by cheri block
In the March 31st edition of The Economist magazine, Andreas Kluth wrote a piece that warmed my heart. Warmed it like a blow torch.
Although the subject of his article is education here in California,the problems the article addresses are endemic in many parts of the United States.
Here are several paragraphs from the piece. (I would have linked it to The Economist website, but one has to be a subscriber to access print edition articles.)
Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist who is trying to reform education, blames a combination of California’s dysfunctional governance, with “elected school boards made up of wannabes and unions”, and the fact that the state’s teachers’ union is both more powerful and “more regressive” than elsewhere. The California Teachers Association (CTA) is the biggest lobby in the state, having spent some $210m in the past decade—more than any other group— to intervene in California’s politics.
The CTA has used its money to defeat almost any reform that might have turned the standards into reality. It helped to defeat ballot measures that, for example, would have given California a school-voucher system and changed the probation period for teachers. It ensured that the state has “laughably easy teacher tests”, as Mr Petrilli puts it. It is also the biggest donor to the state’s Democratic Party.
I spent 26 years teaching in California public education. I left in 1998, fed up with most aspects of the system, to open my own little gig beholden only to the marketplace. I hung out a shingle which read Reading, Writing, and Grammar. We are still in business.
Yesterday, I received this e-mail from one of our clients, a recent immigrant from Beijing. I have taken out the proper nouns to protect his anonymity. His daughter is an 8th grader, enrolled in a grammar class I teach for students in grades 6-8.
By the way, the California State Standards mandate that teachers are to teach English grammar during the 5th-9th grades. In our district, grammar is taught by very few teachers. One reason for this is that in California universities, English majors do NOT have to take a Form and Usage of English course to graduate, so few English teachers really know their grammar.
Here is the e-mail. Keep in mind that this person’s first language is Mandarin.
Dear Mrs. Sabraw,
By the way, I received a call from XXXX’s English teacher at XXXX. Somehow, she found out that XXXX is attending extra class for her English grammar. She said XXXX shouldn’t take grammar so early and should focus on reading and writing as well as vocabulary, and grammar should wait until 10th grade.
Personally, I don’t think there is a conflict since what she has been learning are all basic stuff, and grammar should help her other parts in learning English. What’s your opinion on this? What are the plans in general for English learning among public high schools in California?
I promised Andreas long ago that I would never again rant about the sad state of public education in California. This is a promise I have kept.
My client’s last question will never be answered in any coherent way here in the Golden State until the power of the union is restrained.
Pretty nice building in Sacramento, don’t you think?