The 10-day class called Introduction to Poetry is finally over. Until I take another class, I can catch my breath. For me, although the course was fun, it was extremely time-consuming. Perhaps because of that, I realize now that I had stopped taking it seriously and just started slapping together assignments–although the flippant approach was equally time-consuming. That just added to the frustration of trying to write in an art form that is very difficult for me. Clearly, not everyone is a poet.
As I approached the second half of the course, I began to think about two things: my own sense of frustration, and frustrations that must be affecting students in k-12 classrooms. First, let me address this course. Then I will say a few words on general public education in the US.
Two things kept me going through the ten days. The first is that it was only ten days–long enough to feel worthwhile, but short enough to persevere through the difficulty of the art form. In all, my purpose for taking the course was met–to learn more about poetry to help my overall writing–to a degree. That it became so time-consuming was a major distraction and contributed to my frustration. Even before taking the course, I knew how difficult it would be for me. Having elected to take the course anyway, I plowed through the lessons, becoming more and more distracted as the requirements and suggestions seemed to overcome my meager abilities. Part of my problem was that I didn’t feel that I had enough time to master any of the material well enough before being sent a new form and a prompt around which I could not wrap my mind.
That got me thinking about learning in general and in k-12 classroom instruction. When I was teaching, I had the luxury of designing each student’s curriculum around his or her skills and talents. I taught special education and had relatively small classes compared to regular education. At the time I was teaching, class sizes of thirty or more students were close to the average, despite the research that indicated such large groups were not conducive to healthy learning environments. Anyway, my classes of learning disabled and emotionally challenged students generally fell around 15 students–about twice the recommended class size for special needs children at the time. It was a lot of work to tailor individualized curricula for so many students while making sure each had individualized attention and learning support. The students were worth the effort, despite the huge differences in ability and achievement levels represented in the classroom.
Today’s educational systems no longer allow for this type of student support, and we continue to lose students in increasing numbers before we can graduate them. Growing dropout rates contributes not to a stronger and unified nation, but to one that is more fractured and weaker.
It would be wonderful if I came up with a solution to the growing concerns circling public education. Alas, I have none. The issues are too diverse, localized, and factionalized. Perhaps that is why originally, education was left in the hands of the states. When education was all but nationalized under No Child Left Behind, it destroyed any state’s ability to do what was best for their own populations of students. And yet, state educational systems are much more in touch with the needs of their own populations than is the federal government.
When I take a course through Bloggers U, I have some control, especially since everything is individual study now. I can address each assignment the day it arrives in my mailbox, or I can progress at my own speed by holding on to the emails until I am ready to respond to the next lesson. I can even do the assignments out of sequence, if I want. The point is, I may not have control over the materials, I have a lot of leeway within assignments and I have the freedom to do the assignments at my own pace. That is not an option in public education any more, even if the entity being addressed is a representative one–a given state’s department of education. It is as though we, as a nation, no longer take education seriously.