Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Are we really in a crises?

I recently began recording Oprah every day on my DVR, and I watch it in the evenings when nothing is on. Oprah is the perfect kind of show for recording, because she has so many damn commercials and you can skip right over them and get to the "meat" faster.

Recently, a friend of mine and I were chatting about one of Oprah's shows and my friend shared with me that she'd stopped watching it. She said she got tired of watching and hearing how this subject was the most important of our time, and then watching the next day to hear Oprah claim something else was the most critical issue facing us today.

I can kind of see what she is saying. When O has a movie cast on to feature the film, she speaks of the movie as if it was the best movie ever made. I've seen some of these flicks, and would highly disagree in some cases. I'd appreciate it much more if she's just cut-to-the-chase and say, "My new best friend Julia Roberts has an about-average comedy out, but go and see it because I said so and I'm Oprah." You know, people probably still would go see it. The woman is that powerful.

Yesterday, Oprah had hip-hop video models and how they're treated as sex objects. It's hardly a topic that affects a large segment of our population, but again she treated the topic as if it was (in some of her favorite words) "an epidemic" in our country. So, I started seeing why my friend got sick of watching, actually. (Later, she had a segment about teen girls and sexuality that was quite good, I have to add...)

And, then there's a show like today, where I watch with my mouth open and my heart aching for what I'm seeing. O has joined forces with Bill and Melinda Gates to expose the crises of inequality that goes on in our public schools between the poorer school districts and those wealthier ones. The footage she showed was appalling to me. The drop-out rates were very disturbing, and then there was a little short segment that really reached out and grabbed me.

They featured a small-town girl who had graduated valedictorian of her class with a near-perfect GPA and dreams of Harvard or Ivy League schooling and medicine in her future. The girl had grown up in a very poor family and in a school district that was also quite poor. She'd taken every advanced class she could take to prepare herself for college. After graduation, she found that her chances of being accepted in an Ivy League school were zero to none. She chose a good state college and was excited about her new classes.

The girl went to this school and found herself miles behind the other students in science and math. She went from feeling smart and ready to take on the world, to barely being able to grasp what was going on in the classes.

Why did this speak to me? No, I was not valedictorian of my small town school. But, we were in a poorer school district. I didn't have computers in school until I was in high school and I then took two classes on very basic skills. I was surprised when I got to college and found my new peers and friends who were from larger city schools all had very good computer skills. My language classes, where I'd made straight As in high school, I was really struggling with in college. Struggling to PASS, which was something I had never experienced before in my life. The same happened for me in science and a few math classes. Suddenly, I felt like I wasn't one of the good students anymore...where I'd always been considered that in my school. And, I was angry that I'd been cheated of learning all the things these other kids had learned. There are still a lot of areas that I fall behind on, when conversing with people, and I find myself feeling embarrassed and stupid all over again.

Tomorrow, O plans to feature Bill Gates and his wife and hear about the movement they're trying to enact in this country to change our education system. Among the studies listed on today's show was this little gasp-inducing fact:
"Just 20 years ago, American students were among the best in the world, routinely coming in first in test results. Now, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, students in the richest country on earth are in 24th place in math."

This completely scares me. Yes, I have the fortune of saying that my kids will go to one of the affluent suburban schools like the ones showed on her show today. They will have opportunities that a lot of kids do not have. But, does that make what is going on something that I should just ignore? It doesn't affect me or my kids, but does that mean it isn't going to affect the world my kids will live in as adults at all?

I come from a family of educators. When it came time to pick my career, I chose Journalism to study. At the time, I never considered teaching. Deep down, I think it was because I just couldn't pick teaching. My whole life I'd been asked/teased by my classmates, "Are you going to be an English teacher, like your MOM?"

I love to write and am glad I worked into the career that I did. But, a little part of me knows that I might have been more suited and happier in a teaching career. At every job I have ever held, I've ended up being the writer who trains a lot of the new people and teaches them the ropes. I have loved every minute of that time.

When I hear stories like O's today, a very real part of me wishes I could go back to school to teach. I know what it is like to be that child with a mind full of dreams sitting in the rural school without a computer and not knowing that she's so far behind a lot of kids who live in wealthy areas. Somehow, I'd want to help that girl reach her dreams and not have that feeling of being cheated when she sees what a lot of the rest of the world has learned behind her back.

This, quite possibly, could be an issue that might change my political affiliation as well. I've been right in the middle for years, but this might push me a direction I might never have imagined I'd go.

One thing is for sure, this time I feel O is right when she calls this the most critical social issue of our times. And, I will be watching tomorrow's show to learn more too, and thinking of how I could help change what is going on.

Did you catch the show? What do you think?


Blogger Vanessa said...

I think I've watched one Oprah show in my life. Not a fan of hers. However, I think this issue is a crisis in our country. It's a shame that our government doesn't realize the importance of education. And don't forget, our First Lady was a teacher. Doesn't say much for our present administration, does it?

6:43 AM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Karen Rani said...

I didn't catch the show but I've stopped watching Oprah as of late for the same reason as your friend. Media hype is an epidemic and I thought Oprah was intelligent enough not to fall for that crap. The last time I heard her say epidemic was the sting to catch pedophiles. That is an epidemic, but hip-hop artists treated as sex objects? C'mon.

6:47 AM, April 12, 2006  
Anonymous Theresa said...

I haven't watched her in years, but I agree that this is a huge problem! The states each decide the curriculum, and each state has a standardized test to see if the students are learning that curriculum. Who is to say that every state has the same curriculum goals? Just as students in wealthy school districts here are given laptops and PDAs to do their work, and have money for better equipment. It's a huge problem, and one the factors is the fact that wealthy people contribute more in school taxes. Still, here, the city of Detroit gets thousands more per student from the state than my city does. So who's managing the funds?

10:20 AM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Lisa said...

I haven't been able to catch an Oprah episode in a long time. (she's on just at the time kids are coming home, etc.)

We had that huge debate over the Robin Hood plan a few years ago. It's hard for some people to realize there's a whole different world from the one their living in. I'm glad the subject is being brought to someone's attention. I think, especially here in Texas, we are lacking in our public school system, even in the wealthier areas.

2:14 PM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Nicole said...

I actually gave up the Oprah show and magazine a long time ago. I think it was when she had the star of "Catwoman" on snapping her whip onstage. I think O has become one of the Hollywood elitists like the rest of them.

Anyway, I've been hearing more and more about how American students are falling farther behind in math and science and it is starting to affect our place in the world. But it seems to me that the problem is more than just throwing money at can fix. My Dad and his siblings grew up in a desperately poor community but all grew up, went to college and excelled in math and other areas. I think the problems American students are having stem from deeper issues: uninvolved parents, the disintegration of the famliy, politicaly correct thinking. I have a friend who teaches college courses and she says she is continually shocked by students who come to her saying they deserve and 'A' because they "tried really hard." Some teachers are not allowed to use red ink for grading anymore because it might hurt the students' self-esteem!!! Come on.

3:28 PM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger Masked Mom said...

There is no doubt that whether or not your individual children (or mine) are directly affected by this issue, it will affect the future of the world they grow up in. I have never been very political one way or the other, but I totally agree that something--more than one thing--must be done at all levels. I was just talking with a friend today who is very frustrated by the state of our district and at a loss as to what to do. We were talking about the possibility of running for the school board and making changes from the "inside" but personally, all I could imagine that accomplishing was to make us feel even more helpless.

I also feel that there is too much focus on standardized testing (and should it even be called "standardized" when the standards vary so greatly from state to state?) and not enough on learning how to learn--if that makes any sense. They're "teaching to the test" in more and more districts instead of teaching kids useful skills--things like reasoning and deduction, etc--that will help see them through their actual lives.

4:27 PM, April 12, 2006  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

I missed it! I did watch the Video Ho's show though.

I totally agree with your friend about Oprah acting like everything on her show is THE MOST IMPORTANT thing of the minute.

7:56 AM, April 13, 2006  
Blogger Lady E said...

I just started reading your blog and I enjoy it. I wanted to comment on your post. I don't think that the problem is just in the small town and inner city schools. My school was beautiful, it is the kind of school and district that people want their kids in. 98% of the graduating class went on to college. Most of my friends, including me were totally unprepared and really struggled to get through college. I don't know what the solution is but I just wanted to say that the problem is widespread and money does not seem to help it.

9:35 PM, April 13, 2006  
Blogger Crazy MomCat said...

Thanks everyone for the great comments and discussion. Keep 'em coming!

Nicole--I really know what you're saying. Some of the younger generation, I've noticed even with my sister's peers who are 8 years' younger, have that "the world owes me something" attitude and I can't stand it!

Masked Mom--You go girl! Run for school board! And the standardized testing deal, I completely agree with. The thing that sucks is when you are a great student, but clam up on standardized tests. (I speak from experience!)

Thanks for dropping by, Lady E, and for your comments!

11:40 PM, April 13, 2006  
Anonymous Vicki said...

Great post!!! I live in a school district where the top student had to take below grade classes in Math and English to catch up. It is a big problem!! No child should have less of an education because of where they live.

8:36 AM, April 14, 2006  
Blogger Viamarie said...

Sorry but I didn't get to see that particular show but I am a regular viewer of Oprah.

I can relate very well to this situation because many rural towns in my country don't have these facilities to offer to the kids. There is this foundation that now tries to cover these areas on wheels. Hope this will extend to the remotest area of our country. And also I hope there will be more foundations like this.

6:42 PM, April 14, 2006  
Blogger christina said...

First off, I love that you take on these issues regularly on your blog--you write in a wonderfully thought provoking way that isn't just reaction, or to evoke reaction and that takes talent. Secondly, my gut response is this: Bill & Melinda are some of the richest of the richest people in the world--if they are REALLY concerned about this huge gap, why couldn't they do more? They do so little, really. Why not donate 20 new computers to every single low-income school district in the nation? At their costs, it wouldn't be more than a couple hundred-thousand (which is NOTHING to them) and would provide invaluable resources for these communities. This is just an off-the-cuff thought--there are so many ways people with immense wealth could help. Oprah too, in all that she DOES do to raise public awareness, doesn't in my opinion do enough when it comes to actually putting her own wealth on the line. Does this resonate with anyone else, or am I only seeing a small sliver of the picture?

Steph, thank you for making me think. Sometimes I spend the whole day doing little things that are of no consequence and it's so refreshing to pause and contemplate something that I care about for a few moments.

7:22 PM, April 14, 2006  
Blogger Tori said...

Loved this post. I didn't catch this Oprah but I work in news so there is always some grim statistic about scholarly failure in the US.
We are blessed with a teeny tiny School District here in Southern California (5 schools)and really it is like a private school in so many ways since the demographics are so balanced in our favor. This of course is sooooooo not the norm.
I get all antsy too as I feel I should be teaching too. I can only imagine the frustration of teachers in inner city schools. I did a piece once about the insignificence of all the parents losing their marbles because MTV wanted to film in our town, versus the school district in say... downtown LA who is faced with whether or not they have enough funds to put up a barbed wire security fence or another metal detector! Hey.... I'd choose the teeny tiny, wealthy school district anyday. As for those other schools, the problems are there even before the kids even enter the school grounds... before they've even taken their seats. How does a teacher without resources ever hope to make an impact?
Today in LA - the Mayor was bombasted by a group of angry parents outside City Hall. They're mad because the MAyor wants to take control of the school district - a district that he has so little belief in that he won't even put his own kids in it!
We certainly have a long way to go...
Here endeth the lesson.
Thanks for provoking some thought from me of an evening.
I'm a first time visitor... from Niihaus...

10:33 PM, April 14, 2006  
Blogger Viamarie said...

Hi it's me again greeting you a Happy Easter. Hope your Easter season brings you unending joy.

Btw, please visit my site. Thanks.

11:57 PM, April 15, 2006  
Blogger Chrixean said...

Happy, Happy Easter, MomCat! God bless you :-)

10:27 PM, April 16, 2006  

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