I am fortunate that I had the opportunity to teach before the craziness of testing engulfed the K – 12 public education system in Florida, and the majority of the rest of the country. A primary education used to be about meeting students where they were and moving them forward. Secondary education was about preparing students for the workforce, while an elite few were prepared for college. Today, an education is about preparing students for exams in reading, writing, and mathematics. Although they do get an occasional test on science or social studies, the primary focus remains language arts and mathematics. It can rightfully be argued that those subjects are important, but they are not as important as the social skills one used to learn in school.
The first year I taught was probably my best year ever. I taught mathematics and physical science at Southwest Junior High (now Southwest Middle School). In the math classes, students worked diligently four days per week on pre-Algebra skills and on Fridays we worked on investing in the stock market (pre-Internet, so they had to read a newspaper to get the information…) and cross-curricula projects. In science, we completed at least two experiments per week. The majority of the students I taught were not college bound. Yet, just about all of those students went on to have decent jobs and successful lives. These students enjoyed class. They were not frustrated because the material was too difficult for their abilities.
In 2011, the last year I taught in the K – 12 system, all of my students expected to go to college because that is what they have been told all of their lives. The vast majority would not be successful in life. I taught the extremely gifted and talented, and most of them did go on to earn college degrees. I also taught the not so gifted and talented, and many of them never made it through high school, because they became frustrated and angry. The sad part is, it wasn’t their fault. The fault lies with those who believe “everybody can succeed at anything” and designed an educational system on the fallacy.
Conroy was asked to teach a class of middle school students who did not know their alphabet, much less know how to read. He could have done as Mrs. Brown said, “We have to finish the textbook before the end of the year.” But, he chose to meet the students where they were and move them forward. While Brown was beating her students with the strop because they were frustrated and angry, Conroy was teaching them to appreciate music, play games appropriately, and gain simple knowledge that we take for granted: for example, the name of the state you reside in, the name of the ocean at your shore, picking out where you live on a map, etcetera.