Monthly Archives: February 2016

Your Lyrics Will Be Graded

I’m not a stranger to song/singer analysis.  You’ll recall I had a particularly scathing post about John Mayer a while back, and my friend, Liz, analyzed the nuances (or lack thereof) of Taylor Swift’s character.

As some people know, I am currently studying to become a high school English teacher in Texas.  This involves a lot of repetitive reading about how we should probably focus more on engaging students in school, and less on lecturing at them.  Turns out they learn more if they’re emotionally invested.  Who knew?

Anyway, as a fun activity, I decided to grade a couple songs as if they were student essays.  Starting with Katy Perry’s “Firework.”  Click to enlarge!

Firework001

I didn’t bother doing the rest of the song because it’s just “Boom boom boom, even brighter than the moon, moon, moon” repeated a bunch of times.

So the thing is that – while that was fun – I haven’t graded any other lyrics.  I was going to do Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” because no one who can easily shake off negative comments goes on to write an entire song about all the “mean” things that are said about them for the world to hear (Irony!).  But that seemed like low-hanging fruit.  Ol’ Tay-Tay’s already suffered our wrath, as you saw above.

This activity left the subject of education knocking around in my brain.  It feels important to get a few things written down, even if they’re obvious.  At the end, as a thank you for reading my wall of text, I have presented you with a drawing of an Ice Chinchilla, which was commissioned by my friend, Liz.

  1. If the goal of schooling is to increase student knowledge and understanding, then the current model is waaaaay off base.  A fifteen-year-old can memorize all the significant dates related to the American Revolution.  S/he can regurgitate facts onto a test and get a good grade, but that does not mean that s/he understands this conflict.  The student likely has no feelings about the American Revolution one way or the other.  Because s/he has learned that the goal of school is to get A’s, not to understand the content.  Along those lines…
  2. Our methods of assessing students are crap.  We live in a country where C is average, but only A’s mean anything.  That means we are pressuring our students to jump through as many hoops as necessary to get top letter marks.  As I said in point 1, this rarely requires genuine understanding.  Just look at the term “Standardized Test.”  It is literally a test that measures students’ abilities to fit into a mold.  At the beginning of the year, all students start with an A in their classes.  The best thing that can happen for them is for their grade to remain exactly the same.  Most likely what will happen is their grade will drop.  This is expected to motivate them.  All I see is a practice in futility, neatly packaged with buzzwords.  “If you don’t do well here, you won’t get into a good college.”  How about this?  How about every student starts with a zero.  Not an F, mind.  A zero.  As they do assignments, they get points.  At the end of the year, the number of points they have can be translated into a letter grade.  It’s not a perfect system, but you’ll notice with this design, the only direction students can go is up.  Instead of losing, they’ll be working to gain.  Every day, every semester, every class.
  3. It turns out that every person learns in a different way.  This means that a significant portion of “Special Ed” students might not need drugs or a psychological diagnosis.  Maybe all they need is someone to approach teaching in a different way.  It’s hard to cater your teaching methods to suit the needs of a fifty-student class, but we can start by abandoning the “Sit still, shut up, and listen” model.  From where I’m sitting, “Special Ed” is a lovely euphemism for “We’ve given up on you.”  That probably does wonders for kids’ self-esteem.
  4. You’ve heard this all before.  Studies that prove kids aren’t learning in school have been coming out for decades.  Kids aren’t learning.  Kids aren’t motivated.  Kids aren’t supposed to be put through test after standardized test.  It’s common knowledge at this point.  As far as I can tell, we as a country have gone, “Oh, look.  Schools are failing our children.  What a shame,” and then moved back to reading the morning paper or whatever.  Just shrug and move on, America.  Your education system is a mess.  Oh, well!  It happens.  Right?  No!  No, damn it!  I have read paper after paper from people saying we’re in the middle of a “paradigm shift” and “we need school reinvention, not school reform.”  (See writing by Ornstein and Hunkins for more details about school reinvention)  By “paradigm shift” do they mean that about 0.5% of the schools in this country have made changes to the way education is accomplished?  That’s not a shift.  That’s not even a blip on the radar.  So why aren’t we seeing real change?  Well, for one, politicians love using education to boost their numbers.  They throw out buzz words, cite the studies that I’ve been reading for my classes, and promise change.  Then they introduce new standardized tests or cut more music programs.  Meanwhile teachers are left floundering in a system that forces them to dish out education like it’s a punishment.
  5. No more complacence.  Educators need to band together.  Families need to support them.  We need a separation of school and state in a lot of ways, because educational policies are being instated by people who have never stood in a classroom full of bored sixth graders.  As an individual, all I can do is try to beat the system one classroom at a time.  And write ineffectual blog posts about it.  Hopefully one day I’ll be able to do more.  If enough individuals decide to make real changes, maybe it’ll have a ripple effect.

I don’t know.

Here’s a chinchilla.

Ice Chinchilla

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