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The portrait is Charles Darwin, age 31, in 1840

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Comment by Andre Woodvine on September 6, 2011 at 9:05pm
Excellent post Craigart14, thanks for sharing that interesting glimpse into the challenges of modern education! You have my sympathies.
Comment by Craigart14 on September 6, 2011 at 8:49pm

Natalie, I feel your pain.  I teach at a small state university in Georgia, and the students I get are probably the ones that other teachers gave up on.  My doctorate is in American lit, but I teach world lit and Shakespeare while someone with a degree in comparative lit teaches the American courses.  About half of my students never buy the books for class.  Half also fail statewide tests in reading and writing, though the tests were written for a tenth grade level.  I have a large collection of plagiarized papers, which I am required to report, but the campus judiciary committee does nothing beyond upholding my grade.  None of my colleagues even bother to report cheating anymore.  A lot of our students don't even care about grades as long as the Pell grants keep coming.  Some attend the first day of class, then go home to their families and jobs, using Pell to supplement their incomes.


One change I would suggest is going back to basics, just reading and writing and arithmetic for the first few years, along with critical thinking, argument and ethics.  My students are hopeless at critical thinking, and it is at least in part caused by religious indoctrination.  In world lit we study portions of the Bible, approaching it as I would any other book.  When I point out a problematic passage, students say, "That's not what it means" or, "You're taking that out of context."  It means what their pastor says it means, regardless of what it says, because he has gotten "the call," and I haven't.  I have even had other faculty WITH DOCTORATES tell me they will have to ask their pastor about problematic passages.  I'll probably get in trouble for this, but if you have a doctorate in literature but you follow a pastor who has no degrees at all, then you are a sheep.


Colleges have become vocational schools that students attend for training rather than education.  Many of our country's "leaders" have studied business or law, but have no understanding of the humanities, which require abstract thinking and drawing conclusions from information that cannot readily be quantified.  They have even less understanding of science.  Can one really become President with only three hours of college credit in literature?  Or history?  Or philosophy?  Yep.  Dammit.

Comment by George on September 6, 2011 at 6:41pm

@Mike K. I agree it is a good idea to move this to the discussion forum.  Not only will it unclutter the comment wall, it will be easier to follow comments and replies and keep the discussion on focus.


Comment by AtheistTech on September 6, 2011 at 6:36pm
In light of Natalie's rant, does anyone else feel betrayed by the education system? For our kids' sakes, I mean. Are we seeing the media giving this problem attention? The way Natalie explains it, it is a total failure. I would ask Natalie if her experience was in a poor area. I am sure she is not the only teacher who is also an atheist. Is there anyone else who has had a different experience? Or a similar experience? I think this is an ultra important issue.
Comment by AtheistTech on September 6, 2011 at 6:21pm

@ Richard H. McCargar

I am sorry that I cannot form clear thoughts with every answer perfect for the satisfaction of at least one person. I contend that religion is bad for science and vise-versa. I think that teaching science will reduce the number of religious people. I think that teaching science is not enough, though. I think that teaching children how to think for themselves is another way to increase the number of non-religious people in the US. If we as atheists considered that the possibility that teaching our children how to think for themselves will bring about more atheists and agreed it would, wouldn't that be a lofty goal? I think that most parents would agree that teaching our children how to think for themselves is a lofty and achievable goal as it is. So, before I move on, is anyone here in agreement with me?

Comment by Bryon on September 6, 2011 at 9:46am
being informed and intellectual curiosity are the devil...
Comment by Rod MacLeod on September 6, 2011 at 9:26am

@Natalie  I am not a Teacher but I know some and unfortunately your story is not anything new.  When Ever I hear people complain that teachers have it so easy ie. teach 9-3 have summers off etc. etc. I feel like punching them in the face. And some of these parents that as soon as a teacher says anything negative about their kid thinks the teacher is crazy. I have always admired teachers and would have loved to be one myself but anyone who thinks it is easy is just plain uninformed.


Comment by Natalie A Sera on September 6, 2011 at 9:14am

TrekJunky said: "But Natalie, a former teacher, says "And as far as raising a generation of little atheists, ain't gonna happen." She agrees that our education system "is in drastic need of reform", but offers no solution as to how we can accomplish it. I feel she can give us a list of reasons why it "ain't gonna happen".

The only solutions I can think of for the education mess would take a WHOLE lot more money, and in our present economic situation, do YOU see that happening? I will give you some personal experiences: At one school, I was assigned to teach Special Ed. to 15 kids in grades 4 - 6 PLUS one deaf child in grade 1, WITH 3 third grades and one kindergarten class generating INCREDIBLE noise in an open concept classroom. Some architectural idiot thought that it would be large and open and airy, but do you know how ADHD kids respond to noise? And I was expected to individualize their lessons with NO prep time, not even recess. And our space was so small their desks were inches apart. What do these kids do in that case? Punch each other!

In another school, I was expected to teach both first year and second year high-school Japanese in the same room at the same time, with a total of 41 students. Since language is oral and interactive, it meant that each group only got half a period of instruction. I gave them work to do during their non-instructive half period, but many of them preferred to use the time to chat and some of them had loud voices. Most of them actually did OK, but some of them floundered.

Then, I was assigned to teach life science in a middle school to 5 classes of 36 kids each for a total of 180 kids. When a few of their parents called after 4 or 5 weeks of school to find out how they were doing, I still didn't know all their names!

1/5 were ESL, 1/5 were low socioeconomic level, 1/5 were Special Ed. and this group couldn't read the textbook, (when we finally got one, after 4 weeks of school), nor could they understand the concepts that I was trying to teach because they didn't have the background. 1/5 were nice, ordinary learners, and 1/5 were very bright, and obviously the parents had taken time to talk with them, and give them materials and experiences at home. They were capable of understanding and discussing the material we were given (the book, and nothing else -- no microscopes, no prepared slides, no samples, no nothing). Obviously, the same approach would NOT have reached all these kids, but there was only one of me, and I got overwhelmed. I could give you lots more examples, but this message is getting long.

What I am trying to illustrate is the assembly-line model of education, where kids are widgets, and you do your thing to them and pass them on. Except that children are not widgets. Each one is different and has different needs, personality and learning style. Small, roughly matched groups of no more than 12 might be a start, and enough money for a variety of materials and things like PAPER and PENCILS would help, too. When I was in school, we were tracked, and groups were ability-matched; nowadays, that's not politically correct. And the kids have to bring their own pencils and paper, and if they don't have them, they just look at you -- so teachers provide supplies out of their own meager means.

A teacher spends years perfecting his/her craft in a certain grade or subject, and then is willy-nilly transferred someplace else because enrollments change, or the administration decides to stop teaching your subject in order to provide a job for the new football coach, who's qualified in something else. It's like asking your cardiologist to become a nephrologist at a week's notice. A teacher doesn't just suddenly get up in a classroom and perform -- it takes a LOT of prep time. I hear doctors complain about long work hours, but the best teachers I know work 7 days a week for 10 hours a day for MUCH less money. And they don't spend their summers kicking back, either.

And I haven't even gotten into the problems with discipline -- unless you follow 6 steps of filling out forms and documenting multiple interventions, and calling parents repeatedly, you can't do a bloody thing, because the administration really doesn't want to deal with it. That just eats up more valuable time.

So I guess this is turning into a rant -- all I can say is that from hearing others in the education field, it's getting worse, not better, and I'm glad I was able to retire before that.

I will have more to say tomorrow.

Comment by Rod MacLeod on September 6, 2011 at 8:47am

@ SusanStanko

Really? That's great, 8 aides leave right in the middle of her run at President. Says a

lot about her doesn't it?

Comment by Susan Stanko on September 6, 2011 at 8:24am
She just had 8 aides leave.  Hopefully, that will be enough to sink her.

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