Assignment for Schools: TEACH

Fandango’s Provocative question #104:
What do you think is the one subject (or thing) that should be taught in school that isn’t?

Since this touches on one of my big concerns, I’ll post a response. The Ragtag Daily Prompt this morning, ASSIGNMENT, should fit into this topic quite nicely.

One day I was checking out at the local supermarket and the clerk asked if I’d like to donate some money toward the literacy program in local schools. “To help students learn to read.”

I was puzzled. “Isn’t that what they do in school?” I asked. She looked at me blankly; maybe she thought I was, like, totally out of it – which I am when it comes to today’s education.

Another time a friend told me that her niece was in Grade Three and couldn’t even spell the word “ARE.” She only knew the text-speak “R.” Fifteen years ago I listened to a group of about twenty grown-in-Canada adults under thirty puzzle over what country Ottawa is in.

For the past century or so, our schools have been places to try out social experiments in education. One of these was to eliminate phonics. Ontario, thirty-some years back, went even further and abolished the teaching of grammar, because having to obey rules hinders the free flow of the student’s thoughts. “We want them to be creative, not slowed down by following all the rules.”

A few years ago a teen told me students aren’t “on the same page” when it comes to studying literature. That is, there’s no novel to study and assess together. Students pick a book they want to read and then discuss it in class. Since no one else has read the same book, do you hear any other opinion than your own?

Back in 1987 the Southam News Agency shocked us all with the results of their nation-wide study on literacy in Canada: 24% of Canadians are functionally illiterate. To determine “literacy” the subjects were given reading and writing assignments as well as having to read bank statements, time schedules, and calculate the change you’d get at a store.

Immigrant or native-born didn’t make much difference. One of every three Grade 8 graduates and one of every twelve Grade 12 grads were functionally illiterate in day-to-day affairs. The study found that many students entering universities had to take remedial reading classes.

A study done in 1989 shows that 20% of Canadians have strong literacy skills. This is a diverse group of people who exhibit a broad range of reading skills and various strategies for dealing with complex material. These people can meet most reading demands and handle new reading challenges.

A report in 2020 laments that, although public interest in literacy was strong between 1980 and 2000… “Against this background, it is surprising that the Canadian literacy infrastructure was subsequently largely dismantled.”
From a report by the European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults, Vol.11, No.1, 2020, pp. 109-125.

Apart from the need to teach better Reading, Writing, Grammar, Literature, and Math skills in Canadian schools, I think our children need to learn some HISTORY. Not the dates part so much, but basic concepts of social history: something about the Colonial days, Victorian Times, the Wars, the Roaring Twenties, the Dirty Thirties, the Cold War.

I wish our children could learn enough history to help them understand how other people have lived on this earth and gone through tough times, too. That people once entertained different ideas, upheld various ideals that were valid. That peer pressure is nothing new. That Covid-19 isn’t the worst plague ever. I’d like to see them get a good general history of the world that would bring them through time to where we are now. It would bring them down to earth and ground them – and hopefully generate more appreciation for our privileged era.

Parker’s Book Report

Parker drummed on the notepad with the tip of his pen. Mr Oswald told them he wanted to see “an honest book review mentioning at least three positive points.”

“Guess I can say it’s well written — as far as the actual writing goes.” Parker mumbled, and scribbled the words on his pad. The story flowed naturally, no glaring faults, no plot holes. Now, what else?

He tapped the book with his pen and wondered if “Nice colors on the front cover” would pass for one positive point. He sat up in his chair and stretched his arms above him. The screen on his cell phone showed 10:00 and this crummy book report was due for Lit class in twelve hours. On teacher’s desk, neatly typed, no spelling errors.

Was it interesting? Maybe — in a stretch. Okay, the story was interesting enough to keep a reader hooked. Worthwhile reading? Two thumbs down. What were people supposed to get out of reading this garbage, anyway? The impression that cops were brutal, corrupt — murderers even? Great take-away.

Parker’s Dad was a cop. His older brother was in police college. Every day cops like his dad put their lives on the line to keep the peace, catch the bad guys and lock them up. To try and prevent gang wars and pick up the pieces after. His dad had a couple of serious scars from knife-wielding toughs. He knew that many a night when some big operation was afoot Mom walked the floor until she heard the garage door open and knew Dad was home.

He read the author’s name on the cover and scowled. If someone breaks into this guy’s house, who’s he going to call for help? If some scammer empties his bank account, or some drunk driver plows into him on the way home from work, who’s supposed to deal with it? But he makes big bucks writing this story where the main character’s a violent ex-cop, police joke about beating up suspects in detention, and in the end the murderer turns out to be a greedy cop trying to get his hands on the bankroll he thinks the victim stole.

Parker felt like snapping his pen in half. Instead, he set it down and wandered to the kitchen, where he pulled a can of pop out of the fridge.

With all the books out there, why did Mr Oswald assign this one? He’d sounded so pumped about it. “Great example of a flawed hero,” he’d told them. “You gotta like this guy, warts and all.”

Oh, no, you didn’t. Did Oswald think they needed to get more of an attitude toward cops than most kids have now? Or maybe it was on the curriculum and Oswald was just getting paid to rave about it.

His dad walked into the kitchen right then and threw an arm over his shoulder. “Up late, buddy?”

“Got a book report to write for tomorrow’s Lit class. Can’t get into it.” He pulled the tab off his pop can and took a drink.

“Like the book? Was it worth reading?”

Parker shrugged and turned his free thumb down. “A book about a bad ex-cop. Had to retire because he couldn’t control his temper. Fantasizes about smashing peoples’ faces when they make him mad. You know what they say nowadays. ‘We need to see heroes with faults’ and all that.”

His father grimaced. “Well, I’ll admit it’s tempting to give some petty crooks with an attitude one good punch. You catch them robbing a store and they start wailing that a criminal record will mess up their life. It’ll be all your fault if they can’t get a job now.” He rolled his eyes. “Like, couldn’t you figure this out before you got caught?”

Then he gave Parker a light slap on the back. “But, like we say to the perps we haul in, ‘Why don’t you just tell the truth.’ The good Lord didn’t make you to be a herd animal. Be respectful, point out the positives where you can, but if you think the book is trash, say so. And say why.”

“Even if I get, like 20%, for this review because I don’t ‘get’ the hero?”

“Even if you get 20%. But get it done by the deadline. That you can do.”

Parker grinned and headed back to his room. Okay. Here goes. He picked up his pen to scribble a few ideas — and suddenly his words were flowing. He nodded in satisfaction. I’m gonna make this!

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Fandango’s one-word challenge: DEADLINE
This prompt has led me into quite a tale today! I won’t tell you which book Parker was writing a  review on. As you can probably tell, I can’t recommend reading it. 😉

Curiosity

Curiosity quote

On April 1st, 1899, thirteen-year-old Christina Young recorded the following in her diary:

Sara Murphy and I came near catching it today. She is one of my chums, but she lives one and a half miles from here. We sit together in school.

The teacher was standing with his back to our seat and we were seeing how close we could come to his back with a pin without his knowing it. Sara had the pin almost through his coat, and I didn’t hardly know I was going to do it, but all of a sudden I gave her arm a shove.

The teacher jumped about a foot high, and turned around and brought his strap down BANG on the desk. We were pretty scared, but he just looked at us pretty sharp for a minute, and then turned around quick and didn’t do a thing to us. We behaved after that.

 

A Letter From Home

This “letter” is from a book of poems written by Mary J MacColl, published in 1880 by Peter Paul & Brother of Buffalo, NY. The book comes with endorsements from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier and Oliver Wendell Holmes. speaking of hob-nobbing with the Greats!

Johnny’s Letter

Dear Ned, your letter’s come at last
and Nelly’s cockatoo;
Old Captain Cable brought them both,
‘Twas pretty good of you
to write so much, when it’s so hot;
how jolly brown you’ll be –
just like a heathen Hottentot –
when you come back from sea!

I don’t believe I’d care to hunt
in jungles – at a show;
I’m just as near a lion’s jaws
as I would care to go.
Suppose the cannibals you saw
had nothing left to eat?
Phew! They’d have built a fire, I’m sure
and roasted you for meat.

We’ve all been down at Grandma Lee’s
and didn’t we have fun!
We jumped the fences, climbed the trees,
and made the squirrels run.
High on a load of hay we rode
with Jake and Uncle Nate;
we hunted nests and fed the chicks,
and swung upon the gate.

We fished and waded in the creek,
shook apples off the trees—
I ate so many I was sick!—
we chased the bumble bees.
They stung poor Bobby on the nose
and Katy in the eye;
it made them look so very queer
and oh, how they did cry!

Dick made believe he had a horse –
‘twas nothing but a rail –
I tied the duster on behind,
it looked just like a tail.
But he got tired, let go the rein
and tumbled on a log
and when I ran to call Nurse Jane
I fell across the dog.

I haven’t got much more to say
and I must go to school.
I missed my lesson yesterday.
I said “a little bull”
when teacher asked what bullet meant.
Why shouldn’t it be so
when streamlet means a little stream?
That’s what I’d like to know.

There goes the bell! I must be off–
I ‘most forgot to say
that Charley has the whooping-cough
and Tom fell off a dray.
But ‘cepting them we’re all quite well.
Good-bye – remember now,
if you don’t bring a monkey home
there’ll be the biggest row.