I’m aching to write a book called “School Sucks,” but I don’t want to be too negative, you know? I mean I am an education professor, surely I should not be preaching about how much school sucks, right? Surely I should be the person waving a banner recruiting people in, being a cheerleader for schools, teachers, education, and schools, right? On the other hand, school does – in many cases – suck. It sucks as a kid when you’re stuck in a chair and get yelled at by the teacher for falling off it after a couple hours of test preparation madness; it sucks as a teacher when you’re finally doing some cool stuff with your kids and the principal comes in and wants to know what standards you’re covering; it sucks as a principal when you want your teachers to do what’s best for kids but the district office will punish you if you don’t meet AYP; it sucks as a parent watching day after day go by knowing that your kid is going off to a place where kids are expected to behave like robots, learn their math facts like computers, follow rules like – well, who follows rules??; it sucks to be a kid and go to a place every day where you’re not expected to be like a kid at all who would prefer curiosity, experimentation, play, humor, physical movement, friendship, nurturing, kindness, and un-sucki-ness.
So I’ve tried to make the title a little more positive – a little nicer for those who may never read a book called “School Sucks.”
I don’t know if or when it’ll ever become a book, so I decided just to share some of my random thoughts about some things that make school suck for kids here, especially since a friend told me he wouldn’t respect me if I didn’t get started on this project immediately. So here’s my eensy weensy start…
Stop smiling so much at the kids with nice clothes.
You know it happens, the kids who dress “nice,” or as some kids might say, like “preps,” “jocks,” “stuck-ups,” “teacher’s pets,” or “rich kids,” get all the positive attention even when they don’t deserve it. Even when they come to class late, don’t do a good job on their homework, whisper mean things to kids on the playground, and secretly exclude the kids with the not-so-nice clothes, the kids with nice clothes still get treated nice. Stop doing it! This makes school suck for kids who don’t want those stupid clothes, don’t have money for those clothes, or who are trying everything they can to get those clothes. Even kindergarteners notice when the well-dressed kids get all the attention. Stop it. Besides – without even knowing it, you might be promoting materialism and consumerism just by rewarding those who pay big bucks for cheaply made clothing in sweatshops and other subpar working conditions across the globe with your smile and special attention. Smile more at everyone – make school not suck.
Stop gushing over kids who went on exotic trips during spring break.
It sucks, I know, seeing seven and eight year olds trot around the globe like nobody’s business, seeing things in real life that you’ve only seen in books or on television. But stop gushing over it, alright? All this gushing makes school suck for kids who went to a babysitter’s house and thought they had a ball all week until you made a big deal about the trip to Paris little Lucy went on. Make everyone’s spring, summer, fall, and winter breaks seem cool, valuable, educational, and admirable – not just the kids who happen to have been born in a family that can afford to go on expensive vacations. Besides – without even knowing it, you might be promoting an elitist and colonial attitude toward “others” around the globe who are assumed to be there for us middle-class Americans to gaze upon and wonder about. Gush over everyone’s fun and sorrow over school breaks – make school not suck.
Stop saying things like, “He’s never even been to the zoo!”
What kind of school God made the zoo the pinnacle of all experiences that will magically make all our academic dreams come true? It really sucks when all the cool things you’ve done with your family don’t seem to matter to anyone and all that really matters is if you’ve seen caged up animals who are in fake habitats and gawked at all day by well-dressed families trying to do everything they can to give their kid an advantage in school. Besides – without even knowing it, you might be promoting the idea that animals are put on earth to be controlled by humans and to become humans’ entertainment as they live their lives in captivity. Find educational reasons to value everyone’s home experiences – make school not suck.
Stop announcing the names of kids who still haven’t brought in field trip money.
This REALLY makes school suck for kids whose families are barely surviving and don’t have the money for life’s necessities, much less the $6.00 fee to go to the zoo where they keep animals in captivity and we gawk at them for our entertainment. Here’s the thing – if out-of-school experiences mean so much to educational success (and I would agree here that this is true), then tell your school and district to stop wasting millions on test prep materials and testing materials and use that money to pay for field trips that mean so much to educational success. Or, find lots of free field trips to go on. Or, use public transportation so the cost is lower. Or, convince your principal to create a fund that pays for families who can’t afford it (without announcing it). Or, have an open conversation with your students about the fact that because we live in a society that inequitably distributes economic resources, we expect that different families will be able to pay different amounts for field trips and that sometimes means that families are not able to pay anything at one time or another. No big deal. The big deal, in fact, is that our society should make sure it has decent paying jobs for everyone so that everyone could afford the field trip fees. THAT would make school not suck for the kids who don’t have the money to pay and can’t stand the humiliation and shame that comes along with not having the money to pay and go home angry at their parents because they don’t have the money to pay.
Make field day free for all students! At a middle school in Northport, AL, students had to pay $10.00 each to participate in the end of the year field day; those who didn’t or couldn’t bring money were sentenced to study hall. What were organizers thinking when they made these decisions? Field day doesn’t cost anything, but even if there were expenses involved, how could anyone think it would be right to keep non-paying students inside? I’ll be circulating a petition to make Field Day free for all.
Stop privileging school athletes by giving them a day off of school for “athletic day.” While the middle school athletes spent a day at Alabama Adventure Amusement Park, non-athlete members of the geocaching club, chess club, math club (etc. ad nauseum) stayed behind. Why can’t everyone in the school community be invited to go to the amusement park? Do athletes, and athletes alone, deserve a special day? Of course not! It’s absurd!