stephanie jones

How to Make School Not Suck #1

In classism, democracy, family-school relations, feminist work, justice, language, poverty, satire as critical literacy, social action, social class, stephanie jones, student teaching, teacher education, teacher education resources on May 5, 2009 at 6:34 pm

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!

  1. Hey Stephanie. I’m so glad Andrea told me about your blog. Its on my google reader now 🙂

  2. Hi Stephanie! I’m glad Andrea told you about it too…I look forward to reading your comments and hearing your thoughts. I know you are doing amazing things with your students and you are looping up with them next year (lucky them – and lucky you!). I hope you share some of the work you’re doing here on the blog…

  3. I hope you write your book! Why do we need to still talk about these things when Illich was writing about it in the 70s. My mom once wrote a lecture about him back in the day. Have we learned?

    Engaging in thoughtful questions these days, my son is constantly trying to figure out the world. Most schools do not support this kind of thinking. I have thought about the kind of clothes I put him in. I also tell him when we buy clothes used we are “reusing,” and it is good for the planet. I am going to be more of an in your face kind of advocate now for the type of programs he needs. Because kids want to engage, not take tests. Thankfully, kids come home and tell us about how they want to set up a recycling bins. My son did the other day, and I heard another 4 year old talking about the earth the other day. I am so inspired by the deep and long-lasting passions that children have. How can we create schools that stop disciplining bodies in favor of imagining, friendships, time to engage in those projects–all those things that you were talking about?

    Maybe your book can have 3 parts–why schools suck, places where they are not as sucky, and how we can reimagine them.

  4. […] How to Make School Not Suck #1 « engaged intellectuals […]

  5. Hi Stephanie. I love your blog. I’ve been introduced to it by my professor, Jane Van Galen, in the Education Department at the University of Washington.

    I think you’re on a roll, even if this is an eensy weensy start. You make some poignant points about the quirky habits we exhibit in schools today. I’d love to see education reform goals include the effort of leaving all sucki-ness behind.

    I look forward to continuing to follow your blog as I progress through my teacher education program.

    • Hi ab44,

      Lucky you to have Jane as a professor! I’m so glad you like the blog – please do comment around as you like, I’d love to know what you’re doing and how you’re thinking. Wouldn’t it be grand to have education policies in place that prohibited all sucki-ness??!! I think we should work toward that.

      Best wishes for a wonderful, insightful, challenging, transformative experience in your teacher education program:)


  6. […] How about gushing over all of them? Jump to Comments I just found myself on a new blog today and read this post. […]

  7. How about firing assistant principals who think it is their job to play nursemaid/social worker?

    Instead of backing up the teachers they are asked to spy on (and report back to Numero Uno if aforementioned teacher isn’t forever prepping her students for life as a corporate android), Assistant Principals think it’s their job to blow the ass of “problem students” who are tired of being prepped for life as a McDroid, and return…we carry the blame. And might I add, with a tired coloration that will resemble classism, that these students are the ones we are trying to lift up? But you can’t lift up the bottom ass of America if the AP’s are jelly fish who cannot and will not back up their teachers.

    How about backing teachers for once for being courageous enough to choose a low income life stlyle in order to teach their fracking passions?

    I’m sure none of us decided, “Oh gee, I’d like to make androids for a living. I love English that much.”

    But it seems the stupid ones saw the writing on the wall, sucked up, and decided to micro manage those who have passions. Yeah, that’s your burden Mr. and Mrs. AP.

    So how about it you spineless Assistant Principal wimps?

    Why not back those you spy upon?

    It’s not like you have the brains to even know a subject much less “observe” it without officially “judging” the teacher by her quota of lacktards sent to her from America’s “give a frack” parents.

    That’s right.

    We’re not supposed to say that…say that some kids are more proficient with their hands than they are with their academic wits. Suppose if we said that America needs more plumbers? Why… we would be prepping them for a jobless wasteland, or better yet, prepping them for a life in India or Mexico. Isn’t that where our nation’s captains of industry send all their business?

    All these kids in my classroom are going to go to college and be intellectuals.
    That would be nice…if you were a college raising your tuition costs.
    It would be sooooo nice.

    Let’s face it….America has her priorities wrong.

    And though it’s too simple to say so….I blame Assistant Principal lacktards.
    I guess because it just feels good…because they are the nearest whipping “boys” to feel my scorn.

    I needed that.

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