Teri Orr: B is for blame
I want to blame some One. I really do. A single person. The frustration with the lack of success is so great, I may have lost perspective. When I had young children — here in this school district — I could sit down with their teachers (and did often) and redirect my kids’ education so things would be more difficult for them — I was that parent. Through some strange gene mutation both my kids tested as gifted — they also were involved in sports and academic decathlon — national winning teams — drama, music and debate and served as class officers. Yes, I am bragging but not really — these kids were pretty self-directed, self-sufficient and self-motivated. I was a single parent bringing home less than $20,000 a year for the three of us. I didn’t have time to drive them to or pay for tutoring or a whole bunch of other stuff. I loved them, provided for them and then — they had to do a lot of bringing up of themselves.
It was a different time.
Now, my children have children. I have three grandchildren in total — all teenagers in three different school districts in the Salt Lake City area. They are — the spawn of their parents — bright kids. And they all hate school. Hate the academic part. They are social creatures and like other kids and some sports and some music and some quirky clubs. But these kids — I bought every book I could for when my life changed a bit – none of them like to read a book. They read a bunch, in actuality, on their devices but short things – mostly posted by their friends. They are funny people with big hearts and they all are good at various snow sports. But they hate the classroom.
And I talk with them a lot. Take them for lunches and movies and ice cream. I listen as best I can without interrupting — about the teachers, lesson plans and projects to be completed. And I try to side with the educators — I do — about why they need to learn the way they are being taught.
But here’s the deal — education is broken. I know it and inherently they know it too. And I really, really, really want to blame some One. But if people as smart and rich as Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are throwing millions of dollars (maybe billions by now) trying to reform education — fix the buildings/hire more teachers/add more technology/and they are failing — I don’t know what I have to offer.
But for these children — whose parents and grandparents are digital immigrants and they are the digital natives — born into the world of technology — it is difficult to find a common language some days. And so, when my grandkids — who have no known limitations — aren’t loving academics in three different, great schools in the Salt Lake City area, I really want to blame someone else for their challenges. I want to blame their teachers, then their principals and then maybe the school boards and finally the superintendents. Because somebody should be able to change this/fix this/make it better for MY kid(s).
The truth — of course — is much uglier and simpler. Education, as we knew it, is broken. Everywhere from Newburg to New Orleans to New York. There is nothing really new in how we teach — yet there is everything new in how students learn. Having students sit in uncomfortable desks and face the same teacher, every day, who often stands in front of the classroom lecturing them, is so much less exciting than the device they have in their pocket. Textbooks filled with old stories about people long dead doesn’t serve these edgy, whip-smart kids. We don’t know how to teach them and so they don’t want to learn — like this. It is crisis resulting in unprecedented anxiety levels of young people. You can see it in our levels of teenage suicide and depression. One the places Utah does rank at the top — of those lists.
So instead of trying to figure how to educate and engage this generation of humans who need to find their way to learn and earn and most importantly be of service in the world — we start cannibalizing our own … our own teachers, our own school board members, our own superintendents and blaming them for the fact — Our Kids aren’t learning.
I know I’m angry. Mostly ‘cause I think I am usually a pretty good problem solver. I admit when I don’t know answers and I am willing to do the homework to find them. But it isn’t working this time — I have studied all kinds of alternative schools, educational opportunities, online courses and hands-on activities. But there aren’t enough and they aren’t adapting fast enough to keep up with all the technology these kids devour before breakfast. We aren’t keeping up. Not even close. And I don’t have some sweet-crusted pie full of blackbirds to sing me the answers to the riddles of a totally nationally broken system.
But here’s what I’m not gonna do — I’m NOT gonna blame the teacher. I’m not gonna blame the principal. I’m not gonna blame the school board and I’m not gonna blame the superintendent.
And neither should you.
I AM gonna try to engage like-minded folks who want to make small smart steps, one classroom at a time, to find fresh ways that use technology (but not all the time) and use hands-on practices and use non-desk bound activities to keep students engaged in learning.
Because I am of age that when you stop wanting to learn — you kinda stop wanting to live. And with one of the highest rates of teenage suicide in the nation in Utah we can’t afford to lose another child because they stopped wanting to learn something/anything/everything.
I don’t have a solution but I’m willing to look for one. Any day — like this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
The ivory-billed woodpecker is long gone, an iconic creature driven to extinction because of indifference.