I had the good fortune today to speak to the mother of one of my all-time most useless students, an altogether pointless creature we'll call "E." "E" hasn't turned in any homework or assignments in over a year (he was a student of mine last year as well), wastes entire class periods writing a sentence on a piece of looseleaf, crumpling up said looseleaf, and then writing the same sentence over again, and concocting excuses as though he was paid to create them. The excuses for his lack of work range from "I didn't have a pencil," to, "I was sick for a week," to, "Everyone in my family was abducted by Somali pirates." Over the last year and a half he has failed every major subject for every marking period. In fact, he wasn't even supposed to be promoted to 8th grade, but, hey, holdover rates make Bloomberg look bad, and thus, was in fact pushed along. Every time someone says that "social promotion" in the NYC Dept. of Education is a myth, I chuckle, then punch them repeatedly in the neck.
In any case, yesterday, one of my colleagues took away "E's" Sidekick mobile phone. Yes, cell phones and other electronic gadgets are prohibited in NYC schools, but little things like rules, policies, and laws don't mean a hill of beans to today's parents – if their darling little pantswetter wants his iPod, then damn the man, he's going to be allowed to bring in his iPod. As soon as his mother found out that her son's electronic distraction was confiscated, she roared up to the school with an axe to grind. Understand, dear readers, that "E's" mother has never visited the school for any reason, despite the fact that she has been called in numerous times by teachers and administrators to discuss her son's educational failings. Not once.
Here's the conversation that I, another of my colleagues, and the mother had concerning the incident. Please keep in mind that I was five minutes late to the meeting, and as such, missed the opening salvo:
Mom: I don't understand why y'all had to take away E's phone – other students have their phones in school too! (Note – this is a common, albeit retarded argument that every parent attempts to make – why are you singling out my kid when others are just as rotten?)
Me: Are you the parent of those kids too?
Me: Then don't worry about them. Worry about "E." He was playing with his phone in class, and hence, he had it taken away. If we didn't see it, then nothing would have happened.
Mom: But he's not the only one!
Me: You used that argument already; sing a different tune.
Mom: Y'all are just picking on him. It's always "E," no one else gets in trouble!
Colleague: No one is picking on your son – he broke the rules, we took away his phone. We do it all the time, trust me, he's not the only one.
Me: And even if he was the only one, you should be a lot more concerned about his classroom performance than his cell phone. You realize that he is failing, right?
Mom: I don't know why, "E" tells me he does all of his work!
Me: And yet, he actually doesn't. He still owes me assignments from last year. He's failing. We sent you a progress report a month ago where it clearly states the amount of work he is missing.
Mom: I didn't get no progress report.
Me: Well, we sent them out. Just like we do every year – it's not like this is a new procedure or something. (Note, progress reports are sent out one month before the end of the semester).
Colleague: What I find interesting is that we have sent home four separate notices for you to come pick up your son's report card from last semester, and you ignored all of them, and yet here you are today, 12 hours after we took away his cell phone.
Mom: I don't understand.
Me: What Mrs. My Colleague is saying is that it seems that you place a lot of importance on a cell phone, but not very much importance on your son's education. You know, considering that he has been failing everything for the past year and a half and all.
Mom: I'm sorry, my English is not so great. I don't understand.
Colleague: (God love her) Your English was pretty good when you came in here yelling at me for taking away his phone!
Mom: (Actually starts rambling in Spanish, despite the fact that she had been conversing with us in English for the past five minutes)
Me: (Looking quizzically at my colleague) Seriously? I speak Spanish, you know. I understood every word you just said. (I really don't speak Spanish, but I know enough of it after 9 years in the Bronx to know that she just repeated back in Spanish everything she had already said in English)
Me: Yeah. So, anyway, to sum up, your son doesn't do any work in class, he doesn't do any work at home, and he's failing every subject. He is not going to go to high school. And, apparently, he plays with his phone in class, which is not allowed.
Colleague: And he was late to my class every day this week!
Mom: But it's not only him! Why are you picking on him!?
Me: You know what, we're done here. It's obviously a genetic problem.
The mother storms off down the stairs. My colleague (god love her) waits until she is out of earshot and then goes off on the greatest rant I have ever heard in my life:
"Motherfucker thinks she can come up in here and play me for a fool – Bitch, this is America, speak English when I'm talking to you – Next time I see that motherfucking phone I'm going to throw it out the motherfucking window!"
It took me at least ten minutes to stop laughing.
Epilogue: During class today, "E" spent two straight periods (close to 90 minutes) writing a grand total of three sentences of a five-paragraph essay assignment. He got out of his seat six times to sharpen his pencil, talked about video games with another waste of carbon next to him, and threw a bunch of crumpled up paper (presumably his work) at a girl sitting in an adjacent group.
Now, I'm sure you're all asking yourself, "Why, if he failed every class for two years, was he promoted?" Or perhaps you're saying to yourself, "Maybe the child doesn't understand the work, and maybe that's why he is doing so poorly." Here's my answer to both: "E" was able to be promoted simply because he keeps passing the NY State ELA and Math tests. That's all. That's all the DOE cares about – not if a student is actively engaged in the educational process, not if he learns and assimilates pertinent skills that will someday make him a useful, contributing member of society – only if he manages to pass two, 90-minute tests. Tests that a blind, mentally challenged ferret would have no trouble passing. And if you think that's just me exaggerating, consider this: On the written portion of the test, if a student writes anything – and I mean even a single vertical line – the test graders are not allowed to give him a zero. I've graded the NYS ELA tests five times, and every single time I get into arguments with the supervisors because I flat out refuse to follow the NYS grading policy, something I'll cover in more detail in the near future.
Suffice it to say, that regardless what "E," and thousands of students like him, do in class, he is guaranteed to graduate so long as he can score a little better than a 55% on a test.
NYC DOE– Celebrating Mediocrity for close to a Decade.