June 5, 2007

you get no education with one diphthong

I gave my finals today, which varied between lovely (all those sweet, funny juniors in first period, so focused with their calculators and notebooks) and miserable (all those 9th graders in fourth period screaming at me and each other and running around). There are almost two weeks of school left, though, which begs the question of why I'm giving my final today.

Well, because that's how my school does it. Grades close next week, a full week before the end of the school year, meaning that after Thursday less than half of the students at the school will show up. This set up, or some version thereof, is the norm in the whole district. In my school, the upshot will be that classes will be combined by floor or, possibly, the whole 3rd floor will be shut down and the 600-700 students who show up (out of 2000 on roll) will hang out in various classrooms and watch movies or play cards or god knows what. We haven't been officially informed of this, but it's going around through the grapevine of marginally competent teachers: once one of us finds out, we want to make sure the others know so we can plan for it. No one's telling the dude across the hall, because he doesn't plan anything anyway.

This, of course, would be absurd in a school or district that was actually organized around learning. Even though teachers, principals, and administrators have most of the skills to encourage learning, that's not the purpose they're putting them to. Those of you who were in the political theory seminar (or in the practical wisdom class) will remember that there's a neo-Aristotelian concept that describes this perfectly. The example I remember is the schmoctor: someone who has the skills of a doctor, but doesn't use them in a way that fits the telos,1 the greater meaning, of practicing medicine. Schmoctors might push cosmetic surgery or Botox, or they might come up with reasons for HMOs to deny care, or they might pursue drug company payments at their patients' expense; despite possessing all the skills of a doctor, they're not really doctors because their skills don't serve the fundamental meaning of medicine, which is to keep people healthy.

The same thing can happen in any profession with a telos, of course, and I think it's a pretty good way to understand urban schools. People get hired to be teachers, but they're actually schmeachers. That guy across the hall who doesn't plan anything anyway? His goal is not to have students learn, but to collect a paycheck for the minimum possible effort. It's not every person, but it does happen at every level. Principal, schmincipal. Superintendent, schmuperintendent. Et cetera, all the way up to the "CEO" of the district. That's the fundamental bad faith of urban education, summed up in a single diphthong.2

1. One reason I'm writing this post is that searching google for 'schmoctor telos' gets you nothing. And that - well, let's just say it's not right.
2. I know it's actually not a diphthong, because schm- is a set of consonants. But I don't know what it's called. I'd be grateful to learn.

1 comment:

deb said...

i always call consonant clusters "diphthongs". it's one of those old grammar mistakes that don't die. somehow in my mind linked with when i asked my mom, what does "ejaculate" mean, and she told me about dicks and stuff, and i was like, yeah but sometimes in books it'll say "'land sakes!' Mrs Rooney ejaculated..."

and my mom was like, oh, yeah.