is not an option is a damning ruination of his character?  Ah, no.  I know a great number of men and women who slum as an eighty thousand dollar a year plumber, carpenter, electrician or mechanic.  

I guess the bottom line is that the "No Kid Left Behind" idea was good... on paper.  No one thought about the total package of the concept.   I wish that a simple remedy like a new way to teach an old subject or a new facility in which to bring students in might overcome the previously mention shortcomings.  Until value returns to education in the eyes of the students, their friends and parents, results from any attempt at innovation will be meager.  Maybe we should interview the Eddies out there to obtain their secret to success  and learn by that.

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