by David Safier
Want to see what's wrong with our education system and today's youth? Nothing could be easier. Low test scores, high drop out rates, drug deals in the cafeteria — you name it, we've got it.
Even worse, Socrates is corrupting the youth of Athens. Oh wait, that's reaching a little too far, back, isn't it.
But there are other places where you can see what's right with our youth. Like my classrooms during my last few years of teaching, for instance, filled with predominantly decent and lovable high school students, not all of whom were hard working, but most of whom were willing to go along for the ride. They were certainly no less hard working or cooperative than my first crops of students in the early 1970s. For my money, they were easier to work with, but that could be because I was more experienced, I don't know.
You can also look at Rhonda Bodfield's article in today's Star, More students getting ahead with AP classes. The picture she paints is miles away from the "Blackboard Jungle" scenario that gets so much press. [Historical note: The film, "Blackboard Jungle" came out in 1955. It showed how uncontrollable and unteachable high school students were. That was the 50s, which were the good ol' days according to conservatives, a time when children obeyed their parents and their teachers, not like today. Song over the opening credits: Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock." Newcomer star: a very young Sidney Poitier.] [Second Historical note: 1955 was also the year the famous book, "Why Johnny Can't Read," was published.]
Bodfield writes about high school students taking AP courses.
But there was another reason she pushed herself, even though the first course she took came as an awakening. For the first time, she found herself threatened with a B.
"I really felt that school is there for us to learn, and I felt that the learning would be more complete," she said. "And since it forces you to have discipline and set goals, I just felt those experiences would shape me for college."
Brian Koppy, who teaches both Advanced Placement and regular government classes at Tucson High, sees a big difference between the two.
"I hate to use the phrase 'watered-down' when we're talking about the regular government curriculum, but it really is more about the application of government versus the more comprehensive, in-depth approach that's taken in an AP class."
When his regular government students leave his class, he said, they'll understand the role of voters, their rights if they're stopped by police, the function of the courts and why taxes are assessed.
His AP students, on the other hand, listen to National Public Radio, tune in to political debates and share Newsweek articles that caught their notice, he said. Those students learn from a different and more sophisticated textbook.
And instead of just learning about the Federalist Papers in principle, they read them, dense language and all.
The good news is, twice as many Arizona students are taking AP classes today than in 2003. Of course, the student population has grown, so I don't know if that's a percentage as well as a numerical growth. More good news is, 25% of students nationwide take at least one AP exam, and if they pass, they earn college credit. The less good news is, that number is only 14% in Arizona. But many students who take AP classes don't take the college credit exams. And plenty of college prep high school classes don't carry AP credit. So the AP test numbers are only part of the picture.
Our high schools are filled with young people who should make us optimistic about our future — if we leave them a future worth being optimistic about, that is. Our best public schools, and there are many, are doing a respectable-to-excellent job of educating their students, and even in some of the less successful schools, there are pockets of excellence.
To say, "U.S. education stinks" is defeatist and counter productive. We need to focus on and fix the weakest parts of our educational systems while we strive to make the strongest parts even stronger.