Public Schools Fray as Pentagon Gets More Pork

Yves here. I suspect many readers will be surprised to learn that some (many?) public schools have “wellness interventionists,” which are teachers who manage behavior problems. This post gives a window into a Connecticut school system that skews toward low income children (think the townies in New Haven) and describes a distressingly high level of aggression and non-compliance. Perhaps I am badly out of touch with conditions in American schools, but this is simply grim. It points to poor parenting/family breakdown as well as a widespread lack of respect for authority. Mind you, a certain skepticism toward those in charge isn’t a bad thing, but spitting on teachers?

The author laments that even this level of disfunction could be managed in much smaller classrooms, which would cost bigly. But the dirty secret of American public schools is that there’s a lot of spending…on overpaid non-productive administrators. From the Spring 2022 Education Next:

Are schools really spending more on administration than they used to? The short answer is yes.

A recent Education Next blog post, “Could Covid Finally Disrupt the Top-Down Education Bureaucracy?” by the founder of the Campaign for Common Good, Philip K. Howard, included this passage: “While teacher pay has stagnated over the past two decades, the percentage of school budgets going to administrators has skyrocketed. Half the states now have more noninstructional personnel than teachers. The Charleston County, South Carolina, school system had 30 administrators earning over $100,000 in 2013. Last year it had 133 administrators earning more than $100,000. Union officials and central bureaucrats owe their careers to the bureaucratic labyrinth they create and oversee.”

That paragraph touched a nerve and generated some pushback from skeptics. One, in private correspondence, claimed we were mischaracterizing or misunderstanding “custodians or teacher aides.” The reader pointed to a table from the U.S. Department of Education drawn from the department’s National Public Education Financial Survey, claiming it contradicted the claim that administrative spending had increased.

Such a financial survey, though, is a hazardous operation. The school district administrators that fill out financial surveys have every interest in obscuring spending on administration, mischaracterizing it as spending on instruction. It’s a little like asking your ne’er-do-well husband to report how much money he spends on beer. He’d rather report it as “supermarket expenses,” or “food and beverage expenses,” or some other broad category that blurs what it really is.

TomDispatch regularly laments about how the US spends simply grotesque amounts of money on its military. This issue ought to be put in the spotlight given our shambolic response to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. Mind you, I greatly favor a negotiated settlement, and Russia’s initial “softly softly” approach looked to have been intended give Ukraine a big shove in that direction, since that would be the least bad outcome given the new givens.

But the US wanted this conflict. For instance, from reader Kouros, quoting MSNBC:

“The choice that we faced in Ukraine — and I’m using the past tense there intentionally — was whether Russia exercised a veto over NATO involvement in Ukraine on the negotiating table or on the battlefield,” said George Beebe, a former director of Russia analysis at the CIA and special adviser on Russia to former Vice President Dick Cheney. “And we elected to make sure that the veto was exercised on the battlefield, hoping that either Putin would stay his hand or that the military operation would fail.”

So the US simply assumed Russian success was impossible, despite Russia having checked the US in Syria and surprising some analysts with the caliber of their equipment. Russia also announced its successful development of hypersonic missiles, which it used in Ukraine, as well as missiles that change path during flight, making them almost impossible to be taken out by anti-missile systems.

But the West is desperately trying to depict Russia as losing, as opposed to not prosecuting the war at all the way they would. That includes allowing themselves a measured tempo, now that it seems clear that a minimum requirement to getting Ukraine to accept terms is destroying its military. They can afford to do that because they control the battlefield. And a slower pace increases the desperation of Ukraine troops who are low on gas, ammo, and food. Russia would rather produce surrenders.

The outrage in Europe is not matched with action. The best the EU and US have been able to do is scrape their weapons cupboards bare. What was all that NATO dough for, exactly, particularly when the game plan was to provoke Russia to go on the offensive?

And even worse, to the extent that the US and its allies propose to send new weapons systems, as opposed to ones covered in cobwebs, we’re seeing that the US systems design priorities are all wrong, for anything other than bleeding the public purse. It’s looking like F-35s top to bottom. The weapons are so fussy that they take lots of training to use. Worse, we’re discovering that they are often not very fit for purpose. The older Javelins we are sending aren’t terribly effective against Russian tanks and are heavy and hard for even a trained user to operate. Russian electronic warfare has been able to jam most drones (although the US is now sending newer-gen ones, perhaps they’ll be more effective). And when Russia destroys weapons caches and shipments (and they seem to be doing a pretty good job of that), the newer high tech weapons that would replace them are costly and take time to replace, because chips among other reasons. And that means they are costly to deploy! By contrast, Russia’s design preference for simpler and more rugged when possible means much greater ability to crank out replacements for material used in combat.

Our assumption that Russia was the paper tiger is looking like projection, at least as for as large scale ground operations are concerned.

By Frida Berrigan. Originally published at TomDispatch

A kid spit on my husband Patrick yesterday. That sentence just keeps running through my head. The student was up on a windowsill at school and, when instructed to come down, he spit.

It’s part of Patrick’s job not to take that — the most personal of insults and an almost universal expression of disrespect — personally. He knew enough about that boy and his sad story to see the truth of the maxim “hurt people hurt.”  In this case, it was also a matter of “disrespected kids disrespect.” So, he handled it and his emotional response to the grossness of being spit on, too. He got that kid down and back into class. Then he cleaned himself up and went on with his day.

This is not the first time he’s been spit on this year and it probably won’t be the last. It isn’t even the worst. Once, he was so covered in spittle he had to go home in the middle of the day to shower and change clothes. And mind you, this is all happening during the coronavirus pandemic and the mandatory mask wearing that is supposed to keep his school safe (at least from the virus).

Taking the Time

My husband’s official job title — and I’ll bet you didn’t even know such a job existed — is Wellness Interventionist. (Another school calls his position the Feelings Teacher.) He works at one of our Connecticut town’s four public elementary schools, trying to keep things from getting overheated. He attempts to intervene in conflicts between kids before they come to a head. He leads class-circle discussions about emotional health, and helps students find more complex and nuanced ways than just anger or derision to express their feelings. They are supposed to seek him out for help navigating conflicts and repairing relationships.

There’s a jargonistic term for what he does: “restorative practices and social-emotional learning.” Because he works in a bureaucracy, you won’t be surprised to know that these terms have been reduced to the acronyms RP and SEL. However fast those may be to say, though, the work itself takes time, lots and lots of time, and time is the one thing my husband seldom has in his fast-moving school days with almost 500 kids needing attention.

He’ll sit down with two kids at odds with each another and just as they get to the crux of the matter, a call comes in over his walkie talkie that a student has “eloped” (the term of art for escaping the building) and is running towards the road. He’ll be about to connect with a youngster struggling with too many grown-up-sized problems at home, when a teacher urgently calls him to a classroom to help manage a fourth grader’s water-bottle-throwing tantrum.

What choice does he have? In that case, he promised the student with the home problems that he’d continue their conversation at lunch and sprinted for the classroom. Patrick entered the room with a smile on his face. In a calm voice he said, “Okay, friends, we are going to give X some space now, so please go with your teacher to the library.” He helped her usher the boy’s fearful, dumbstruck classmates out of the room. “See you in a little bit,” he said in his most reassuring voice, before turning to that flailing, furious youngster.

With the rest of the students gone, the temper tantrum was no longer a performance and so the two of them ended up working for almost an hour cleaning up the mess. As they set tables upright, wiped up spilled water, and taped torn posters back on walls, Patrick got the kid talking about the problems that had all too literally exploded out of his small body. No, my husband couldn’t fix them, but he offered a little perspective and some tools for managing anger more constructively. He then reached out to the school’s psychiatrist and social worker, while offering support to the family.

And yes, I may not be the most objective witness, but Patrick is really good at his job — patient, friendly, and ready to help. When he needs to restrain kids intent on hurting themselves or others, he does so with a sense of moderation and equanimity right out of the “safety care” training manual.

His problem, though, is time in a school and a system that, during the pandemic, hasn’t had enough teachers or para-educators or aides — and, all too typically, is losing more of them. The school’s psychiatrist just left for a better (less dangerous) job and the principal recently announced that she’s leaving at the end of the school year. There are a dozen teachers looking for new jobs or planning on early retirement. And yes, there are other staff trained to deal with aspects of his job, but it’s hard because too many of them aren’t fully capable of dealing with the physical demands of the job. He has colleagues who are pregnant, smaller than some of the fourth graders, or older enough not to want to risk an injured back or knee from chasing or restraining kids.

A Failure for Sure — But Whose?

All too often these days, my husband comes home sad, tired, and dispirited. Unfortunately, his feelings and experiences are just one person’s tale in the sweeping epic of a failing and floundering school system. Or maybe it’s not just that system, but our whole society.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that public schools have been in perpetual crisis for a long time. Fill in the blank for the calamity of your choice: from once-upon-a-time segregated schools and federal agents escorting Black youngsters to school to today’s fights over which bathroom kids should use and who plays on what volleyball team. Schools have long been the culture war’s battlefield of choice.

Why is there public education and what is its purpose? If the original system was built and funded at public expense to prepare the next generation of factory workers, today’s system is there so that parents can work. Covid-19 revealed that sad truth. When schools shut down, so does part of the economy. These days, they also provide a whole array of social support for families badly in need, often including food, clothes, health care, and access to technology.  

The pandemic shutdowns revealed failures and weaknesses in a threadbare social system, but it did allow certain strengths to shine through as well. For one thing, the commitment of so many teachers, para-educators, and support staff, often under remarkably difficult circumstances, should be considered a marvel. Our educators are the under-appreciated, underpaid, undervalued superheroes of the Covid era. They transitioned to a new medium of education, the virtual classroom, and figured out how to mobilize the sort of resources that students and their families need just to keep going. School buses delivered computers, lunches, and dinners. Teachers made themselves available after hours to walk families through the new technology of schooling, even though they often had kids of their own and elders to care for as well. And they did it all for far too long amid the Trump administration’s dismal culture wars!

They worked on an emergency, pedal-to-the-metal footing for three semesters before going back to in-person instruction in the fall of 2021, with masks, plexiglass barriers, and the constant threat of shutdowns. They started the school year stressed and tired, and now, in April 2022, they’re exhausted.

Rage or Gratitude (or Both?)

You would think all of this would make a deep impression on my own children, one in second grade and the other in fourth, who can sometimes see their father in the hallways of their school. When it comes to school, though, our two kids are in their own world — one of new books and good friends. At dinner, when we say grace, they’re forever praising their teachers. As far as they know, school is going great. I wouldn’t have it any other way, so out of their earshot Patrick and I try to talk through his hard days.

In the face of it all, I feel both inchoate rage and extravagant gratitude. The rage is easier. Patrick is dealing with many layers of trauma and tragedy all at once in the minds and bodies of five to 12-year-olds. It should surprise no one that, after 18 months of virtual “learning” and social isolation, kids are having a hard time reacclimating.

Educators don’t know everything that happened to every kid between March 2020 and September 2021, but they know enough to be sure that it was often bleak: many had family members who lost jobs or even died. Some moved into far smaller living spaces with more people or found themselves left alone for long periods of time with just the Internet and all its dark corners for company.

I was so relieved when our kids went back to school, but I wished that more time had been spent on reconnection, community rebuilding, and healing. Of course, I wasn’t in charge and had to watch helplessly as, in September 2021, they instantly went back to standardized testing.

I blame the school system for charging full steam ahead over the minds and bodies of the youngest, most vulnerable members of our community. Yet I’m grateful as well. It’s so confusing! In spite of everything, my kids are so happy to be back and I find myself surprised, impressed, and moved by what they bring home to share.

Time Is Money

Everyone has ideas about how to improve our schools and can point a finger at those they blame for the failures in that system: absent or omnipresent parents, video games and social media, cops in schools (as symbols of public safety or emblems of the “school-to-prison” pipeline), and that’s just to begin down an endless list.

Wherever you want to lay the blame, the solution isn’t hard to find, it’s just expensive.

An administrator told Patrick that the way to fix our schools would be to have each teacher and aide deal with a class of just 12 students, with plenty of time for exercise, recess, and the arts. Indeed, that would undoubtedly fix many of the problems Patrick faces daily, because so much of his work involves putting out fires long after they’ve broken out. In a class of 12, a teacher would be able to give any smoldering kid attention — and some choices.

However, we already do invest a lot of money in our schools with anything but the greatest results. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the United States spent $14,100 per elementary and secondary student in 2017 — 37% more than the average of $10,300 paid by member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a group of 38 “highly developed” wealthy nations. On that list, only Luxembourg, Austria, and Norway seem to spend more than the U.S. does, but the academic performance numbers of many of those countries are so much better than ours.

Why?  To explore the all-too-complicated answer to that question, you would undoubtedly have to dive into this country’s brutal history of the transatlantic slave trade and racism, Calvinist notions of who deserves to succeed, and so many other factors. But given my own background, I tend to think about it in terms of Washington’s military budget — in terms, that is, of how poorly we invest staggering sums of our taxpayer dollars. After all, it’s not just how much you spend, it’s how you spend it! In our case, prodigiously on war and preparations for more of it, rather than on our children.

The United States spends so much more on its military than any other country (more than the next 11 countries combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) and we still aren’t safer, not faintly so. When we “invest” more than $800 billion annually in the military-industrial complex, as President Joe Biden proposes to do in 2023, there are a lot of things we can’t afford that would actually make us safer. Money wasted on the military doesn’t get spent on mental health — unsurprisingly, the man who attacked that Brooklyn subway car, injuring 23 people, suffered from mental illness — and it doesn’t get spent on gun-safety measures either. According to the Gun Violence Archive, more than 12,000 people have been killed by guns so far this year alone in this disastrously over-armed nation of ours. How can we even say that we’re a nation at peace, given the endless violence and mass killings that embroil us?

And guns aren’t the only thing killing us either. While we spend so much on military infrastructure, we don’t repair the rest of our infrastructure adequately. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives that civil infrastructure (roads, bridges, parks, water systems, etc.) a C-minus grade and estimates the spending needed there at $2.59 trillion. Finally, military spending hampers our ability to respond to genuine threats to safety and security like the coronavirus pandemic, which has already killed nearly a million Americans (and likely many more than that).

Education suffers, too. While the U.S. toolbox may be full of hammers, kids aren’t nails. And while federal education spending is relatively high, it’s spent all too politically instead of going where it’s most needed. Take New London, Connecticut, where I live, for example. I looked up what we get per student per year and it was more than I thought: $16,498 (with $1,210 coming from the federal government and the rest from the state and local taxes).

Nonetheless, we’re a poor community. The median income for a household in New London is about $47,000, well below the national average, and we have a home ownership rate of less than 40%. So many families in our school district qualify for free or reduced lunch that they just give every kid free lunch (and breakfast and a snack, too) without any paperwork. A lot of the students in our public schools are English Language Learners” (ELL), meaning they speak another language at home and need additional support to learn the material in math or social studies as they are also learning English. Many of them also have “Individualized Education Plans” (IEPs) indicating that, with an attention-deficit or learning disability, they need extra support and accommodation to learn. A not-so-small minority of students are ELL with IEPs. All that adds up to a lot of need and a lot of extra expense. 

We should get more resources because our needs are high, but perversely enough, the needier a school district is, the fewer resources it gets, because in so many parts of the country education spending is pegged to property taxes.  Chester, Connecticut, is just 20 miles away from here, but it might as well be in another world. Their schools spend $24,492 per student and have very few English-language learners in that very white small community.

In our town, until the pandemic shut down the schools, one of the elementary schools did double duty as a food pantry once a month. The food line would then snake around the building, including parents, grandparents, and people coming straight from work (among them, custodians, cooks, and teachers from that very building). No one got paid enough to turn down a free box of food toward the end of the month.

I helped out there sometimes and one thing struck me: the news media never showed up. Not a single reporter.  That line of 200 or more people who needed food badly enough to spend a few hours there at the end of a workday just wasn’t a big enough deal. If doctors had lined up around the hospital in a similar fashion, or engineers and scientists employed at our local weapons manufacturer, General Dynamics, maybe that would have been news. But poor schools, poor people… nothing new there.

It’s Not Fair

With his limited resources, Patrick is part social worker, part social connector, part bouncer, part enforcer, and part small-group facilitator. An administrator who makes three times his salary saw him in action recently and said, “We should have five of you!” And she was right. That school does need more people like him. Her tone, though, was wistful, as if she were hoping for a unicorn for Christmas. Of course, having the resources to pay people who are going to help create the conditions under which children will learn in an optimal fashion shouldn’t be a fairy tale.

That kid on the windowsill probably needed more than any school could give him. He probably needed a grief counselor and a psychiatrist, a safe place to live and a good night’s sleep, glasses, shoes that fit, and a warmer jacket, too. And the one thing he knew for sure was that he wouldn’t get what he needed and it pissed him off. In that moment, I suspect school stuff was far from his mind. He undoubtedly wasn’t worrying about his math scores or his reading level. My best guess is that he wasn’t thinking about the consequences of his actions either, like being sent to the principal’s office or getting suspended. From what Patrick said afterward, it sounded like the kid was enraged, suffering, deeply sad, over-stimulated, out of options, and couldn’t believe that any adult would listen to him express his problems with words alone. 

Schools can’t solve all of this society’s problems. But every day, my kids’ teachers show up and try, just as Patrick does. It’s not fair, it’s not working particularly well, but it does make a difference and that’s better than the alternative.

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  1. Mertan

    The author writes “ I blame the school system for charging full steam ahead over the minds and bodies of the youngest, most vulnerable members of our community.” and wonders why students disrespect authority. The point of schooling is to condition kids to imbibe the belief that they’re bad/wrong if they disobey authority. Middle and upper class kids get to enjoy it more or less and conditioned for their place. Regardless, Free people don’t condition their children to sit in chairs 8 hours a day mostly wasting their time while pretending to like it, and more time for homework, in obedience towards a teacher the kids didn’t choose and who gets their way so long as the teacher obeys the state.

    And yes, more community and healing and connection would be awesome. I’m not holding out for that from public schools – the only time I’ve witnessed this is from good-hearted teachers/admins working around the edges of their duties. The system is rotten and authoritarian at the core though. If spitting at authority is a sign the students still have self respect, then more power to them.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I had the sort of education that you deemed to be coercive. Most people of my generation did. The US has world-leading educational attainment in that era, as in a much higher rate of progression to college and advanced degrees than now.

      From what I can tell, private school education often results in people who are socially skilled and overly impressed with what are actually mediocre educations. The “freedom” does not produce critical thinking skills.

      The only big difference, which is a big difference, from my childhood, is more recess. Kids are fidgety and letting them move about helps their concentration.

      1. Larry

        I think the private school breeds laziness only applies to the schools that lack rigor and if they have rigor, to the students who are already in the top 1%. Nobody cares if a some Saudi royals kid at Deerfield ends up at Berkshire Medical getting his stomach pumped. That kid is building connections to the elite.

        I envied a friend of mine who attended Williston in Northampton. It had boarding and day students. It was hard to get into if you weren’t rich, but you still had to pay. He attended classes every other Sunday. He was required to participate in one theatrical production and a sport in every season. The work load was intense, but when he went to Elon College and then UMass Amherst, he found he was far ahead of his peers.

        While I was driven and loved learning, to be in an environment with peers who push you and to have resources to further pursue your interests is highly appealing to me. In a way private school is no different from elite college. Sure there are students there just making their parents happy and getting their finishing degree. But you can work with world class researches and do real work if you’re an interested student.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You have not met enough recent elite college grads, who were the top picks of these schools. A very high representation of smug mediocrities. Think young Anthony Blinkens.

          1. Larry

            I was a grad student at Brown. I used to party with those mediocrities, and they far outnumber the super students. A scion of the Gilbane family hosted a party I attended. Thoroughly charming guy. Not bright at all. But had personal photos with the Clintons in his Benefit St home.

            My grad days at Brown opened mybeyes to the reality of the uber rich and how easy life is for them and how seemsly the propagate their privilege.

            At the same time, there were plenty of brilliant and drivem students. But I’m in the life sciences. If nothing else many of those kids seriously studied to get into top med schools.

            1. Yves Smith Post author

              Go look at Blnken’s resume and get back to me. He was not legacy. He was a “super student” type and is still a functional idiot. McKinsey never hires legacy, they want people who are insecure and will work super hard. They are full of “super student” mediocrities who greatly overestimate their smarts and insights. This is what we are producing as a society. It’s not universal but it is way way too common.

              Blinken majored in Soc Stud. That’s an elite concentration, accepts only 1/3 of applicants. He was co-editor of the Crimson. That’s also highly competitive and a lot of work. Etc.

              He is the type I mean, although most of them don’t have resumes quite as splashy as his but still good enough to land at a top Wall Street financial or law firm.

              1. David in Santa Cruz

                Antony Blinken’s father Donald M Blinken was a founding director of Warburg Pincus & Co, board chair of SUNY ’78-’90, ambassador to Hungary ’94-’97, and president of the Mark Rothko Foundation ’76-’89. When his parents divorced in ’71 Blinken fils moved to Paris when his mother remarried a man who had suffered horribly during the Holocaust, and attended an elite private school run by a former resistante.

                Blinken’s resume suggests that while he was a “super student’ at Harvard and Columbia Law, as soon as he graduated he was raising money for Dukakis with his father. By ’94 he was on the NSC staff and a “special advisor” to the president. Doors were clearly opened for him. I think that this is what was meant by referring to him as a “legacy.” Watching Blinken before the Senate (and I am loath to ever watch video), he appears to be a mediocrity who simply mouths justifications for the enrichment of the Military-Industrial Complex.

                To drone-on about the “independence” and “self-determination” of “Ukraine” without recognizing the way it had been cobbled-together by the Soviet leadership and the “Dniepropetrovsk Mafia” of Khrushchev and Brezhnev, the attempt at federalism and self-determination by groups in Crimea, Donbass, and Novorussia after the 2014 coup d’etat, and the killing of over 14,000 people by “Ukrainian” military aggression against those regions, makes him look like either a liar or a “functional idiot.” His demeanor does suggest the latter…

                The robbery of resources from schools by the MIC is only part of the problem. The greater robbery from the U.S. working class of a decently safe and secure economic and social life is the issue. Those children come from families in crisis. That family crisis was perpetrated by Blinken’s political and financial elite, who destroyed American labor through their impossible fantasy of global wage arbitrage to be enforced by the military domination of the planet, and whose opening of the borders to foreign manufactured goods created the infrastructure of the methamphetamine and fentanyl crisis devastating our families.

            2. Dave in Austin

              I knew the Gilbanes; even dated a friend of one of the daughters in the early 1960s. Out of my league. The Gilbane grandfather had started our with a wheel barrow and a shovel and turned it into a sucessful construction company. His sons were running the company. The youngest, Tom, came back from WWII and was considered simply “the best”, so he was in charge. I met him a couple of times; a friendly, no-nonsense, terrifyingly impressive guy.

              The company is still going strong in construction. The secret? They hire and promote smart, hard-working people. The’ve also branched out. Next time you’re pumping gas look at the pump; it may say “Gilbarco”. I smile to think that the girl I dated and her Gilbane friend may have a nice, average grandchildren in Brown.

      2. Joe Well

        There wasn’t just more recess, there was more non instructional time generally. Under education reform in the 1990s-2000s, bureaucrats strictly measure the time spent, for instance, on transitions between classes and school assemblies. That used to be an escape valve when the tension was rising.

        Also, now that chaperones have to be screened by the FBI, along with other safety concerns, field trips are a bit harder to pull off, not to mention concerns over instructional time.

        1. polar donkey

          My son goes to school in north Mississippi. Mostly lower middle class to working class demographics. It’s pretty good school and tries to create positive atmosphere. It is still a difficult situation for staff. In my son’s class, they put a large percentage of special needs kids in with gifted kids. There is the teacher, an assistant (makes @$15,000 a year), and 2 teachers that work with the special needs kids, that rotate in during the day. Even with that help the primary teacher is leaving the profession in May. The concentrating of two ends of the spectrum, special needs and gifted, into one class was too much to manage for her. There was 28 kids in that room with up to 4 adults. She is a very good teacher. All the teachers and the assistant were. They try, but the resource and bureaucratic constraints, along with the baggage the kids bring, makes the job near impossible.

          On the other end, my wife still assists with her sorority at the private college we attended. All the women went to private high schools or public schools in wealthy areas. My wife once showed me their applications to the sorority. It was unbelievable. The extra curriculum activities were off the charts. All I could say to myself as looked at the lists was this is total BS resume padding (because there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all these things) or these young people will all have breakdowns from stress. Most likely both.

          What an F-ed up society we live in. Built to physically and emotionally break people.

  2. Michaelmas

    I feel for this lady and her husband. In a reasonable country, there’d be an investment in educating the next generation to the height of their potential and having as many scientists, doctors, and whatever as necessary. Because they’re the country’s future, right?

    But this is the US. So education of the next generation isn’t an investment, but another opportunity to exploit some mass of people. Of those Americans today who make it through university, many will be loaded with student debt they won’t pay off in many cases till their fifties or, in some cases, never. Just as, similarly, the US ‘healthcare’ system is constructed to prioritize looting $7-8 percent of annual US GDP and feeding it to the rich over maintaining the health of its workers.

    Why is the US like this?

    It’s because if you look at its actual history its wealthiest elites — its Owners — from its colonial beginnings in the 1600s to today have always prioritized having a labor force they could pay nothing or as little as possible to. From indentured servants, to African slaves, to poor, huddled masses in the 19th century, to Asian refugees, and, today, entire towns in the outer SF Bay Area mostly populated by H1B visas, the Owners have always been able to count on importing a new cheap force of immigrants to exploit.

    And that’s why they think they can prioritize exploitation over educating the next generation of workers today. They believe they’ll just import more cheap labor from elsewhere in the world. That’s the reason for the carelessness with the million Americans dead from Covid, too, not incidentally. Underneath the rhetoric, the US has always been a colonial kleptocracy like Brazil and the Owners of this country do not care about the broad mass of Americans except as a resource to be exploited. If they need more Americans because a segment of the labor force becomes incapacitated by Long Covid, they believe they’ll simply import them

    And that’s their mentality. Yes, there was a brief period under the New Deal when that wasn’t the case, and during that period the US had the richest middle class in history and went to the Moon. But the Owners of this country didn’t like that and wanted their country back. And now they’ve got it.

    So I’m sorry for this lady and her husband. But things are very unlikely to change for the better as regards education in the US.

  3. Another Scott

    One of the other aspects that has hurt public schools (at least from my outside viewpoint) is that there appears to be an increasingly large administrative presence at the school, district, and state level (and my understanding is that much of the federal money goes through the states before being sent to the schools). Textbook prices seem very high and the replacement cycle seems much more rapid than in years past. In addition, there have been large cost increases in the construction costs. This means that additional spending on public education won’t necessarily go towards the students until all of these additional forces have taken their share.

    1. JBird4049

      Textbooks are not only increasingly expensive, their period of use in class is down. At least in California, the textbook makers got the state legislature to limit the age of the textbooks used. IIRC, five years from the original print date, which could make sense for a few subjects as even anthropology can rapidly change. But general history, math, or language? It can be decades. Latin hasn’t changed much recently. However, the teachers and students no longer can use the backlog of old books.

      So complain about how expensive education is, but it appears that funding needed for silly things like paying teachers has been declining. Most of my teachers have been adjuncts instead of full time teachers. But I am sure that the state will keep finding reasons to not do so.

  4. griffen

    It isn’t rural Connecticut, but a family member has retold stories of really bad behavior from elementary school age children in Greenville County, SC. Like 3rd graders who talk like sailors, and while I’m uncertain if spit was involved my niece apparently hit the limit this school year. Five to six years is enough of it, and she wants to remain in education but no longer in the classroom.

    Bad behavior is typically learned somewhere else, and no doubt these intervention / educator roles as in the telling above have met their match. Little demons can’t run the place but they can ruin the setting.

    1. anon y'mouse

      to remain in ed, but no longer in the classroom i fear means that she will very likely become a part of that administrative bloat.

      my mother-in-law taught a bunch of these people how to write well enough to pass their Masters in Ed, after having spent 20 years in the classrooms of k-12 they couldn’t hack. she said none of them really was up to much academically and simply wanted more money and social standing (more important than you think, since the perception is common that teachers do nearly nothing, are the failures of the rest of society and get 3-4 months vacation time) for less work. and their work mostly involves telling teachers, who are still bearing up in the classrooms, what to do.

      part of the problem and not the solution. i hope your relative finds a better solution.

  5. jhallc

    My daughter teaches pre-K (3-4 year olds) with moderate to severe autistims in a blue collar suburb outside Boston. She was a classroom Special Education (SPED) aide for two years in a wealthy suburb before getting her teaching degree and a Masters Degree in Severe Disability. In the wealthy system there were always two aides plus the teacher in a class of 8-10 kids. She is in her fourth year as a lead teacher. The past few years has been a struggle for her. She has had class sizes of 7-9 kids with has had only one SPED aide in the class almost the entire time. They are supposed to have two SPED aides and were told that the class sizes would max out at six kids if they only had one aide. However, the district had an unexpected increase in the number of children. If one child acts out, the whole class can erupt. Behaviors involve jumping/climbing on desks, running for the door and hitting others/themselves. Keeping a lid on the chaos is stressful. She calls me in tears at times due to the stress of managing to keep them safe.
    The teachers finally complained thru the union about the lack of in class support and a letter was sent to the District SPED Director. The Director responded by coming to the school (he hadn’t set foot in the building all year) and basically berated them and said they should buck up because they were not going to get any new aides before the end of the school year. They apparently can’t find people to hire and the existing ones just keep quitting. The school “principle” is a teacher who was placed in the position temporarily and she has little ability to compete for resources with the other schools. I’m guessing the pay for SPED aides is too low and if there are not two in a classroom the added stress is just not worth it. They can always find other work or go to a wealthier suburb. But, hey… more Javelins to throw around is important!

  6. Alice X

    The most powerful education system in America is centered on Madison Avenue. Its tentacles are everywhere. How much time a child spends in front of a television or other media device compared to the time she spends reading a book is worth considering.

    You can’t consume much if you sit still and read books.

    ― Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

  7. Glossolalia

    It’s ironic that the NPR crowd who, with furrowed brows, say we need more money for education, are banging the war drums the loudest these days.

  8. SoftwareGuy

    I do not buy the idea that Public Schools do not get enough money. Our local public schools spend around $15k/student with classes routinely having 24 kids in them. This amounts to $360K/class. A teacher, with benefits is paid $80K. The rest of the money is spent in who knows what. After visiting the local school we ended up taking our kids to a private school with the tuition being around the same as what the public schools spend per student. There are 11/13 children per class and there is 1 teacher….no aides. My conclusion for a long time has been that Pentagon and the Ed Depts are “make job” programs and they stopped being solely about defense and/or children’s education a long time ago. I do not buy the sob stories about the “English Language Learners” etc….they are just excuses for another person to be hired as “Coordinator of ESL” who will “oversee” curriculums etc….There is a reason our elites have turned into modern day aristocracies……our local politicians stopped caring about the kids a long time ago. There is a reason why are elites are getting stupider as well…..they stopped having competition because our schools crank out half educated children.

  9. Screwball

    NW Ohio, rural town of 17K, 30k+ in county.

    I spent the last 3 years teaching a STEM class to a local vocational school. This school pulled from 14 various high schools, so I got to see a broad cross section of kids.

    What a mess.

    Their equipment (computers) were old, slow, and had constant issues. The administration was more about marketing than education. They were good at boasting about all the things they were doing, but the kids themselves struggle. They are not prepared coming from their regular high school that they spent part of the day in, and there is not much learning going on here either. They are not ready, but forced into my class because it make their numbers look good.

    They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to remodel the facade of the building, while the same crap computers and equipment stayed the same. But the admin got new offices along with the new facade so it was all good.

    Some kids were obviously drugged up to keep them from going goofy. Many did nothing but play on their phone, as there was little interest in learning. I was told in so many words I was not allowed to flunk anyone. Many of these so-called high school kids could not read, write, or add and subtract. A 15 question test on fractions resulted in 3 correct answers in 12 students – and this is high school. After 3 years, I told them to stick it. It was nothing but a chaotic zoo.

    My golf partner is a bus driver. He is giving it up after this year for the same reasons – kids have no respect, no interest in listening, and no support from the school administrations AND the parents. And to me that is the key word – parents.

    We as educational employees cannot do our job effectively if we are given little to nothing to work with. Kids cuss like sailors, won’t listen, won’t pay attention, have no respect, and do whatever they want to do – and get away with it. The parents many times are no help, and often a bigger problem because they only want to blame the school. They should look in the mirror – it all starts there.

    We can blame many things in this dysfunctional system, but IMNSHO, it all starts at home. Unfortunately, many of these kids have been failed at home too. How you change that I have no clue. Sad situation, and not good for our collective future.

    1. sadie the cat

      I never agree with the expression “It takes a village to raise a child”. My opinion is that it takes a parent. If the parents don’t teach their child basic respect, then that child is not going to listen to me, the villager.

  10. dave in Austin

    On Yves: “Perhaps I am badly out of touch with conditions in American schools, but this is simply grim. It points to poor parenting/family breakdown as well as a widespread lack of respect for authority.”

    I think Yves and I were both beneficiaries of hard-working, success-oriented parents who made life decisions based partly on schooling for their children. And today many parents faced with the issues discussed by Patrick’s wife, are simple moving to safer school districts with fewer students that require extra effort, be they the children of single mother or the children of immigrants who face language and cultural issues. And more money simply doesn’t solve the problem of students spitting on teachers. First year teachers can always find jobs in bad schools. Then they either leave the profession or they go off to better districts.

    No Judge would allow a person in the courtroom to call the Judge a “Mother F…er” or spitting on the bailiff, but Judges have no problem telling teachers- and the other students- thay must put up with this behavior. And needless to say, the Judge’s children don’t go to schools where this is allowed.

    Faced with this intractable problem, we have “the great sorting”, parents voting with their feet. And it is always a surprise to people of Yves and my generation who don’t have children and grandchildren in public schools when we are confronted with the modern American public school problems.

  11. Utah

    I just finished student teaching so that I can become a teacher. I was at a mid level high school. Not anywhere near the best, but still not too bad all things considered. I am getting my certification to teach science because that’s my background. My district didn’t have a textbook for me. I was expected to teach biology to students, sped to gifted, without a textbook, and then differentiate the content for those needs. In class sizes ranging from 32-40.

    They took their annual exam my last day, half of the students didn’t even try, they chose an answer and were done with the test in 5 minutes for a 60 minute test.

    They sit on their phones all day long, or are on their Chromebooks playing games. They are too stressed out for school. And yet I still had to teach them the standards like they cared. I think that teachers and schools are treated like they are responsible for raising kids, and then the vocal minority is mad about that. Oh, and I have a massive project that I have to pay Pearson the privilege of doing in order to graduate (for when you wonder why there aren’t enough teachers).

    If you want to see what’s going on, go substitute for a week or so. It’s insane.

  12. PKMKII

    I think a big part of the problem is that we have these classrooms with inadequate teacher to student ratios; talk of lowering that ratio brings out the TINA crowds. So all these auxiliary administrative and support functions emerge as de facto fixes for the problems created by large class sizes. And because said administrative and support functions exist as their own separate units from the rank and file teachers, they all come with their own bureaucracies and PMC above them, and of course bloat in that class is not criticized. After all, they’re the qualified and credentialed, they must be value added.

  13. Vicki H

    Public school has gotten horrifically worse based on the article and the comments. I can’t see why anyone would want to go into teaching as a profession if they know ahead of time what’s in store. Obviously Covid has thrown a huge wrench into an already messed up system. No one was prepared for that but they should have been. Pandemic preparedness was on the Obama agenda from what I understand but I suppose Trump killed it. Anyway, my experience in public school in the 70’s was mediocre, in a working class town with an ok system. The crazy stuff didn’t happen but it was certainly not inspiring. The basic system prepares kids, now more than ever, for the corporate arena where you will continue to sit in a chair, read stuff you are mostly not interested, behave yourself and listen to authority if you want to succeed. It’s worse now with helicopter parenting where kids are never wrong and need to be handled with cotton wool and have to work on their resumes from the time they are 10 (in upper middle and wealthy areas) but also due to teaching to the test, which the teachers have no say in. Kids, especially teens, are often miserable in class as their minds are not on it and they are forced to get up too early for their body chemistry. Add to that poor systems with kids coming in who haven’t eaten well and who may have families struggling so hard they can’t give support to their own children. And of course if you get through all that and go to college, get ready for the utterly corrupt and predatory student loan system. The vo-tech schools of the old days need to come back to teach crafts that kids can use to get jobs and also be doing something physical if that’s what will keep them from going nuts. Enormous problems, no political will to fix.

  14. Mike

    It’s hard not to also give a side-eye to charter schools — grifts which have a habit of sucking funding away from public schools as well.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      Perhaps charter schools which get any public tax money assistance should be forbidden to exclude any hard-of-learning student whose parents want to get their child into that school.

      Take the public’s money? Take the public’s children.

  15. Palaver

    I won’t defend the military industrial complex but they do excel at training , which is more than the “education” many students receive. I’ve been through a gambit of educational experiences from religious schools, to public schools, to international schools and military academies. There’s no incentive more powerful than suffering the immediate consequences of poor planning and decision making.

    Military schools must hire the people they graduate and if a bad batch comes off the line they retool the academies. Of course, nothing is perfect. However, everyone else passes the buck, some more gracefully than others, but eventually the wheels do fall off.

    As for the general collapse in family and parenting, congrats on becoming old. If the parents don’t care and the kids don’t care, don’t add to your grey hairs. There are more deserving people on this planet who won’t punish a good deed.

    What really keeps good middle class people up at night is the possibility, nay likelihood, that these kids might end up in our criminal justice system. Another, fear, expense, and embarrassing statistic from a country that is forgetting how to do anything right. If only our grandparents were still around, we’d codify all that conventional wisdom we forgot to write down.

    If I were to look for any conspiracy, I would accuse our education system of turning the children of the poor into canon fodder for the military. But the obesity rate among children would count as a strike against that theory. Though, a botched conspiracy and having no plan would probably look the same with the current crop of D- politicians. I feel uneducated every time I vote for them. If adults are failing children at the ballot box then those children deserve a vote. Otherwise, they get to be the victims all their life.

    1. Joe Well

      The few recent Army vets I’ve talked to had a very poor opinion of basic training. Unnecessarily dangerous with recruits getting badly injured and basically learning to lose all respect for the military, especially their incompetent and insecure leaders in boot camp. It sounded like McDonald’s or some other low-wage job.

      >>There’s no incentive more powerful than suffering the immediate consequences of poor planning and decision making.

      When has that been the case in the US military? Maybe fragging in the Vietnam era?

  16. CallMeTeach (retired)

    I read this article early, then went to substitute all day, and I was haunted by it. The kids that I dealt with were just as others mentioned: on their phones when I wasn’t looking and less than interested in what they were to do. I try to chalk it up to me being a sub, but I know that’s not the entire answer. As Utah above noted,”these kids are too stressed to learn,” and the fact is, there’s no teacher who can adequately address all those needs. Society at large has decided that teachers are the end all and be all of the world. No longer is it “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” Now it’s SEL, psychological support, and basic parenting. (Did you know that some parents send littles to school not being toilet trained fully expecting the teacher to do it?)

    The post noted what it was like to be a specialist dealing with an out of control kid. Now consider what it is like to be a student in that same class: Brad (or whatever his name is) loses control because the teacher made a simple request such as “stay in your seat” or “complete this math problem” or “keep your hands to yourself.”
    When Brad loses control he destroys the classroom–as noted in the post–he rips posters off of the wall, tips over desks, throws things. All of this occurs while other students are in the room. THEIR learning is disrupted. Then all of the other students must leave the room and go to the library with their teacher. Again, their learning is in peril. There is no way to get the lesson truly back on track, So while the traumatized student rages, all of the others suffer. This is too often lost in translation, and this is one of the reasons I retired as soon as I could. Many students have their learning imperiled by the few who cannot control themselves n(and this is frequently determined by law, not teacher choice.) I think if parents understood how much their own children suffer because of others, they would be horrified. Those that DO understand move their kids into other classrooms.

    Since I have fully left the classroom, I have returned, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for weeks at a time, and I can tell you one thing: many of these kids are…feral. They don’t know how to behave period, let alone in a school setting. Teaching as a profession has long been left to those who truly believed in the calling and those who could do little else. (I was at the top of my class and could have gone anywhere, but I chose teaching. There were few like me when I started and even fewer when I left. But be honest: who would go into teaching given the pay and abuse we take? Those who complain about the caliber of teachers must look at themselves. You don’t get a Porsche at a Yugo price. Why would you get top of the line teachers for a pittance? If it’s so easy, go try it for a few weeks. I bet you’ll be sobbing in your classroom by the end of the second week.) But back to the point–parents have dropped the ball. I understand many, many are under water socially and emotionally. I understand that many have two or three jobs. I get it. I really, I do, but that doesn’t help the teacher or students in the above situation. When that teacher called home, it is very, very likely that she was cussed out or told not to call again or told that she was picking on the child. Kids tend not to behave the way the noted child did when parents are engaged.

    In the end, I don’t have any answers. I DO know that by and large, teachers are not to blame. Those that complain about the per student cost need to investigate how dollars are allotted to schools. In most cases, dollars are tied to populations and cannot legally be shifted to other priorities. So if X amount of dollars is earmarked for textbooks, the remainder (or any of it) cannot be shifted to a different budget line. Education law is arcane, complicated, and varies from state to state, but most of the time, it ties the hands of principals and building level admin. And those that complain should spend a serious amount of time in schools before offering advice. Education is a curious animal and must be understood before prescribing solutions.

    1. sadie the cat

      Amen. As I commented earlier, it takes a parent to raise a child, not a village. Education starts in the home.

      My parents read to me when I was a toddler. A dictionary was always on the coffee table. Correct grammar was a big deal. Kids are sponges. Many start pre-school with vocabularies, the alphabet and some numbers under their belts. Teachers must accommodate them as well as kids who come in without any such skills. The latter kids get frustrated and unruly. Thanks to social promotion, they probably feel lost for their entire lives.

      There was a Freakeconomics article which documented that minority kids who came from a home which stressed education, discipline, good grades and the like, had just as much or more success than minority kids who got special grants to go to Ivy League schools.

      About money spent per child: I used to live in an upper middle class town in NJ. We spent about $7k per child (1990’s). The school system was excellent. Meanwhile NJ Governors all decried the property-tax system and claimed that it disadvantaged minority students in poorer towns like Newark, where the schools were known to be crummy (a friend taught in Newark public schools; she bought supplies from her own pocket, helped kids buy lunch. There never was enough money for textbooks, which were old, outdated). The pols wanted to tax incomes to rectify the so-called “imbalances”. There were imbalances alright, but not the ones you’d expect. Per the annual NYTimes survey of money spent per child in NJ public schools, over $11k was spent per child in Newark vs $7k in our town. Throwing more money at the problem was, and is, not a solution. I always assumed that the extra $4k went to graft or highly-paid administrators.

      Finally, re the feral kids who impede other kids from learning: Disrupters used to get suspended in NYC after x-number of infractions. But then somebody pointed out that most of the suspended kids were minorities, making it about skin color, not behavior. Now teachers are either unable to suspend kids or have to jump through many more hurdles.

      This helps no one. We should be thinking: ABC. Attitude and Behavior, not Color,

      Another idealist friend, dedicated to inner-city social justice, joined Teach NY. He stuck it out for about 5 years. What broke his heart most were the kids who WANTED to learn but couldn’t because of the disrupters who took up all the time and teacher-energy. While he sympathized with the home-circumstances of the disrupters, he felt he was well-equipped to teach, but ill-equipped to be a social-worker-cum-security guard.

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