I was touring a not-so-great high school recently with a colleague (who used teach middle school) and a couple of privileged parents. Peeking through the classroom window, one of the moms said, "Look, that kid's asleep!" To which my friend the ex-teacher said, "Depending on the kid, that may not be such a bad thing."
Now, maybe that makes my friend a lousy teacher. Or maybe that's just the reality of things. My brother and his wife are both teachers -- David has lunatic middle-schoolers -- and I don't quite know how they handle it. I say this because I've been tutoring this high schooler for a several weeks, and a.) she's got some pretty gaping holes in her knowledge [when I say, "Tell me in one word why they fought the Civil War," she looks at me like she forgot her own name -- though oddly, she's solid on pre-colonial stuff...yeah, I know] and b.) it's hard enough to get through to just one kid at a time let alone 30 or more of these Ritalin-babies.
A little background: I'm tutoring this girl in US History, so that she can pass the exam she needs to graduate. I dominated US History in high school, and could dominate the test again right now if asked to. My student, on the other hand, has already failed the test once.
I could probably be content to teach to the test just to get this poor girl her diploma -- do we really need any more high school dropouts? -- but if I can get her to pass the test AND actually learn something about history, well then...
And this is how I came to spend the weekend making flash cards on FDR, the Great Depression and WWII. Since there's no way I can teach her everything she needs to know in just an hour a week, I've decided the best approach is to try to give her mastery of just a couple main areas of history -- my weekend set of flash-cards being one. Having looked at the past few years' of tests, I'm confident that if she knows her FDR, she can handle any essay question they throw at her. If she should also happen to learn an important life lesson -- that pretty much everything good that we have in this country today was a result of FDR -- then I've done my job.
Next up, the Civil War.
(The correct answer is "SLAVERY.")