I substitute teach occasionally.
Considering the axiom “Familiarity breeds contempt” is as true as “Water is wet,” I don’t often mention this part-time job of mine, if only because every goddamn comic in Los Angeles seems to be a sub, and it’s in each and every one of their goddamn acts.
Sometimes I enjoy the classroom, other times not so much. I like having fun with the students, messing with them in little ways that confuse them more than it should. Example: in the past, when teaching, say, Math, the wee-ones will enter the room to find “Spanish 101, mí llamo ès Nathan” written on the board. It keeps them off balance, and when I act indifferent to the error, they are more prone to want to help straighten me out than act unruly. I’ve placed their focus on the stupidity I’m offering, which takes it off any mischief they might be dreaming up.
Using my first name, by the way, is another tactic of mine; hands always go up in question: “What’s your name?”
I always respond, “Nathan.”
“So what should we call you?”
“No, I mean…” pause for confusion. “I mean Mr. What?”
I shrug: “Mr. Nathan?”
Eyes either go wide in amazement, or burrows furrow in confusion. Either way, as said, I’ve got them off balance. Plus, by only using my first name, I prevent them from Googling my identity, and discovering my livelihood. Only once, and of all places in a computer lab, did the students glean that I am a comedian by trade.
“Hey, you’re on YouTube!”
Within seconds I was Lieutenant Frank Drebin, shouting, “Nothing to see here, move along!” as they uncovered numerous clips of me talking into a microphone about my masturbation habits.
Despite my best efforts, I occasionally run into an unruly lot of brats who just don’t feel like focusing. And in those moments, I discover just how sad our state of education has devolved.
I nudge-kicked the desk of a girl who was turned all the way around and chatting with the neighbor behind her. Feeling the desk move, she spun toward me in shock, as if I had struck her or upended her furniture. The situation was still on the student’s mind after class, because she hung back and asked me in abject confusion, “Why did you kick my desk?”
“Because you were turned around and not paying attention,” I replied.
She backed away from me and left the room as if I were possessed by Satan.
Another time, the class was having problems settling in. The bell had sounded, and I was standing at the front of the classroom, looking at them, waiting for eye contact to be made. When that didn’t happen, I mustered up my voice and exclaimed, “OK, settle down…”
And I waited.
“Hey!” I shouted, causing them to jump and turn to face me. “Shut up,” I then said in a casual, matter-of-fact voice.
Again came the wide-eyed look of fear; “You’re not supposed to say that to us,” a particularly chatty girl informed me.
“Well, I wouldn’t if you hadn’t been talking.”
I would have probably received more comprehending stares had I been trying to teach quantum physics to my dog.
Minutes later, a teacher’s aide approached me and whispered in my ear; “You really aren’t supposed to say that to the students, it’s school policy. Saying ‘shut up’ shows them disrespect.”
I was, and remain, incredulous. These were senior high teenagers, and if we have devolved to the point where saying “Shut up” is too damaging to an adolescent’s precious psyche, I fear we have reached an impasse in development. From here, it’s all downhill.
When I was in school—and please forgive the “Back in MY day” nature of this—the grading scale was simple: 90 – 100 = A. 80 – 90 = B. 70 – 80 = C. 60 – 70 = D. Anything below a 60 was an F. There existed the occasional curve, but overall it was simple, uniform, and understood.
In 2012, I listened to a broadcast about a southern state that was having problems passing 8th graders on to the next level of education. The fail rate was sky-high, and to combat it there seemed to be only one solution. For fun, let’s play multiple choices. Did the school:
- Hire more teachers?
- Ask for more parental involvement?
- Extend study periods?
- Lower the passing grade to 40%, so that if you got 41% on a test, it was a D- and technically a “pass?”
If you chose “lowered the passing grade to 40%,” kudos to your lack of faith, you win. I tried looking the specific case up and couldn’t find any further information, but a quick Google search showed that school districts do indeed play the “Lower the passing rate” game whenever the need arises. It’s an interesting political game: lower taxes, which lowers revenue, gut the schools, which causes them to fail, point your fingers at the failing schools and cry “privatization!”
It made me think of a 2003 study; it was discovered that over the course of several decades that while baby car seat technology improved dramatically, the number of baby car-seat fatalities remained constant. The reason? Apparently car seat instructions were written at a 10th grade reading level, and most Americans read at or below a FIFTH grade level. The car seats improved; the people installing them did not. Think about that a moment; grown-ass adults, working jobs, drinking in bars, driving cars, and parenting children, reading at a grade-school level. Suddenly the powerful ratings of Fox News make sense, as the weak-minded are always easily manipulated.
It also pulls me, again, back into my past. I remember seeing kids who needed extra help being isolated from the rest of the students, in order for them to receive the attention they deserved. Today, because of the “stigma” of separation, all students are placed in the same classroom. The slower kids have a “para-professional” sitting next to them, “helping” them. The para take notes for the child, walk them through problems, and attempt their best to keep the student from being a burden and slowing down the rest of the class.
This works about as well as you would expect; as the famous saying goes, “You are only as strong as your weakest link.” I have been witness to students sitting around bored, waiting for the class to progress because one kid just didn’t get it. Does that one kid deserve an education? Absolutely. But at the expense of 29 other students? Now things get dicey.
The problem expands to the point where para-professionals simply do the homework for the confused students, challenging them in no way, shape, or form. I once had a frustrated student pout and tell me angrily, “When I have a question, Mrs. Blank helps me.”
“I am helping you,” I told him. “I’m helping you learn how to find answers for yourself.”
He had needed a simple formula, but instead of giving it to him, I told him where to find it. It was the old-school method of intoning the letters “D-I-C-T-I-O-N-A-R-Y” when asked for how to spell something instead of just giving the answer.
The student wasn’t happy, and refused to open his book to the chapter I had suggested. Sulking was easier than researching, and he was apparently used to having his education served to him on a platter.
Combating the dumbing down of America is a challenge many have ideas about, including a phalanx of people who believe teachers should receive merit pay; if test scores drop, the teachers should be paid less—or fired—end of story. I have absolutely no problem with the merit pay approach, if it is applied with one condition: teachers should be allowed to hit kids again. I’m not saying full on blows to the head while holding a roll of quarters should be given, I’m talking swats. Kicking desks, or a slap to the back of the head. Nothing overly damaging, but the hint of violence, so the kids understand they are not the absolute center of the universe.
I’m dead serious; the classroom has become a place of indifferent babysitting, with little progress being made in the education of today’s youth. The world is now one big Special Olympics. Everyone is “special,” but not in the way that used to be the politically correct manner of saying retarded, I mean special as in “extraordinary” and “unique.” Kids are given “Participant” ribbons when they come in last, just so their feelings aren’t hurt.
The problem is: when these molly-coddled kids discover they are anything but “special,” they are going to be angry, and act out. It will lead to lawsuits: college students have sued professors because they didn’t approve of the grade they received, and an overweight woman sued her doctor for telling her she was—wait for it—overweight. Once you condition people to deny truth, you place them in a bubble where their feelings are more important than reality. Which, again, brings us back to the popularity of Fox News.
Added to the already enormous problem of kids being treated with a feather-touch are the dickbags in Texas re-writing history books because they don’t like the way things actually happened, and the twatwaffles in Tennessee ignoring science and pushing fairy tales. Because of these fanatics, we are facing, ironically, an epidemic of biblical proportions.
A tsunami of ignorance will be unleashed upon the nation, which the nation cannot survive. The economy can only support so many service industry jobs before it collapses upon itself. When everyone is earning minimum wage, progress stalls, and WALL-E becomes as insightful a movie as 1984 was a novel.
And it will be our own fault, because we saw it coming, yet refused to take action.