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Festering Wounds

Too often people have beautiful intentions but awful execution. Public education, unfortunately, is not exempt from this sad reality.

The culture of public education is ill, and Kirsten Olsen’s book Wounded by School only confirms this for us with her collection of heart stabbing stories that live with children through out their adulthood.

We’ve all experienced them. In fact, I bet you ‘re re-living an experience right now. You’re thinking about how you were wronged by someone else – it could have been another student, but it is just as likely that it was a teacher who wronged you.

And if you weren’t thinking of one – you are now.

Are you pissed off yet? I know I’m thinking of my Grammar-Nazi, grade 8 language arts teacher who told a friend of mine he was useless.

Oh and now I’m thinking of my grade 5 teacher, and eventual baseball coach, who threw my friend Jason down on the table, breaking his pencil box and making him cry.

Jason is nice; my grade 5 teacher was not.

Wow. Sometimes I can’t believe how angry these events make me. They happened years ago and yet I’m seething right now.

You might not have remembered what the issue was over, or all the names of the participants, but I can guarantee you can remember with disturbing clarity how it made you feel. Those feelings run so deep and true that they may be as strong today as the day they were born.

My dad graduated from high school almost 40 years ago, and some of the wounds that he suffered in school still fester. One story he shared with me occurred when he was in grade 8. He recently discovered the joy of reading and had started to make the library a frequent stop in his day.  When he found the empty spot on the shelf where the book he wanted should have been, he decided to go to the librarian and ask if the book had been returned.

Hearing that the book had not been returned, he expressed his frustration and said, “RATS!”

The librarian heard and immediately interrogated him, “what did you say?”

“Oh, I said ‘RATS’.”

The librarian was beside herself, “well young man, you won’t talk like that in my library.”

Seeing this was going all bad, real fast, my dad was sure the librarian would appreciate the origins of this expletive, “well, actually, I read just last week that one of Thomas Edison’s favorite sayings when he is frustrated is ‘RATS’. So I figured if he could say it, I could.”

“Thomas Edison never said such a thing,” the librarian snapped.

So my dad went to the shelf, retrieved the Edison biography and promptly showed the librarian the excerpt. There it was – RATS!

If my dad had thought he could appeal to the literary conscience of the librarian, he was sadly mistaken.

“Well, he might speak that way, but you won’t,” she said before unleashing a month’s worth of detention on my poor ol’ dad.

When my dad tells this story, he does so with strong emotion and sharp description. This was, and still is, all too real for him. He doesn’t remember who taught him the Pythagoras’ theorem or how to avoid comma splices – but he sure the hell remembers this!

The content of my dad’s story may be unique to him, but the sentiment is all too familiar for all of us.

Everyday, school marginalizes millions of children with its limited definition of intelligence, narrow-minded curriculums and standardized testing.

Rather than teaching the way kids learn, we force their round asses onto square chairs and tell them to sit-and-get. And when they have the audacity to speak up for themselves, we label them as disrespectful and defiant.

For every child who endures the wounds of school, there are countless others who vote with their feet – some of them whom are never able to rekindle their love for learning and are lost forever – while others find that they had to leave school so they could begin their education.

Today’s brand of high-stakes test and punish accountability is reprehensible.

It not only ignores the ills of public education, but it perpetuates them at an alarming rate.


About joebower

I believe students should experience success and failure not as reward and punishment but as information.


2 thoughts on “Festering Wounds

  1. Today in a parent conference, I heard the story of yet another festering wound. I teach 6th grade and the mom told a story about how her son radically changed in the 3rd. At a time when his father was in the hospital fighting for his life, the student came in late one morning. His teacher did a desk inspection and the desk was messy. She literally dumped everything on the floor and forced him to put it back in more neatly. He then received a write up for the messy desk. At that time he went from caring about everyone to becoming an obnoxious class clown. I felt like crying and killing at the same time.

    Posted by Matt Guthrie | April 13, 2010, 9:04 pm
  2. Matt, that’s a terribly sad story! I wonder if the teacher ever found out what she had done.


    Posted by Adam Burk | April 13, 2010, 9:12 pm

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