The twenty years that I spent as an educator for the Lodi Unified School District in California's San Joaquin Valley give me grave concerns for the students who will be products of the K-12 system in future years.
In my position as an adult English as a second language teacher, I hired bilingual high school teaching aides to help with complex enrollment process and to generally put the students at ease. Since most of the new pupils had never been in a classroom in their lives, they were nervous. Having someone speak to them in their own language helped assuage their fears.
My teaching aides represent the 75 percent of California high school students that will actually graduate. You've read a considerable amount about the remaining 25 percent, the 121,292 who drop out every year—what an outrage it is and what might possibly become of them as they drift into adulthood.
While it's possible that some of the failures might get their GED certificates or learn a valuable trade, the majority of those who don't get a diploma are almost certain to live on the fringe…or worse.
"Each annual wave of dropouts costs the state $46.4 billion over their lifetimes because people without a high school diploma are the most likely to be unemployed, turn to crime, need state-funded medical care, get welfare and pay no taxes, according to the report." [High School Drop Outs Cost State Billions, by Nanette Asimov, San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 2008]
But what will become of my guys who, one can argue, are among the cream of the K-12 crop?
They stood out among their peers because:
They took the initiative to look for a job, particularly one that's not in fast food
Maintained a 2.0 GPA, the minimum to obtain a California work permit for minor students.
Instilled enough confidence in their high school work experience counselor to have him sign off on the work permit.
Had the support and encouragement of at least one parent who must also sign.
So far, so good.
But what I eventually learned about my young aides was that they knew practically nothing about any subject.
At no time during my two decades did one single aide spell "a-i-d-e" correctly on the job application, writing it instead as "a-i-d."
Basic math, especially without a calculator, was a challenge. I wasn't surprised when a fellow California teacher wrote to VDARE.COM that she suspected few students could do long division with decimals.
Geography was a particularly troubling subject.
No one could point to Stockton, where they lived, on a blank map of California.
None could identify the Sierra Nevada Mountains, although they were visible from their home.
Only a handful could quickly tell me the difference between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The now compulsory California Exit Exam changes little. Few graduates still have any grasp of core curriculum subjects. The Senior Project, a writing assignment mandatory for graduation, produces few well-written essays. Of all the subjects the current crop of students struggle with, composition is at the top of this list.
For the most part, my aides followed my simple three-step formula (that I never shared with them but which I hold as tried and true) to earn a high school diploma:
Don't cut class
Turn in your assignments and take your tests on time
Don't make trouble
And why wouldn't they? The profession remains one that, despite it all, is admired. And when many of these young first generation immigrants announce their plans to pursue a teaching career, it's a cause for a family celebration.
Early on, when I talked to my aides about their career plans, they told me of their aspirations to be lawyers or perhaps doctors. But they weren't far into their university days before they realized that those professions were out of reach because they require a solid academic foundation which my young friends did not have.
Those "qualities" will, tragically, be reinforced during their university years.
Upon graduating from college, the end product then will be an under-informed, not too intellectually curious individual who will have the responsibility for preparing your child for the real world.
Not long ago, I got a phone call from a former Vietnamese aide who was several cuts above the average. She had just graduated from the University of Southern California Dentistry School.
After we shared some laughs about the old days, she told me:
"In all my years in school, I never heard any one express ideas similar to yours. No one ever challenged me to look at the opposite side of social issues. I still don't agree with you about everything you say but I see things a lot differently now."
Her comment is both flattering and depressing.
I have to assume that neither academic standards nor the politically correct environment in public schools will improve in our life time.
That leaves parents with three viable options:
Somehow impress upon children that they will get out of public school exactly what they put into it. Hard work—theirs and yours—may still pay off.
Private school—start saving now.
California public education—forty years ago America's best—has been killed by immigration. And to this day, no one in Sacramento's Department of Education will admit it, much less take steps to correct it.Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.