Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When Learning Turns to Dust

When Learning Turns to Dust
For several days I have been coaching my son for his final secondary
school exams. I dusted off my notions about quadratic equations,
formulas for calculating the area of a pyramid, and factoring. After
more than twenty years of not encountering these mathematical
complexities, I reconnected neurons to help him prepare and to avoid
paying the high price of a tutor. More than once, during these days of
study, I was on the verge of giving up, faced with the evidence that
numbers are not my forte. But I resisted.

Only when Teo returned from
his most difficult test, saying he'd done well, did I feel relieved, as
many of his classmates are in danger of repeating a grade. The reason is
that in their three years of middle school, these students have seen
three different evaluation methods paraded before them. They have also
been affected by the lack of preparation of the so-called "emerging
teachers" and the long hours of classes taught by television. For two
semesters my son's group has had no teachers in English and computing,
and the assigned hour of physical education consists of an hour of
running around the schoolyard, unsupervised. The lack of requirements
and the bad quality of the education has left us parents trying to put
patches over the innumerable gaps in knowledge.
Fortunately, Teo's school is not one of the worst. Although the smell of
the bathroom sticks to the walls and clothes, because no one wants to
work as a cleaning aid for the miserable wages the job pays, at least
there is not as much haphazardness as in other schools in Havana. Nor,
and this is a relief, do they sell grades, an ever more common practice
in educational institutions. The teachers Teo has had, despite being
ill-prepared, are good-natured people whom the community of parents have
tried to help. In comparison with the problems that a friend of mine has
had with her daughter's technical school, we could not be happier with
the moral environment of our son's secondary school. According to what
my friend tells me, the exchange of sex between the teenagers and the
teachers has become a common way to get a good grade. Each test comes
with a fee, and few remain unscathed in the face of the tempting offer
of a cell phone or a pair of Adidas shoes, in exchange for outstanding
I have avoided writing about this thorny issue of the deterioration of
the educational system for fear, I confess, that my child would feel the
affects of the opinions of his mother. In the three years he has been in
junior high, I've barely slipped in a couple of criticisms about the
state of the school infrastructure, but now I can't take it any more.
They will be the professionals of tomorrow, the doctors who will attend
to our bodies in the operating room, the engineers who will build our
houses, the artists who will feed our souls with their creations; this
terrible educational background puts all of this at risk. We cannot
continue to be satisfied with the fact that at least while our children
are sitting at a desk they are not roaming the streets at the mercy
other risks. Within the walls of the classroom very serious vices can be
developed, permanent ethical deformations, and an incubation of
mediocrity of alarming proportions. No parent should remain silent about

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