Wednesday, January 31, 2007

In-service Blues

On Monday, my entire district met at one of our high schools for an in-service training day. It still means going to work, but at least it is a break from the relative stress of teaching students.

As usual, for the most part, this in-service day was a waste of my time, but there was one bright spot. We all started in the gym, where we listened to a guest speaker named Stephen Peters. He is a former teacher, vice principal, and principal who has written several books and heads a publishing and motivational speaking company. He is very in tune with the motivational problems many of today's students face. He particularly focused on the behavior and performance of our minority students. At one point he showed a short film that asked a bunch of middle school-age boys what they wanted to do when they grow up. While the white and asian boys wanted to be doctors, lawyers, or maybe a firefighter here and there, almost every black boy interviewed said he wanted to be an NBA player. I can vouch that this is the case on my campus too, as that is a common answer when that question is asked at SST meetings with students who are struggling.

Mr. Peters then put a copy of the front page of the New York Times that showed a picture accompanying an article declaring that school was back in session for the year. The picture showed a bunch of students looking at their teacher. Front and center in the photo is a cute little black boy looking up at his teacher with a look of wonder and admiration, seeming to enthusiastically say, "What are we going to learn about today???" Mr. Peters said, "The question we need to answer and address is, how do so many of our minority students go from being this little boy here who admires his teacher, to one who admires these guys?" The image of the NYT article disappeared from the screen, and up came pictures of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G., two gangsta rappers who were both murdered in the 1990s, and whose influence still holds sway over the hip-hop generation today.

Mr. Peters displayed a very telling chart on the screen that graphically demonstrates what we teachers are facing every day in the classroom. The chart showed the results of a study that was done by, I believe, the University of Michigan, and indicated the top five influences in young people's lives over the past few decades. Here is a reproduction of the chart:

When you have the double whammy of the crap our youth watch on television and listen to on their iPods, plus the blind-leading-the-blind influence of their peers, it is small wonder that we teachers often find ourselves pulling our hair out by the end of the day.

While the rest of the day was essentially a waste, I did enjoy Mr. Peter's presentation very much.

Good Day to You, Sir


Charity said...

Egads! Hey, at least church is no longer the least influential.

Gee, maybe I'm not as wrong for homeschooling my kids and not letting them watch TV as my liberal peers would have me think. Suddenly, I have bumped home and church up the list!

Dan Edwards said...

Good Post. So, did Mr. Peters offer any possible solutions to this problem, other that tossing out the first amendment to the US Constitution ?

Have a GOOD weekend !

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those people who believes the "good old days" weren't as good as perhaps we think. For one, it's probable that in the 1950s, those minority students weren't attending school at all and in some parts of the country they were actually prevented from doing so.

And if TV and the mass media have grown in their influence, is that all that bad? Some people think that TV may actually be responsible for the gradual increase in IQ over the last 50 years. I'm not quite convinced that this is true but I do think that shows like MythBusters and Numb3rs are a giant leap forward from the vast wasteland of the 70's ("Three's Company", "Fantasy Island").

Like polski3, I want to know what concrete advice Mr. Peters had on helping these kids to learn? Or did he just throw up his hands and say the forces of modern culture were too strong for teachers to counteract?

Did he motivate YOU?

W.R. Chandler said...

Sorry Mike, but the kids at my school aren't watching Mythbusters and Numb3rs. They are watching the thuggish, mysoginistic crap on BET and MTV. Those shows are definitely doing nothing for their IQs except lowering them a few points.

TV can definitely be a useful learning tool. Unfortunately, the vast majority of my students don't use it as such.

While you seem to take this speaker to task because you don't think he has a solution, when speaking of matters of race, just having the courage to acknowledge the elephant in the room is a step in the right direction. Too many people are afraid of being verbally pummeled by people the likes of you who bring up the evil nasty 1950s. Face it, black students have been shed of one kind of obstacle, only to be yoked with another, and this time, it comes mostly from within their community rather than without. This is something they can only fix themselves. Frederick Douglass said it best when he told whites that they have caused enough trouble already, and that the best thing that can be done to help the black race is to leave them alone and let them succeed or fail on their own merits.

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