Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.
This week I offer a very unscientific, non-data-driven "attitude survey" that my students have taken over the years. I gave it to every class at the beginning of the year, and it's interesting to look back and see how some things have changed in the way kids view school and how others are essentially the same.
Here are some of the statements that were rated on a 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree) scale.
"For the most part, school has been a pleasant experience." The number of 5s has diminished in direct proportion to the 1s here. The majority fall in the middle, which might be expressed in the usual teenage eloquence, "It's (school) OK I guess." The number of kids who absolutely hate school has grown over the years, which is unfortunately reflected in school dropout rates.
"My teachers seem to care about me as a person." It's hard to generalize on this one because it varies from teacher to teacher. The kids are keenly aware which teachers make the effort to know them as individuals. They're the ones they'll try harder to please. They're the ones that they'll listen to because someone listened to them. Good teachers know this instinctively.
"I do only enough work in school to get by." That always gets a "strongly agree," figuring that most students see high school as a means to an end. There is, however, that bottom group to consider, among which is a (once again) growing number of students who flat out refuse to do any work.
While I don't consider these kids lost causes — no child is — I do think that they belong in a different setting where they might be made to see the error of their ways more clearly. It should be a place where they cannot interfere with the education of the students who are trying. One or two of these miscreants can wreak havoc in any classroom. Large numbers of them can drag a whole school down.
"School has encouraged me to think for myself." Most of my students disagreed strongly with that one, as perhaps teenagers have been doing since the beginning of time. They are emerging from their cocoons, and they are all, in one way or another, wanting to spread their wings. Call it rebellion, non-conformity — whatever. It begins to clash with the regimentation that school often represents to their growing sense of independence.
The present preoccupation with standardized education only confirms their perception that school does not promote original thought, but rather rote learning. I can't help but think of Paul Simon's first line in his song, "Kodachrome": "When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all."
"I sometimes cheat on tests." This one always gets a "strongly agree" in advanced placement classes and, surprisingly, less so in the regular classes. The pressure to get into a good college drives even the best students to cheat. The difference, it seems to me, in today's students from those 10 or 20 years ago is in their inability, or perhaps unwillingness, to see cheating as something wrong. Everyone does it. Why shouldn't they?
The implications for their future careers are a little frightening — the last thing we need is a new generation of ethically challenged adults. We have more than our share now.
"My teachers seem to enjoy teaching." Here again, the kids know. We teachers know. Those of you reading this know too. We can all remember the teachers who only went through the motions, who put in their time and nothing of themselves. They reduced teaching to imparting facts and made us believe that education came with large doses of drudgery.
We can also remember the teachers with a genuine passion for their subject, who instilled a love of learning and who made us believe in ourselves. They are the ones we remember because they made a difference in our lives. Some of them even inspired their students to want to become teachers themselves.
DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at DKimb8@sbcglobal.net.