2010-11-05 / Columnists

It’s My Turn

It’s The Curriculum, Stupid
By Joan Mettler

Let me tell you what I learned in first grade through twelfth in the New York City Public Schools that I still use today. I learned to sew. I learned to cook. I learned to save money through school banking. I learned to read. I learned to type. I learned to print and write cursive. I learned to speak, read and write English, French and Spanish. I learned to sing as an alto in Girls’ Chorus. I learned to play ping pong, punchball, paddleball, handball, volleyball, basketball and softball. I learned to write lyrics and comedy for Sing and the Senior Show. I learned how to mount a political campaign and run for office. I learned I had no affinity for art. I learned about cultivating responsibility, friendships and sportsmanship. And, I learned how to combine that which I learned in school with what I learned at home which enabled me to become a dedicated and successful teacher.

Oh, sure I learned math; however it only applies to my life in an elementary fashion. Yes, I studied history and geography and must admit the bit I remember does come in handy when I contest friends in Jeopardy. The one reference to history I do remember was that it repeats itself, which people in the highest offices in this land obviously forgot. I was compelled to study science in a pre-med curriculum in college; but, the sciences I studied barely apply to any aspect of my life. I loved school. I loved it for the learning. I loved it for social opportunities. Many years I had 100 percent attendance, afraid I would miss the slightest bit of information to feed my then personal computer, my brain.

When I went through Elhi (Elementary – High School), I went because it was fun, learning being secondary to the fun. The menu of courses included electric, metal and wood shop for boys and secretarial courses for girls in addition to required Regents’ courses: English, Math, Social Studies, Science and Foreign Language. A high school student would receive one Regents credit for each year a particular subject was studied. English was always four credits, Social Studies, three etc. Nine Regents credits were mandatory for a Regents Diploma.

There were three kinds of high schools then, each with its own diploma. Academic high schools which offered a liberal arts curriculum were geared to those who would most probably go on to college. Commercial high schools catered to young ladies who saw themselves seeking employment straight out of high school. Every business course from accounting to bookkeeping, from stenography to typing was taught to those enrolled in commercial high schools. Vocational High Schools presented young men with skills that allowed them to pursue careers immediately after high school in such fields as auto and airplane mechanics, carpentry, electricity, plumbing… You see, even then, educators knew that every student was not cut out to be an engineer or a brain surgeon. As such, these students were not forced to sit in classrooms the content of which could never apply to their lives. What was the dropout rate then? Chances are, the dropout rate then was a whole lot less than it is today. Then, students were motivated with their ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel, a good salary; now, no light, just a tunnel.

In its effort to get bottom line results in Math and Science, many “educators” who write curriculum in this country have inundated students with the two holy grail subjects: science and math to the elimination of those subjects that could launch a high school graduate into the work-a- day world with suitable skills for making a living. Mayor Bloomberg, a bottom line kind of guy, entrusted his one million students’ education to Joel Klein, a man without education portfolio. Their brainchild divided and sub-divided high schools to make smaller classes for learning. In reality, all they have done is to increase the number of principals and assistant principals to rule over these minihigh schools, making education salaries top heavy and the number of classroom teachers sparse. The pride we all had back in our day in our high schools has been erased with the names of the schools, replaced with cluster high schools with ridiculous names that carry no cache, no past reputation. And, everybody, without exception, is paint balled with science and math.

In our mayor’s desperation to show academic improvement, he has been linked with test score tampering. When test scores could not measure up, Klein had the tests rewritten to make them easier. As one would think when suddenly hundreds of principals were required to fill newly open positions, there would be a paucity of eligible candidates. Consequently, a good number of these cluster schools are not run properly. How does this affect personnel? Old teachers were tempted into retirement to be replaced on a three to one salary basis by new teachers who are pressured to produce miracles to make their administrators look good. It’s not happening. What is happening is truancy and dropping out by students and disenchanted novice teachers leaving the profession.

Drastic changes must be instituted in our city’s education system. Curriculum must change from elementary through high school to replicate the successful ones that were in effect when I was in school.

New teachers must be mentored by retired teachers who had success over the history of their careers. I recall being mentored by department chairmen for the first five years of my teaching career at which time I earned tenure. With so many new teachers, chairmen mentoring all of them would be impossible. The key here is to woo proven teachers to stay in the system to give a leg up to novices.

Let us agree that every teen is not college material. Knowledgeable high school advisors could help focus teens in directions that would fit their aptitude and personality.

Aptitude tests should be mandatory for 8th and 10th graders to give students and advisors a basis for counseling. Just think, if we would offer high school degrees in horticulture and landscaping in vocational high schools we might even spawn a rarity, homegrown gardeners.

That is the least we can do for our teens.

The current science-and-math- forall obsession is stupid on multiple levels: It is boring, unproductive and failing. It’s like a shoe store only selling a size nine.

Let the city and the country wake up to our massive failure with regard to education and, in the vernacular of Al Capp, “Put it back the way it wuz.”

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