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Math anyone?

September 13, 2011 2 comments

A young family member of mine was visiting us after school recently. When I came home, my wife was working with my son on writing his name and coloring inside the lines. I asked the young family member if he had done his home work and he said he had. So I proceeded to ask him a question; convert the fraction one-fifth to a decimal. Now, I have been asking the young people in my family and my wife’s family that same question for more than a decade. And during that time few if any have been able to answer the question without some guidance. What is distressing is that I ask them at a time in their educational development where they should know the answer, as well as know how they arrived at the answer. So I have to ask the question;  how is it that an 8th grader in middle school cannot convert a fraction to a decimal and vice versa? And when I say he could not do it, I don’t mean he attempted to work through the steps and came up with a bad answer, he actually had no clue how to tackle the problem. How do you get to the eighth grade and not know basic math concepts. There is something wrong with that. If a student cannot do basic math how is it possible for him or her to understand complex mathematical operations later in their education. He is behind, an will likely never catch up. When I look at the CRCT scores for schools, I tend to zero in on the math. If you look at math scores they generally get worse across the board starting around the fourth grade and never rebound. I know there tends to be a general dislike of math in our society, but math is the driving force behind so many, if not all,  of the advancements we enjoy today. Things as widely available as the internet in its foundation is based on mathematical concepts. Software that run the myriad of sites we spend hours at a time on are based in large part on mathematic principles. It is disturbing for me when I see middle and high school kids unable to solve basic math problems. This problem should be a concern for parents as well as presidents. The educational morass that our children are in cannot bode well for our country’s future.

Entitlement generation in South DeKalb

September 2, 2011 2 comments

On my trip home from work recently, I overheard a conversation that involved about five twenty-something’s. The conversation involved an EBT card(food stamps for those who don’t know) and the fact that the cardholder was having some issues using it recently. She was obviously upset, and she should have been. after all, from my perspective, she could not purchase food for herself nor anyone she was responsible for. But it was a statement she made later that upset me. She went on to say that she “earned’ her “stamps” and “how could they “screw her —- up”. the others around her, another young lady and three guys all lamented her situation and echoed her belief that she had earned her “stamps”. How could “they” do this to me. One guy even chimed in that he had recently experienced issues with his card. All of this sent my head a spinning. How does one “earn” an EBT card? I always thought “they” gave you an EBT card. After a few moments digesting what she had said, my thoughts turned to frustration. How dare she say she earned her card considering it was our tax dollars that provided the funds for the card. Then that thought went away quickly as I realized my frustration should be directed at the system that allows such attitudes to perpetuate themselves. I started to think about not what she said specifically, but what her statement meant for us as a society as a whole. What I gleaned from this group of young people was that they felt they were entitled to that card. They felt that just being alive entitled them to have that EBT card so they do not have to spend any money on a basic necessity. By the time I got to my stop, I had come to the same conclusion that many others before me had; we are producing a society of men and women, and by extension children, who feel they are entitled to things. Nothing has to be earned, but it should be given. It has become a popular notion that just being born entitles you to food, housing, insurance, and even a diploma. All at no cost to the individual. The prevailing belief among a large number of people is that you should not have to work to pay for food and shelter, and other necessities. When you work you should be able to use that money for leisure activities, or so it is believed. No need to study hard, because they are going to have to let me walk across that stage, because I was born and I have a right to walk across that stage whether I met the requirements to walk or not. Why should I take care of my children when the schools and the state can do it for me. By the time all my thoughts had finished swirling around in my head, I settled back and realized that what is wrong with South DeKalb and with our society in general is that we have become a nation that feels entitled to things as oppose to working for them. It is obvious from our schools to the streets to our prisons. Successful individuals do not feel entitled to anything. They work hard and reap the rewards of that hard work. It transcends social standing, economic status and racial identification. It is a learned behavior and until many of us unlearn that entitlement mentality we are surely never going to be successful at anything.

Extended stay motels help some, but hurt others

June 22, 2011 2 comments

City sees no room for hotel living  | ajc.com.

When I started reading this article, my thoughts wandered to the extended stay motels that dot the central part of South DeKalb. I can count at least twelve that I know of, so I am sure there are a dozen more I overlooked. I never really liked extended stays because they seem to be a magnet for crime no matter where they are. If you have ever driven south on Candler between I-20 and 285, you can see that many of the problems of prostitution, open drug deals, and general mayhem can be traced in part back to the extended stays in that corridor. After reading the above article, I realized that these places do serve a purpose for a small number of folks who have found traditional housing to be a challenge. I was really struck by one woman who described a situation where she found it nearly impossible to get an apartment through standard means.:

She recently found work as a shift manager at a Checkers fast-food restaurant. Harris runs the register, supervises four employees and opens or closes the restaurant depending on the schedule for $10 per hour.

That doesn’t leave much for savings, which is critical if Harris wants to move into her own place. Her application at a local apartment complex was recently denied after her credit report turned up an old unsettled bill. She was especially frustrated that she lost $20 on the application fee.

Other places have told her that her criminal record disqualifies her from consideration. Another complex accepted her application but wanted first and last month’s rent, which totaled $1,050.

Harris was forced to keep looking.

This woman has had some obvious challenges, and extended stay is her last option before living on the streets. And when there are children involved it makes it that much more distressing.

I would like to see DeKalb crack down on extended stays, but not to the point of pushing them out of business. Property owners should be held accountable for criminal activities that occur on their property. If there are code violations, the owners should be made to bring their property up to code or face stiff fines. And the police should put more resources into cleaning out problematic motels. If I, a normal citizen can see criminal activity from my car without having to stop and look for it, I have to believe the cops and the motel owners see it as well.

 

A failing grade for informal education

May 18, 2011 8 comments

Today was transition day at my sons school. It was a promotion ceremony for those who were moving from Pr-K to Kindergarten. I never really liked these things because I felt they had taken a minor accomplishment and made it into a very big deal. Growing up in Indiana, I never had a promotion/graduation ceremony until high school. Anyway, standing there taking pictures and listening to the ceremony, I found myself disturbed by the program and the reaction of the parents in attendance. Education is a lifelong process that involves formal and informal styles. Going to a school environment provides us with the formal education. Things we learn outside those walls via experiences are less formal. It is this less formal education that far too many parents are forsaking. I witnessed that today in the transitioning program. For example, The transitioning classes were tasked with dosing a performance of some sort. One class did a rendition of “one, two, buckle my shoe” with a sort of hip-hop flavor to it. It was actually very cute and you could see the teachers put a lot into getting the kids to do it correctly. Contrast that with the class who did a swing routine to an old ragtime song. It was very well coordinated and the kids performed a routine that required great timing. Like the previous class, you could tell the teachers put some work in to get the kids to do the routine.

Of course the class who did the “buckle my” shoe routine was showered with raucous applause. The other class with applause but with much less enthusiasm. I overheard one lady refer to one little girl in the first routine as “sassy”. I had to ask myself why did the second routine get such short shrift from the audience? Both classes performed beautifully, the only difference being what was performed. Then it hit me. It was the informal education that seeped into the school. These kids were exposed to this at home, and the school basically reinforced what they had already been exposed to. The swing act was strange and foreign. It was out of so many parent’s comfort zone. Many could not appreciate the fact that the second group probably had a much tougher time, since few of them would have had any exposure to a genre that is out of fashion right now.

For me that is at the heart of the educational crisis that we have in this country as a whole. Children who are exposed to a wide variety of activities and cultural knowledge tend to do far better than their counterparts whose world view is limited by the informal education at home, but also by the formal education at school. I have heard teachers in the past say they want to interact with kids in a way they understand. For me, you are doing more harm than good. If you come to them and deal with them in a way they already are comfortable with, how can you possibly expect them to grow and to explore. I remember when I started the 9th grade, some of my friends were taking shop classes and I wanted to take shop classes also. My mom had another idea. She wanted me in chorus and orchestra. I was so embarrassed, and spent the first week pouting and complaining. By week three I realized that I was there and there was nothing I could do about it. At the end of the semester, I had come out with a B in both, and learned that there was a whole new world of music out there that I had never even heard of and had some rudimentary music reading skills. To this day I appreciated the fact that my mom was willing to make me suffer in the short run so that I could learn something new and fascinating.

I don’t want to sound like someone who dismisses anything to do with hip hop because I don’t. It is actually a powerful movement that has provided us with a whole new perspective on the world around us. But it should not be the only thing that we expose our little ones to. We should expose them to classical, rock, international music and so on. We should take them camping or hiking or even gardening. If possible, we should travel with them. I believe that parents should compliment their child’s formal education with and aggressive informal education at home

My gut tells me that so many of the children that transitioned today will not get that exposure. And they will be at the mercy of a society that will leave them behind and feel no sense of sympathy for them. It all starts now, because if we don’t start now, we are going to regret it twenty years from now.

Concentration of poor in South DeKalb hurts schools

March 23, 2011 2 comments

This is part of a NY Times Op-Ed. You can read the full thing here. Also read the comments, some are very enlightening.

Educators know that it is very difficult to get consistently good results in schools characterized by high concentrations of poverty. The best teachers tend to avoid such schools. Expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement. These, of course, are the very schools in which so many black and Hispanic children are enrolled.

Breaking up these toxic concentrations of poverty would seem to be a logical and worthy goal. Long years of evidence show that poor kids of all ethnic backgrounds do better academically when they go to school with their more affluent — that is, middle class — peers. But when the poor kids are black or Hispanic, that means racial and ethnic integration in the schools. Despite all the babble about a postracial America, that has been off the table for a long time.

I am a pessimist at heart and after reading the above Op-Ed from the NY Times, it just hardens me even more to the fact that our society continues to drift into two opposing camps. Not by race so much as by class. Education was touted as the equalizer to poverty. With a decent education you could escape the ignorance and poverty of the previous generation. Today, it seems that door is slowly closing. Fact is schools with large populations of poor families are the schools that are failing to educate their citizens out of poverty. In fact, these schools are doing the exact opposite. These schools have teachers with far less experience and far less passion. Children come from homes where education is marginalized only to arrive at school where the same attitude affects a super majority of the students and a few of the staff as well. Coming from a poverty stricken family is not the fault of the child, but we place the burden of being poor on the child. Children who have the opportunity to escape these poverty stricken schools do far better than those who are stuck there. Concentrating poor and uneducated people in any situation is not good for them nor is it good for our society. It did not work in housing, and it is not working in our educational system.

DeKalb schools spotlighted six years ago in USA Today

December 6, 2010 5 comments

This article was sent by a reader recently, and I just had to share it just in case people had not read the comments from my last post. Here are a few quotes from the article.

This year(2004) at Vanderlyn, in a quiet DeKalb County suburb northeast of Atlanta, the PTA raised an eye-popping $133,166 and is lavishing it on the kids: $12,000 for the library, $12,500 for the gym, $4,000 for landscaping, $2,250 for “student incentives.”

Then to be contrasted with this statement:

Toney boasts a successful “Treasure Chest” program that rewards kids and parents who read books. Read a book, take home a prize: toothbrushes, soap, deodorant, blankets, canned goods. “Everything that they may be too proud to ask for,”

Basic necessities  are given as rewards! What’s worst, is that the reward system applies to parents as well as students. This an awful way to start life.

Addressing poverty and ignorance seems to be an elusive goal in education. Poverty is more entrenched and more dangerous than society wants to admit.

Experts say the effects of poverty fall squarely on minority students. John Logan, a demographic researcher at State University of New York-Albany, has found that the average black or Hispanic student attends an elementary school in which about two-thirds of classmates are poor; for whites, fewer than a third of classmates are poor.

Education is suppose to be the path out of poverty, but too many poor families are stuck in a cycle of poverty, poor education and a society unwilling to admit that poor students may need more resources.

Even middle-class minority students aren’t exempt: The average black family with an income of more than $60,000 lives in a neighborhood with a higher poverty rate than the average white family earning less than $30,000, he says.

This could explain why schools with solid middle class students are still suffering

Recent research also shows that poor students, who are least likely to find help at home, are least likely to find it at school. Poorly prepared, uncertified teachers are concentrated in urban and rural school districts, says Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University. “It all adds up,” she says.

Resources that are most needed in urban classrooms are not there.

This article sums up not only what is wrong in DeKalb, but5 what is also wrong in our education system in general. The sad part is that This article could have been written in 2010 with the same schools, and the facts would remain absolutely the same.,

Alcohol being sold to teens does not surprise

November 26, 2010 Comments off

Study: Teens can buy alcohol in DeKalb  | ajc.com.

This should be news to no one. I know of three establishments, all gas stations, who have been cited for selling alcohol to minors. Yet they still operate and rarely ask for ID when selling alcohaol or cigarettes. Much of South DeKalb is inundated with establishments that sell alcoholic beverages. For example, a three mile stretch of Candler road from memorial to the mall area has six liquor stores. Add to that the exorbitant number of gas stations that sell alcohol, and the mom and pop grocery stores, you have an area drowning in alcoholic beverages. with so many establishments, it is no wonder teens can get alcohol easily. I am not against alcohol sales, but I am against is the concentration of establishments that sell alcohol. What is needed is a county commission and licensing board that will look at the number of establishments already selling alcohol in an area before approving new ones. If you lessen the availability, you can have better control over establishments selling alcohol to minors and punish them accordingly.

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