Monday, April 25, 2011

Week of 04/25/2011

Where’s Johnny?
– by David Matthews 2

Remember when it was all about “Johnny”?

You know, “Johnny”… as in “Johnny can’t read”.

Sure it was the title of Don Hedley’s song from 1982, but it was also a cry for help from an education system that somehow stopped doing what it was supposed to in the first place. You had kids going through all twelve grades, get a diploma, and yet not be able to read a single word on that piece of paper. “Johnny can’t read” was a call for teachers and parents and administrators to try to figure out what’s going wrong with the system so that every child going through the system and getting a diploma was able to read and write and do basic math.

Ring any school-bells yet?

Yeah, Johnny couldn’t read because there was no incentive for him to want to read. If he could throw a football or sink a basket or hit a home-run consistently, then he didn’t NEED to learn how to read. He had his future set for him by coaches that made him out to be the next face on the Wheaties Box, and then all he needed to do was sign his checks with the letter “X”.

Or maybe he wasn’t going to be a sports “HEE-RO”. Maybe he was just one of many that would be written off by the teachers as someone who just wasn’t going to matter in the world. I know that kind of mindset exists because I initially was placed in that category once upon a time. Hey, someone still needs to empty the trash and clean the toilets, right? Might as well be Johnny! Certainly wouldn’t matter to the teacher… he or she would still meet the required quota of students passing.

Yes, once upon a time, the subject used to be ABOUT Johnny. It used to be about whether or not Johnny could actually read, write, and handle basic math; the essential elements to work even at a fast food franchise. It used to be about the optimal class size for teachers to make sure that every student learns those basic, essential skills and making sure they have the right equipment to learn. It was about teachers actually TEACHING instead of just getting a paycheck and passing the kids on like an assembly line.

Whatever happened to those days?

Somewhere in the equation, Johnny got lost and forgotten… AGAIN.

Today the discussion isn’t about Johnny at all. It’s about POWER. It’s about CONTROL. It’s about POLITICS and who controls the curriculum and what should be emphasized.

It’s about liberals who scream bloody murder about teachers unions and conservatives who scream bloody murder about money and cutting costs. Everyone is screaming bloody murder about their own little nugget of control…

But where’s Johnny amidst the din of all of this rhetorical slaughter? Is he still not able to read? Can he sign his own name? Does he know what two-plus-two equals or what the square root of nine is?

I ask because everyone is claiming to be doing all of this political gamesmanship and teeth-gnashing on behalf of Johnny, but they really seem to be doing it for their own gains.

Teachers unions are more concerned with job security than in making sure that the teachers are helping Johnny read. Politicians are more concerned with seizing the purse-strings than in making sure that the money is actually being spent so that Johnny can read. Parents are hysterical over whether or not a school is within a short driving distance than in making sure that the school helps Johnny to read. Oh, and COLLEGE! Gotta make sure that Johnny ends up in college somehow… never mind if he can READ by then!

And it’s all for THEM… “on behalf of” Johnny, of course.

Let’s get brutally honest here… if you want to play politics with education, that’s one thing. But don’t do it on the PRETENSE that you’re doing this for “Johnny” if NONE of it is to actually give the “Johnnys” of the world an actual education.

You want to talk about tests? FINE! Have them! But they better be about proving that you’re teaching Johnny how to read and write and handle basic math.

You want to talk about job security? Well if Johnny can’t read, then why should you still have a job if you’re not doing it? That’s like asking a bricklayer why he doesn’t lay bricks.

You want to talk about vouchers? What is it that is going on in those private schools that Johnny isn’t getting in public school? And why? Answer those questions and you won’t need to talk about vouchers.

And by the way, how is it that SPORTS gets preferential treatment over books and teaching skills? Johnny has a better chance of working at the grocery story ringing up that box of Wheaties than he EVER will in appearing ON that box. So you tell me, which should get the greater emphasis when it comes time to budget out the dwindling funds?

Once upon a time, education was a matter of privilege; reserved only for those with money and power. Unfortunately, the Industrial Society made education a NECESSITY, and that applies even more so in today’s electronic world. So if Johnny still can’t read, then he isn’t the only one failing in the basic requirements of society. Indeed, if Johnny can’t figure out the basic essentials of reading and writing and figuring out basic math without needing a calculator, then it’s the entire system - INCLUDING the politicians and the administrators and the unions AND the parents - that have failed.

The only difference is that Johnny at least has an excuse why he can’t read. What’s ours?

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