It is only the completion of the first week of school and I am already on Defcon 5 with the way things are going! Normally, my blog is about issues others are encountering and the injustice of those that I work with in the fight for public education. Not today! Not this entry! My son, a 8th grade public school student in Newark Public Schools, ready for a year of moving towards the path of higher education and ya know what, DAD IS SCARED OUT OF HIS FREAKING MIND! I feel like helping and being so involved in what others' families have been going through, I let certain things in my own child's education slip through the cracks! WTF AS I THINKING!
Let's start from the first day of school. As normal the conversation at the dinner table went something like this ...
Mom: "How was your first day of school today?"
Son: " Okay"
Me: " Just Okay? It' was your first day of 8th grade! Nothing exciting going on for the year?"
Son" Nah! Not really."
Mom: " Do you like all your teachers? Did you get any handouts or anything from your teachers?"
Son: " I got my schedule."
Dad: " Go get it and let's see what you will be doing this year."
This is what he pulled out of his newly organized bookbag:
As my eyes scanned the schedule, they widened at the course schedule that my son was embarking on for his last year of elementary school! It did not sit well in my stomach. Now, lets remember, I am just an average dad. I am not a prolific scholar or expert in the area of curriculum by any means. This however, just did not seem to be a schedule of a 8th grader getting ready for high school! I showed my wife. As her eyes widened the same as mine did, I knew we were in a world of trouble!
Our son, is a honor roll student and has been so pretty much since he started receiving letter grades. I am sure I must have mentioned before, that he took several years of Mandarin Chinese as a second language before the program was abruptly dismantled. That as well we found out at the dinner table! You would be amazed what you find out at the dinner table! Last year we read of 8th graders taking advance STEM courses and winning technology grants for the school. So, we expected to see more! More than what was on the 5"x 7" mustard yellow piece of paper that outlined the course for the 8th grade year my son had in front of him.
Now, my wife and I are in the educational fight and have been very involved in our child's school. My son actually goes to my alma mater as did many generations of my family have as well. We know the dwindling of arts and music in the district, but when we saw this schedule it was a great disappointment. My heart had sunken into the pit of my stomach. Had, I been looking out for others so much, that I had failed to look out for what was happening to my own? I could not help but feel a sense that I had failed!
After dinner, I immediately took a snap shot of the schedule and dropped it into a group I am part of on Facebook. This group includes parents that I have gotten t o know and work with from all over the state. Parents, I turn to for help, advice and for knowledge that I may lack. We are talking about parents who know their stuff! Most sit on their towns Boards of Education, know curriculum and some even educators as well as parents. The response I got was horrifying! More horrifying than I thought the response would be. I was expecting some reaction , but what I got was almost embarrassing! These are people I respect and I was totally and utterly humiliated! Not by them, but by the lackluster schedule that son's school district felt was suitable for a child who has aspirations of becoming an Architect! Who says "Dad, lets look up Pratt! That's the college I want to go to!"
As the conversation in this group grew, and parents dropped pictures of their kids schedules some from suburban areas and some from other urban districts, I was like wait a minute. OH HELL NO! We are talking straight up 90210 type of schedules. Ya know...like the ones you see on TV shows about school and wish you went there. Some of these schedules even a hop skip and a jump away from right where we are! The feeling of being dupped intensified as my phone pinged with notifications from our parent group. I looked at schedules like the one below ( and this is just one example) and I was left with a sincere feeling of shock and dismay!
I would be lying to you if a bit of jealousy came over me. I wanted for my son what their kids had! Fair and equal opportunity to a great education. Know, don't take me for a complete fool. I know in suburban and better off communities the resources differ from district to district. Hell, Newark, is fighting to keep schools open! Never mind, having courses like Ceramics and Google Hacks. Ceramics, by the way is a course I did have in 8th grade at the very same school my son attends but no longer is available. The stark differences a child revives in education from district to district is an amazing and stark reality of how different and uneven the educational playing field is for our children. My friend Julie B even wrote a great blog about it after seeing my son's schedule titled " This Is 8th Grade In Newark "
His schedule is packed with ELA, Math & Science. We are very concerned about the amount of time he has in ELA. A family member who is a teacher said that he is sharing his ELA periods with Social Studies. I didn't feel too confident about that. My son, actually took the PARCC last year, he did pretty well on ELA so why this year give him a schedule filled with ELA. Now, I may not know much , but I do know that Common Core standards do focus on ELA & Math. My wife said for me to calm down and see what happens when he actually takes the Social Studies component of the schedule. So I cooled off and waited a day or so for his courses to begin. Today, I followed up with him on what was going on and here is how the conversion went.
Me:" So how is Social Studies going?"
Son: " ok"
Me: " So how was it? what did you do?"
Son: " Nothing really."
Me: "Nothing? What do you mean nothing"
Son: " No my teacher didn't have her teacher's manuals and her Power School Program was down."
Me: "What is Power School and what did you do the whole time?"
Son: Power School is how she records our grades. She had no way of recording what we are doing. Plus, she didn't have her books so she really couldn't teach us or give us any homework.Tuesday we Yesterday we created emojis of ourselves."
Me: "What about today?"
Son" We broke up in our project groups and discussed the whole class what we wanted to do for our project. My group is doing research on the people defecting from Sierra to other European Countries and how they only allow a certain amount of immigrants to cross their boarders."
Me: " How long did it take you to pick your group and discuss what you are going to do? "
Son" About 15 minutes."
Me:" What did you do the rest of the time?
Son: "Just talked in our group."
After about 15 minutes of trying to understand this " Social Studies" period in his class and the lack of work done over several days, I decided to drop the subject and move on to ELA. I asked for him to show me his ELA workbook and the reading that was attached. The work book,is about 25-30 pages. A boring, dull and monotonous work book that is tied to a book entitled Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. The experience of an immigrant's passage to the US and the fall of Saigon. Seems very interesting, but the freaking work book was a total buzzkill. Was this simple workbook as the cover is titled "Paths to College and Career" going to get my boy in to the doors of Pratt as he is so eager to attend? Would it elevate his thinking to a state of mind that would have him contend with the children across the state? Hell I am not even reaching as far as to say across the world anymore. Somehow I don't think this 38 page workbook was going to do the job! At this point after seeing schedules and hearing how my friends across the state in other districts 8th grade kids are having engaging experiences and its not even the end of a full week! I did a little digging and this material is just a product of more Common Core Standard BS material being forced down our throats. Manufactured by PCG a publishing clearinghouse for Common Core educational materials. A business partner of Pearson.
I am totally frustrated at the inequality of education that is running through this state and this country! Ye s and maybe even a bit jealous of some of my parent friends throughout the state. Don't get me wrong, love my city! Love my Newark Public Schools. I am a product of traditional Newark Public schools, and far from a genius, I am surly no dummy. If you would have asked me as a kid walking through the same halls as my child, if having an enriched education full of academics, art and culture would be enhanced or reduced in the future I would definitely have said enhanced. I could have marched my way down to the central office in our district and complained. Hell, some of those same friends said, " PULL HIM OUT!" These same friends also were simply flabbergasted at the fact that my son, just like me had remained in the same school since he was in kindergarten. So to pull him out in the 8th grade, not a good move and something that we just could not do to him. I could have fired off a gruffy email to his principal. Instead, I think I will just wait until next week...IT'S OPEN HOUSE! BOY DO I SURE HAVE A MOUTH FULL! Until then, I will continue checking in daily at the dinner table!