I just watched one hell of a documentary tonight.  Hard Times at Douglass High: A No Child Left Behind Report Card is airing on HBO and if you haven’t seen it, I recommend you do.  It’s a gut-kick of a film, highlighting one of America’s oldest, blackest schools and the challenges it faces to this day. 

Located in Baltimore, Douglass High School is named after Frederick Douglass and educates thousands of young African-Americans.  To put it gently, Douglass High is struggling.  Since the No Child Left Behind Act it faces, well, extinction.  If the school doesn’t raise its incredibly low standardized test scores it will be taken over by the state and all of the staff running the school will be laid off.

It’s no secret that we are failing our school system.  We ignore the problem or go about fixing it in a completely ass-backwards way.  Bush’s approach to fixing public schooling is fairly similar to his approach to democracy.  Threaten the schools, set ridiculous time lines and then punish harshly if the schools don’t live up to standards.  And who is setting the standards?  A group of people who have little know-how regarding education.  Just as they have little know-how regarding war, it seems.  They have their one way approach and refuse to change it.

I went to public school.  It wasn’t the worst school in the union but it wasn’t great.  The students did well enough but the structures of the buildings left much to be desired.  In fact, on many occasions we were reminded that certain areas of the campus would probably collapse in a sizable earthquake.  Great.  Makes drama class much more interesting.  I was also in school around the time NCLB was enacted and saw many of my teachers change their lesson plans or teaching styles to fit the new requirements.  It wasn’t about teaching as much as it was about making a certain grade.  I was told that some lesson plans had to be cut in order to teach what the government considered more important.  That, of course, was plain old math, science and history.  Farewell, arts!  Also, they warned us that if attendence levels didn’t rise the staff would face lay-offs and funding would be denied.  No incentives!  Unless, not getting closed is an incentive.  And, in Bush’s world, I guess it is.

No Child Left Behind doesn’t seem to work.  Just like democracy, you can’t force education upon children.  You can be harsh, you can require discipline, but demanding certain levels be met is dangerous.  A school fails and it’s turned over to the state.  And the state does what when the school continues to fail?  Hire new teachers?  And when the students fail again?  Hire…new…teachers?  Restrictions instead of encouragement doesn’t seem to work for me.  Why should a failing school be punished?  Shouldn’t it be fostered and cared for?

Who is telling me of the woes of NCLB?  Teachers, administrators, those involved on the inside.  The threatening, do-as-we-say approach doesn’t scare students into working more.  If anything, it leads to teachers letting their students cheat or forcing them to  teach to the tests.  I’ve always felt that learning for a test instead of the real world was a shitty way to teach.  The test should be AFTER students graduate, not at the end of the semester.

I’m interested to see if our next president sticks with No Child Left Behind.  I hope he doesn’t.  I hope the new education plan is built around faith in teachers and a sincere care for those who are failing.  We should be encouraging students to learn, not frightening them with grim scenerios and threats.  And, most importantly, we shouldn’t take education advice from someone who speaks like a first grader.

Come on, you know I couldn’t go before taking a swipe at Bush.