In terms of my background it is varied and, like all people, a product of my experiences which include living in many parts of the US – Southern California, Iowa, Gainesville, Florida, the Washington DC area, suburbs of Philadelphia, Stamford, Connecticut and South Texas (on the US-Mexican border); and travels to Europe (Italy and the Netherlands), Mexico, Puerto Rico, Aruba, Guatemala, Belize and Guam.
In re higher education and learning, I earned a BS in Education in December 1989, which meant that starting in spring 1986 through fall 1989, I spend hours volunteering in school settings covering elementary, middle, and high schools. Upon graduation I got work teaching high school – from which I was promptly booted mainly for demanding that the children read, think and learn.
I started graduate school in 1992 – at the University of Florida (in a program on Latin American Studies), and this is where I started learning how to learn – and learned about the truth of American history, vis-à-vis foreign policy abuses of peoples to the South of the U.S. I started reading in earnest, and trained myself in the mega-memory system (sold by Mr. Kevin Trudeau). I continued my studies at the University of Iowa where I ultimately earned a PhD in political science and a law degree.
All the while I was learning – in graduate school – I was thinking and focusing on how to be a better teacher and what messages, exercises, and questions students need to stimulate their thinking. In addition, throughout grad school I worked as a fitness trainer, aerobics instructor, and tutor for college athletes – i.e. those areas that are parts of the vocation of teaching.
Putting my experiences together, I have been a student of health and fitness, and an observer of cultures within and outside educational institutions and I have pursued questions of social justice (in the area of drug criminalization, human rights and liberty, organic versus industrial farming, and the abuses of corporate capitalism, i.e. sweet heart deals for vaccine makers like G.D. Searle). At the core, or interactive in these systems and practices of abuse or injustice is our “educational” system.
My short answer to describe the problem is that we have a system of obedience designed to create and spread ignorance and illiteracy all the while using truly Orwellian language about the “achievements” of the many. Most elementary school teachers are simpletons, with limited skills and knowledge of grammar, literacy and mathematics. Too few have any appreciation of governmental affairs and political history. What is the source of this deficit? It is the colleges and universities which produce these “teachers.”
Given the heavy handed nature of the propaganda, i.e. students in South Texas “know” about the Mayflower, and nearly nothing of the invasion of Whites who, after gaining support from Washington, stole the land from the government of Mexico. That is to say, these children – 98% of whom are Mexican-American – have been conditioned to identify with descendants of the British crown more than their own indigenous roots.
While the “re-education” of these kids here in Texas, or those with whom I have worked or tutored in California and Iowa, there has been a swift and direct dumbing down of the curriculum, in the service of test makers, and textbook publishers.
When the primary or most significant indicator of a school is the standardized test scores per se, schools with lower achieving students and or in low literacy areas forego learning in pursuit of “raising” test scores – learning be damned. Jonathan Kozol has remarked on this in the public schools. But what are the ramifications for college students and college-level teaching?
My advisor, John Nelson (professor of political science at the University of Iowa) claims that over the past 20 years he has seen that students cannot or will not read. As I have seen in six years of teaching my own courses, students have little sense of humor, irony, or sarcasm. They cannot write simple paragraphs much less coherent essays. We should not be surprised, none of these skills are TESTED on the SAT, the California exit exam, or the TAKS in Texas.
So while students come to university with less inquisitive minds, having been trained to look for the “worksheet” and or to “fill in the bubble,” we produce k-12 teachers and even college faculty who are less well-read, slower of wit, and less patient. Professors in turn lower their expectations of the “students” who are “doing the best they can.”
Lastly, I must make reference to that which I disclosed in our brief conversation – namely the idea of “learning” as a scam. The argument is simple, students are told that “some people are not book smart” or cannot learn a foreign language or cannot do math. Logically the argument can be extended to any academic subject so that the student has the defense of “impossibility.” That is, a student can claim that their failure to exceed, excel or surpass the median in any subject or class is a function of biology and genetics – not effort, clear thinking or program (though for some reason these same students never apply the logic to the talents of basketball players or pianists). Once armed with the notion that learning is a mere matter of genetics, then achievement in the form of a grade is not legitimate. Then they make the leap to assert that most people cannot learn most subjects, ergo all grades are not earned via merit but given as favors.
When these children come to my class at the university, they are hit with a tidal wave of information and stripped of the notion of their genetic inferiority. Some accept my teachings as empowering, others – of course – take great offense and complain – to department chairs, deans, and even university presidents. When their complaint is boiled down to its essence it comes in the form of an attack on the information I present – because the information is new and or unfamiliar. As such, the course material would demand thinking. Students long-trained in copying and programmed not to think then come to an impasse, for how can they “succeed” and earn a good grade when no one ever told them about corporate subsidies, the links between breast cancer and deodorant, the inanity of hog lots, or the abuses generated in the making of Disney toys. Because the students have not been trained to think, to analyze information, to integrate and critique data, they have little to no capacity to make sense of what I present. Hence, it must be “the teacher’s fault.”
This is the type of complaint I get – over and over. And as a result, I have not been renewed at a number of positions – in Iowa, Louisiana, and now Texas. Apparently it matters not whether I teach at public or private institutions – the student complaints are the same. And their levels of comprehension and capacity to evaluate my course material, much less the political realities around them, are poor.
John Calvin Jones, PhD, JD