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F schools article

Sarah McIntosh: Empty rhetoric on education

By Sarah McIntosh
Special to The Sun

Published: Sunday, August 3, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.

Last Modified: Friday, August 1, 2014 at 1:49 p.m.

The words used by a group of school administrators from seven area counties, who gathered last month in Ocala for a mini-conference to discuss ways to improve school scores, amount to empty rhetoric.

Under the auspices of the Florida Department of Education, the differentiated accountability system is a statewide network designed to help districts improve in several key areas with one primary goal being to improve failing schools. Alachua County’s 40 schools had six “F” schools this year.

Mouthfuls of titles and acronyms show that administrators can come up with some words that have no meaning behind them. Differentiated accountability system? These are big words, so maybe these administrators who focus on statistics can pretend they mean something. What they mean to me is that it’s easy to hide behind big words and ignore the fact that for each number there is a child whose life and whose ability to learn, think and process information is being compromised.

Compromising the learning process may, in fact, be the goal. There may be more to the rhetoric than meets the eye, for if students actually learn to process information, they’d realize Florida’s current educational system is, and I won’t mince words, stupid.

The Sun’s July 15 article about this gathering clarified what was discussed. During this meeting of the minds, one word was dramatically missing: learning. The article mentions five points that were discussed, yet only one of these points includes the word “student” and only in terms of monitoring the progress of a student.

Currently, education is all about monitoring and accountability, which are great words on the surface, but in terms of the actual education of students these words take on a different meaning. Statistical averages, test scores and school grades measure absolutely nothing in regard to an individual child. A teacher or group of teachers who work closely with a child and who see the progress, or lack thereof, of that student along with the context of that child’s world outside of school and, hopefully, in conjunction with the child’s parent or caregiver, are much more capable of monitoring and accounting for a student’s grades.

Grading schools based on test scores that supposedly show the effectiveness of teachers is also worthless and wasteful. Owen Roberts, Alachua County’s new superintendent of schools, wrote in a July 20 column that his mission is to “solve the BIG problems of education to sustain our democratic way of life and ensure economic and national security.” As part of his vision, he asks the people of Alachua County to “be responsible for what happens to each child … (to) unite our efforts, resources, experiences and talents to sustain and improve our culture.” He also sees the challenge to create a culture of excellence in schools and commits to focus on student learning and achievement.

These all sound like good points, but his vision seems hampered by more BIG sounding ideas that ring empty in the so-called halls of learning. He shares his story of pulling himself out of poverty and overcoming illness to achieve the success he enjoys. While I applaud his drive, I notice that he mentions his mother who valued education. I must differ when he states “that the achievement of self-sufficiency through education is proof that personal drive, courage and persistence can overcome severe generational poverty.” The idea that just because something is part of a person’s experience is proof that it will work for everyone is a common fallacy.

Certainly there are those who find success despite horrible hardship, but others encounter numerous factors that may create barriers to learning that are almost impossible to get over. Not everyone gets the educational stimulus that Owens received. Most parents do value education, but many situations and factors can interfere with parents being able to participate in their child’s education.

BIG words such as many used in the aforementioned pieces raise questions about how invested the county and state educational administrators really are in the learning process for students, and how invested they are in listening to the teachers and families that deal every day with rules and regulations to satisfy a skewed perception of accountability.

Local economist David Denslow wrote a July 20 column that focused on grade inflation at the college level. The information he presents points to a common attitude carried into colleges by students who have come to expect higher grades. These same students have learned, throughout their school years, how to manipulate their way through tests and classes because they know that a teacher cannot afford to fail them as his or her job is constantly on the line based on student achievement.

Students are at least smart enough to know that the focus of schools is on numbers and money. Learning becomes a secondary, but necessary ordeal for some, while others try to make the best out of a system that doesn’t work. Schools at every level are continuing to churn out students who, sadly for all concerned, neither value learning, nor care to learn. Denslow finds that “students who expect high grades naturally think they are learning a lot.” He cites a survey of University of Florida students that found that less than half study more than 11 hours a week.

My experience teaching college-level classes is that students generally haven’t learned enough to even get to college let alone succeed in college classes, particularly when studying is viewed as incidental to learning. Denslow exposes the reality of the system when he writes “under UF’s funding model, resources are allocated to colleges largely according to the number of students taking their classes. If an introductory class gives mostly ‘A’s’ in exchange for little effort students quickly learn that. Enrollment soars. College revenue rises.”

Just as species in the wild have learned to adapt to rapidly changing environments, so has it taken only a few generations for students to learn that learning is secondary to money. If the state of Florida and its school administrators truly value learning, money would be spent on actually educating students instead of being wasted on conferences and gross payments to testing companies. Students could even learn the meaning of some big words and know when the words are meaningless. So we’re back to where we started: BIG but empty words.

Sarah McIntosh lives in Archer.

What is Stupid?

Stupid Praise:

Back from Too High to Go to Woodstock: Reflections on my life and times, Sarah E. McIntosh in Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart once again reveals her intellect, wit, and directness. This time she takes on the world of standardized testing. Listing dozens of examples of “stupid” phrases written by well-intended (though, apparently, under-educated students), McIntosh substantiates the point that standardized testing has done more damage than good in educating America’s children. Teachers, administrators, and parents will whole-heartedly relate.
Valerie. M. D’Ortona, Big T’s Heart’s in Me!

Dreams? Dream on.

“Writter”: When I am a famous writter, I might learn how to spell righter.

I anxiously await this budding author’s bestseller! My definition of “Writter” is meant to be funny.
What isn’t funny is the idea that most students who spell this way, truly believe that they will be successful in their dream job. We can only hope not.

More dream jobs, or jobs student’s dream they can do, to come. Dream on, students, Dream on!

I anxiously await my own bestseller – Yes, I am a dreamer!

I also recollect some of my dreams from childhood, the hopes, the anticipations, the goals. I do know that one of my goals in 3rd grade did not include passing the FSA. While substitute teaching in a 3rd grade class a few weeks ago, I looked at the display of artwork that decorated the lists of goals these 7-8 yr. olds wanted to accomplish in 3rd grade. There must have been goals like learning how to read better or maybe learning about dinosaurs, but if there were, they were overshadowed by the main goal on every single paper: Pass the FSA.

Really! This is on the forefront of every 3rd grader’s mind? These kids can barely tie their own shoes, have not learned how to tell time on an analogue clock (they won’t need to), and have the attention span of a goldfish, and all they can think about is passing a damn test! What about snakes and bugs and ships and cowboys and Indians? Oh…not on the test probably.

Where did all the dreams go? Not dreamland-at least the one in my dreams. This is a fuckin’ nightmare!

Still Stupid!

“My friend died…this experience has made me live every moment of your life to the fullest”
“To speak correctly & write papers w/ good grammar I hope will bring me a good wife”

Here are a couple more examples from student papers that echo the question in a prior post. Is it the schools that are stupid or the students? I am questionably happy to share the wisdom of students who are being manufactured in the educational factories in America.

February 7th, 2019 is prominently marked on my calendar-or will be as soon as I get a new 2019 one.
Calendar or not, this date is imprinted in my mind as the date that my newest book Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart will be published by Black Rose Writing.

My Radical Roots are Showing

Radicalism resurfaced!

My quest for an agent/publisher for my book Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart, is ongoing, yet an added urgency about the state of Education in America has brought my latent radical roots from the 1960s to the surface.

Children are dying. Education, learning, growing up are no longer major concerns in the minds of young students. Will I get shot today? This is not a question that should be in the minds of our children. This is not a question that should be in my mind when I am at one of my substitute teaching assignments. There is absolutely no excuse, none whatsoever!
All the arguments about guns and the second amendment are not stopping the murders. While adults argue, children are DYING. There is no argument or excuse that makes this okay. Worse, students being shot in schools is now so common that it barely registers as surprising news.

I am heartened to see a new radicalization of our youth. My attendance at a couple rallies adds another body to the protests, but I need to do more to keep the body count of dead students from rising. Dead kids can’t rise. We must stop the carnage.

Protests in the 60s were about an unjust war and a draft that sent young men off to die in Viet Nam. We had the power of numbers and knowing we were right and could stop the war. That’s what I truly believed, so did a lot of protesters. We stopped the war. Maybe it wasn’t that simple, but our voices and bodies together were a powerful and effective force.

Now the battlefield is on the home front. There’s not even a fucking war!
I will not stand silently nor will I let our youth stand alone.

We may have a lull over the summer, a few weeks without a new bloodbath, at least in a school. I think about huddling in a lockdown with a group of 3rd graders who did not have to be reminded to be silent. They were too scared. The adults knew this was a drill. The kids didn’t. Maybe these students will get a break from worrying and dying.
It is not acceptable to have active shooter drills. Securing schools is not just stupid, it is ineffective. It is not going to secure the minds of our children, secure them from wondering if they will be the next to die.

Right after the unspeakable blood bath (tragedy is too clean) at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, I was in a high school class when, at the end of the day, the fire alarm went off. I did not know whether to take the students outside in case there was a fire or keep them inside in case there was a shooter. We did go out, all of us looking around to see if we were going to be shot.

I guess the title of my book on education should just be Stupid, just fuckin’ Stupid!
Kids won’t have to worry about education or the future if they’re dead.

Updates: Too High to go to Woodstock


HERE I go again. A new year and another entry with promises of more, promises to post more though I usually fall short. Nevertheless, my website is built on good intentions.
Waiting in the wings is my recently completed book: Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart. While I look towards publication of this latest title, I backtrack to revisit my memoir: Too High to Go to Woodstock: Reflections on my life and times.
Last year, oh so long ago, I entered this memoir in the 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published book awards. All those who entered were provided a review of their book so bear with me, if you will, while I revel in a rare bit of self-promotion and puffing-uppedness.
So, referencing “Judge, 25th Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards”, the judge who reviewed Too High to Go to Woodstock: Reflections on my life and times, commented:
Candid and revealing in its painstaking recollection of a life marked by drugs, sex and depression this memoir captures a succession of turbulent and trouble filled days and nights. The stigma of mental illness, odd relationships, and slipping into being a drug dealer as well as an addict all convey the downward drift of the author’s life as she plods through her early family days and growing up, some random jobs, school, pregnancy, divorce, life as a hippie in a commune, and ultimately becoming a teacher. One can easily appreciate the many little epiphanies that spark the often vivid pages as she witnesses herself with brutal honesty. The first person writing is unstinting in self-description, which isn’t particularly favorable.
This judge adds “Photos embellish the frank text. A roster of national help organizations with toll-free numbers and other key information provides an excellent resource.”
Needless to say, I was very pleased with such a positive review. Thus, inspired to continue with more writing projects, I will move into writing those ideas that have been lurking in the back, or at least somewhere, in this thing that might be called a mind.
While in a lull while more writing ideas ferment in my brain, I have turned to a new medium: acrylic painting. These masterpieces will be added into a new category I call “The Gallery of Weird Art”.

The bad blogger strikes again

Stupid Schools, Stupid Students: Get Smart is the title of my book that will come out in February ’19. It is an all-too-true first-hand account of my experiences as an English Professor at a community college. The decline in the academic abilities of students began a rapid downhill slide as students, subject to the onslaught of standardized testing, started filtering into college-level classes. It’s a great book based on a very topical topic, yet it’s sad, sad but true.
Glad to see that 2017 is running out of time, though it may be premature to expect much more in 2018. Though my thoughts and forecasts for the future: mine or mankind’s, is rather dreary, I start with the final sendoff to the ’17 Christmas season with a copy of my personally created Christmas card. The message is accompanied by a couple of my old doodles that I discovered as I went through old papers. The consummate doodler that I am, I’ve decided to add a new category to this site that will display some of these doodles, with commentary. Labeled simply “Art”, this category will also contain what I refer to as Moodia. Both old and new doodles will be mixed in with an occasional acrylic painting, a newly discovered medium. This combination can be referred to as mixed-media, one that allows for a visual representation of my moods. “Art” is contained within quotation marks, so it is clear that I in no way want to denigrate the talents of those serious artists who can call their art Art.
As I say in every newly added post, I will be better at keeping up with my website, a continuing resolution which is really a big Lie! Nevertheless, I really do have good intentions.