Inner city education in US

I’m back.  During the break, I watched a lot of football games.  As an Ohioan, I feel proud that the Browns tied with the Steelers during the first game.  That’s cautiously encouraging for the Browns.

I just finished reading the book “Man Overboard: Confessions of a Novice Math Teacher in the Bronx” by Ric Klass.  This book is so good, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

If you want to know how an inner city high school runs in US, I highly recommend this book.  It’s guaranteed you’ll get a good laugh from it.

I have to admit that, Mr. Klass was very talented, super passionate about helping young kids, and had great humors.  This book opened my eyes about the education in America.

After laughing my head off about Mr. Klass’ hilarious stories, I really feel sad, vey very sad.  Borrowing the quote from Apollo 13: “Houston, we have a problem”.  The inner city kids are failing on their K12 education, and it’s a huge deal.

This book was published in 2006.  Unfortunately Mr. Klass passed away in July 2013 at 67, such a young age.

He grew up in Bexley, Ohio, a couple of miles away from where I live.  He attended the Bexley High School, one of the best schools in central Ohio.

He got his bachelor degree from MIT related to aerospace engineering, and worked on the Apollo projects for many years.  That IS rocket science.

He got one master degree on engineering from USC, MBA from Harvard, and the 3rd master degree on education from Mercy College in NYC.  What an overachiever.

Besides his prestigious engineering career at NASA, he had a lot of career adventures: being a market researcher, economic consultant, investment banker, university lecturer, filmmaker, writer, etc.

In 2003, he felt the calling of teaching high school math to disadvantaged kids in a public school.  This book talked about his experience as a rookie math teacher in Bronx in the New York City.

Let me share my two cents after reading this book:

Most of the students didn’t want to learn:

In Mr. Klass’ eyes, the biggest issue was maintaining the classroom order.  This was the same issue all his peer colleagues in that high school were facing.  It was such a big struggle to ask the kids to sit down, and be quiet so he could lecture.

Many kids even didn’t bother to take out the pencils, and make notes.  As a student, making notes is a must, right?  Nobody has that fantastic memory to remember everything.  Writing stuff down helps to review later, and get the stuff sink down to the brain bit by bit.

The teachers had to beg the students over and over again:  please, learn the math.  But it fell on deaf ears.

Why do students refuse to learn?  I’m probably too naive, and ask a billion-dollar question nobody has an answer for.  Why?

I grew up in mid 1960s in China.  The education in that remote village was far behind the big cities like Beijing or Shanghai.

The teachers were not well equipped, in terms of their skills, funding, or facilities.  None of my teachers in the primary and middle schools had a college degree.

But, the teachers were really given the power to control the classrooms.  They were the king.  No kids dared to make noises, or interrupt the lecture.  Otherwise, the kids had to face severe consequences at the school, and later at home.

I’m against the corporal punishment.  But discipline is necessary to maintain the order of classrooms.

Some kids didn’t want to learn in that village.  Let me rephrase them.  Probably they wanted to learn, but were far behind, and could never ever catch up.  They just gave up.

But, many kids put a lot of efforts in, and wanted to have a good score.  In some sense, the kids wanted to please the teachers and their parents.  We were too young to realize how important the school work was for our future.

When I was in the high school, obviously hard work was a must, considering the college admission rate was around 2-3% nationwide then.  If a kid wanted to get to college, goofing off was not an option.

Most of my high school teachers had college degrees.  They walked extra and extra miles, and did a superb job in pushing and squeezing us the teenagers to college.  My English teachers helped me from the very beginning of ABCs, and got me ready for college within 2 years.

I can never thank them enough for their devotion, dedication and kindness.  Thank you very much, all my beloved teachers.  You changed my life.

Back to our story in Mr. Klass’ book, I’m baffled.  High school kids are not that too young any more.  Don’t they realize time is running out before facing the future and brutal reality?

Going to college or working after high school, knowledge and good discipline helps a young person to stand out.  Even a super-teacher like Mr. Klass can only do limited things to help.  At the end of the day, it’s still each student’s call.

Wake up, young kids, for your own sake.

Where are the parents?

I know I’m asking a stupid question again.  High school kids are still kids, sort of.  That’s why they still need adult parents’ guidance, push, nudge, and help.

As a mom of one adult child, I know it’s not fun to deal with kid’s school work.  But, do we have an option?  No, we have to do it.

Mr. Klass mentioned that, during the parent-teacher conference, only quite a few parents showed up in the whole school.  Where are the parents?  Don’t they want to know how their kids are doing in the school?

Teachers are so eager to share the information with them.  Teachers desperately need parents’ help.  Please help the teachers to succeed, and more importantly, help their own kids to succeed.

I understand the failing school system has a never-ending list to blame: funding, resources, bureaucracy, on and on.

As parents, they may not have money, but should have some time at least.  Kids may not know how critical education is for their future, but parents should know, and should tell their kids.

Mr. Klass noticed that, many kids in his class didn’t have a calculator, though many many times he asked those kids to get one. It only costs 9 bucks.

You know what did the kids say?  “We don’t have the money.”  But they had cell phones, and their running shoes are 4-5 times more expensive than my shoes.

Again, can the parents buy a calculator for their kids please?  Where are the parents?

I’d better stop whining:

America is such a great country full of talented and caring people like Mr. Klass.  Why has our inner city K12 education been failing so miserably for decades?

Probably we have not found the problem source yet.  Band-aids are not going to solve this complicated education issue.  I’d better shut up.

What do you think?  How to save those innocent inner city kids?  We can’t leave them behind.  Or can we?

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4 Responses

  1. GYM says:

    That sounds like an interesting book. I like to read about the bios of authors or actors too when I am affected by their work. I don’t think teachers realize how inspiring they can be. I still remember most of my teachers names, they played a large part in the ‘moulding’ of who I am today.

    • Retire Early Helen says:

      It’s a good book. It needs a lot of courage to switch career to be a teacher. In US, especially in the inner city schools, teaching is tough. There are a lot of obstacles the teachers have to jump through. But it’s a very rewarding career.

  2. Katrin says:

    Long-time follower and so glad you’re back – from your last post I thought you’d take a longer break. I really enjoy your content and you’re original angle of view. Keep up the good work!

    All the best


    • Retire Early Helen says:

      Katrin, thank you. I’m glad you like it. Yeah, I was thinking about taking a break. Then after reading this book, I really loved this book, and can’t wait to write about it and share with everyone.

      It has been a long time the inner city schools are struggling. I feel bad for those kids. They are so innocent. On the other hand, I also see the hope: many people like Mr. Klass are so passionate to change the status quo, and willing to walk extra miles to help the kids.

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