Under the Big Top

So fellow travelers,  I recently came across this expression:


circus monekys


It is a translated Polish proverb Nie mój cyrk, nie moje malpy which is a very intriguing way to say  “It’s not my problem.”

I honestly had never heard it until someone used it as a comment on a social media site but it had a strangely familiar feeling, although I did not know why.  It came up again today, while I was searching for an article on line. This time it was like finally finding the right key; a door in my consciousness clicked open.

After my previous post, a friend and creative mentor encouraged me to explore what lies underneath my feelings. What surfaced in our discussion was my frustration with current trends in education. I have composed a full discourse (which I won’t put forth here) on the insanity of holding school districts hostage to poorly thought out Common Core “standards” and performance based pay programs designed to pit colleagues against one another. Withholding state and/or federal funds is only going to create an  unbridgeable gap between impoverished and wealthier districts. Eventually the latter districts will increase their local funding for basic education and cut “expendible” programs ( a trend already begun.) Concerned parents will create booster clubs to keep extra curricular programs running. No such rescue operation will surface in financially struggling areas, some of which used to be solid middle class neighborhoods before the economic down turn of recent years.

OK,  you’ve gotten a taste of the speech.  No apologies, it’s all you need to understand my position.  You see up until recently  my main perspective has been a “Thank goodness my youngest child is graduating from high school this year and I no longer have any kids ‘in the system’  because the system is about to shred every child’s confidence in their ability to learn anything.”  Like the proverb says: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

It’s an easy attitude to adopt.  I am only a few years from having the option to retire if I wish. I can ride out this current storm of ill advised “reform” and simply walk away with a modest benefit package and enough income to take that cross country road trip in search of my monkeys.

nancys monkey

(Fun Monkey photo courtesy of  Nancy Gallimore.  You can read about her monkey adventures here.)

The problem is I have always been that person who gets right into one of the three ring acts to make something happen. When the district cut all transportation funding for field trips, our PTA (of which I was treasurer for seven years) lead the charge in creating a fundraiser to keep those trips in the elementary school program. When one brave mom (now a popular social studies teacher at the high school) took on the challenge to breath new life into a reading partners program which was about to be discontinued because of lagging participation I signed right on as co-chair. When the word got out the Board of Ed was planning to discontinue in school lessons for strings students,  I hauled my then second grade daughter to a meeting and politely but firmly asked the members of the board to please explain to my daughter why she would not be able to take lessons in school next year since at that time private lessons were beyond our budget.  That was eighteen years ago; and even though she and her younger sister eventually had the benefit of private lessons, those in school lessons continue to be part of the orchestra program. Not that I claim this as a personal victory because a lot of parents spoke up at that meeting.

Yes, I am a “Where’s the circus and which way did the monkeys go?”  kind of person.

But suddenly I am discouraged.

I am discouraged and very, very tired.

Working as part of a truly dedicated special education team I have seen programs come and go. I have watched teachers both in special and general education weather trend after trend  from “spiral math” to “inventive spelling” (a program used ten years ago in the elementary schools which produced at least two graduating classes of atrocious spellers including my youngest National Honor Society 9.64 GPA daughter.) But I have never seen anything like this.

I have never seen morale so low nor known so many kids to fall between the cracks even as those gaps in the system are growing faster than teachers can bridge them. So far reforms have managed to produce a wave of students who appear to “just not care.”  What I have discovered in spending time with students in a non academic setting is their attitude actually masks a growing confusion about what they are supposed to be accomplishing. There is a growing disconnect between the content they are taught and information applicable to life outside school.  For example, once students hit the part time work market they rapidly discover test taking is not a skill in high demand, while being able to make change is far more important than calculating sine, cosine or tangent.  And those are the “gen. ed” students.  Kids who fall into the “instructional support” category are falling further and further behind. If it’s this bad in the Northeast, where a far higher percentage of students score well on college entrance exams what on earth is happening in the regions with less than fifty percent graduation rates?

Worse yet are the conversations I have had with student teachers.  An increasing number of them change their degrees programs after finding it impossible to reconcile what they know to be effective teaching methodology with the requirements of ill advised profit driven reforms. Education degrees used to hold a solid thirty percent of college undergraduates and forty percent of graduate degrees.  In 2012 that rate plummeted to less than fifteen percent, the lowest ever in the history of American college education. In five years there will be a staggering teacher shortage.

For the first time in my life I feel like I am looking at a tidal wave too big to out run and too dangerous to dive into. Maybe it’s time I learned to surf.




(to be continued)

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.


Deborah H Rahalski


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