Education is Not a Boot Camp

I concede that we live in the “microwave age”. Everyone wants everything immediately. If minimal work in minimum time does not lead to success, the venture is aborted. “Get rich quick” is the mantra of the day. If you do not believe me, look at the number of lottery tickets that are sold on a daily basis or the number of emails you receive from some filthy rich benefactor in another country who is begging you to take his money. People are always looking for a hustle so they don’t have to go to the job they hate anymore. Young people are not trying to hear anything about working for anyone for thirty years for a fraction of what they believe they are worth. They are trying to launch their rapping, singing, fashion, athletic or internet careers and “make that paper” real quick, fast, and in a hurry. Kidpreneurs are getting younger and younger. I am reminded of one of our cheerleading chants . . . “What do we want? Touchdown! When do we want it? Now!” It did not matter that the team was ninety yards from the goal line.  We expected every play to end in a touchdown. Were we delusional? Absolutely!

Unfortunately, the same mentality is being applied in the educational arena.  There are boot camps available for every standardized test, professional license, software program, and latest technology trend.  Promises are made to teach anything and everything in a week. And some even offer to teach you again or give a money back guarantee if the subject matter is not mastered. Of course, the caveat is that you have to follow their guidelines exactly to qualify for either.  Education is a lifelong process and CANNOT be minimized to a boot camp.

The brain is a mighty powerful organ that can absorb and store mountains of knowledge. Studies have stated that the brain can process tens of thousands of thoughts per day. While that may be the case, “brain overload” exists in a real and tangible way. College students pulling overnighters for finals can attest to the realization of a point of diminishing returns when absolutely nothing else can be memorized, learned or calculated. Conservation of knowledge kicks in and something must be eliminated from the brain before something else can be added.  The glass is full and you cannot pour one more drop without an overflow.  I submit this is why boot camps are only beneficial to those you offer them.  Their pockets are full, but the students are left feeling less than nourished.

The approach to education has to be from a lifelong learning approach to obtain the results that society is so desperately seeking.  I offer my journey to obtaining my professional engineer’s license as example of how to approach a test incorrectly and correctly. Licensure was a requirement for promotion as I began my career with a public utility company many years ago.  The first step in the process was to become an Engineer-in-Training by successfully passing a closed-book, eight-hour exam in the fundamentals taught in accredited college engineering programs.  My approach was to study for two hours after work twice a week with other new engineers for about four months. I was able to successfully pass the test the first time I sat for it. The next step in the process was to pass the open-book, professional engineer’s exam after gaining fours engineering experience. I was told that if I knew what I was doing, I would be able to complete the eight required problems in eight hours. Instead of using the same approach that had benefited me the first time, I chose to pull together as many resources that I could and take the test. After all, it was open-book. How did that work for me? I FAILED! Of course I was devastated, but I did not learn my lesson.  I only failed by two points, so I signed up for the next test. My plan was to become more familiar with my resources and study for a few weeks before the test to get the couple of points that I needed.  As usual, the plans of men are soon foiled. I accepted a new job in a new city so my study time was replaced with packing and house hunting. I still sat for the exam because I paid for it and I do not give away money. The results were the same as the first time. I FAILED by three points this time. Well, the licensing board has a mechanism to readjust the focus of prospective professionals by requiring a two-year waiting period before taking the exam the third time. Many of the circumstances were \ the same during my third attempt, but my prospective and focus had changed.  I had just begun a new job in the Atlanta metro area, but my study partner lived in the Myrtle Beach area. During the week, I would work engineering problems from textbooks, study courses, test guides, and 1001 type solved problems books. Every Friday night, I drove to Sumter, South Carolina to leave my two children with my fiancé’.  Early Saturday morning, I drove to my study partner’s house and worked problems with her for four hours.  I then drove back to Sumter on Saturday afternoon and Atlanta on Sunday morning. I did this every week and weekend for four months. I cried when I got the letter from the licensing board. I was now a Licensed Professional Engineer in the state of South Carolina!!! YES!!!

From the highest mountaintop, I scream that the educational system is broken!!!  Teachers are teaching (well, most of them), but most students are not learning.  They are storing the information just long enough to pass the test. I am not going to rant about the recovery process, but know that I am not a fan.  Students are not mastering the knowledge that is being imparted upon them. Teachers do not spend the first few months of school reteaching because of summer learning loss.  They reteach because the information was never learned in the first place.  My heart is broken as students are given credit for courses, but do not carry the ability to perform the concepts in successive courses. I am saddened by the SAT Math scores of students when they should be able to complete the majority of the problems based on the courses they have taken in high school. Education is not a boot camp that can be mastered in a week.  The focus has to be on building knowledge over time.  That is the only way that learning will take place. Our educational system must embrace lifelong learning if any hope of developing productive members of society is to come to fruition.

Did Your Momma Teach You to Be Disrespectful?

My high school had a School Improvement Council whose members consisted of the principal, vice principal, teachers, parents, and one student representative.  I served on the Council as the student representative and my mother was one of the parent representatives.  I won’t go into great deal detail about our relationship, but will just say that the principal had a great disdain for me. I can only speculate about the origin of his dislike because he never verbalized his reasons, but he showed it in every encounter we had throughout my high school career.  Our weekly Council meeting was no different.  He discounted everything I said, would talk over me while I was offering input, and pretty much gave the impression that I added nothing of value. One of my mother’s sayings is that “even a dog deserves the time of day.” Well this dog was fed up and decided to retaliate.  I spoke my peace as if we were two adults having a rational conversation, but my mother quickly put me in my place. “You are my child and I did not raise you to be disrespectful!” Of course, the principal chimed in that I was being disrespectful. Then it was his turn to feel my mother’s wrath. She called him out about his behavior during the entire meeting and chastised him for his inability to separate the needs of the school from his personal feelings. They retired to his office for about an hour to continue the conversation. I don’t know what was said, but he was definitely more humble after the tongue lashing that I am sure he received.

Even though the principal was disrespectful to me, I had no right to be disrespectful to him.  I was putting into question all the values that my parents had worked so hard to instill in me. I was reflecting negatively on my entire family. I was portraying myself as a person I was not. Back then, I just wanted to tell the principal what I thought of him.  Today, I realize that my reputation is more important that a few misplaced words or actions. The “taking a knee” protest is one that I cannot endorse because of the lesson that I learned from that Council meeting over 25 years ago. I believe that it is totally disrespectful to every person who has bled and died for the freedoms that we now enjoy in this country to not stand when the Star Spangled Banner is played. Before you start throwing rocks and calling me out my name, hear me out.

I am just as unhappy with the state of life for African Americans in this country as all of my brothers and sisters, but disrespect is not the answer.  I cry every day because we do not have the freedoms for which our ancestors fought and died. I am saddened that our skin color speaks louder than our proven abilities. I am disgusted with the stereotypes with which we have been saddled because we were not born as Anglo-Americans. Equality does not reside in our communities, schools, churches, places of employment, or business opportunities. I acknowledge that this is where we are, but what are we going to do about it . . . “take a knee?”

What is the point of “taking a knee?” To protest? To bring awareness? To get media coverage? How does any of this bring about change? We complain about the injustices and inequalities, but we do not vote in every election. We are aggravated that there is not enough money to make the changes, but we are more concerned with spending our money on material possessions rather than contributing to the effort. We talk about failing schools, but do not take the time to help our children with their homework so that they can be prepared to get into the best colleges and rise to places of power. In America, money, power, or both are required to effect true change. Since we know that to be reality, we need to work to achieve wealth and influence.  The Democratic Party proved that it works during President Obama’s election and re-election . . . one dollar and one vote at a time. The thought of having a person of African American descent as the leader of the most influential nation in the free world was not even a pipe dream to most of us until it came into fruition. Now we know that all things are possible.

One of my mother’s other sayings is that “you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” Does anyone actually think that acts such as “taking a knee” are going to unify efforts to bring about change? There are some veterans and survivors of veterans who support the protest.  But I would argue that a much greater number do not.  In fact, many people who were supporters of the movement have been alienated by this protest. We are being counterproductive in our efforts by attacking the values of those we are trying to encourage to join in the fight for equality. I have to be true to myself and “stand” against “taking a knee”.

Twelve Wishes

I am sure that just about everyone has seen the movie, “12  Wishes of Christmas” with Elisa Donovan in the title role. If you have not, here is a summary. In the story, Laura is given twelve wishes by the mysterious Noel. Most of Laura’s wishes are frivolous and have minimum forethought. Even though Noel warns Laura to be careful, she uses her last wish without making a difference in the world.  Then the real story begins, but I will leave that for you to enjoy for yourself.  This is a really great movie (even if it is not Christmas).

As I watched the movie again over the Christmas break, I began to ponder what I would wish for if the opportunity was presented.  I even took it a step further and wrote down my twelve wishes.  One was for a bigger house. Two involved college funds and a financial legacy for my children. Two centered on healing and a handicap accessible home for my daddy.  Four asked for increases in income through my various business ventures. So, of the twelve, I had the ability to control the outcome of nine of them to some significant extent.  But the last three were HUGE!

  • End homelessness
  • Salvation for all people
  • Every school is a good school

The last one has really been eating at me since I wrote it down.  I could understand if we were still living in the times prior to the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision to end segregated schools.  I could even understand if the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (2001) – No Child Left Behind – had not been passed.  But it is really hard for me to understand why there are still so many disparities in education when there seems to be so many resources and unlimited access to technology.

My oldest daughter and I were having a discussion one morning about how pleased we were with our decision to move from an area of town in which we had lived for over six years. The motivation for the move was a better education for my children, of course.  We are in the same school system, but the schools are light years apart.  I was raving about how much my younger three were learning, that every student in the middle school was issued an iPad, the performance opportunities for the middle school chorus, and the level of communication from the teachers and schools. My daughter’s response was “that’s what happens when you move to the good schools.”  I was floored and tears began to fill my eyes. My retort was that “every school should be a good school.” This conversation is probably what led to my inclusion of this “wish”.

As I tutor students living in our and surrounding counties, I am saddened that my “wish” is in no way, shape, or form a reality.  The inequality in the education of our youth is still very much real.  There are some children that I have no idea how to help because they are so far behind, although they move to the next grade every year. I am confused when I have students taking advanced courses who do not have basic understanding of the concepts taught in courses years before. I am angry when students are given the impression they are a lost cause when they just need someone to present the information in a way they can understand and excel. My heart breaks as I listen to young people talk about being stressed to the point of a potential breakdown or are just going through the motions because they are tired of trying to realize someone else’s dream.  I am disappointed when teachers are “forced out” because they want to create learners by meeting every student where they are and take them to the next level rather that teach to the test.

As you read, you may be looking forward to hearing the solution to this dilemma.  Unfortunately, you will not find that answer here.  With everything that I am, I want every person to love learning as much as I do. Then we would have more innovators because they will take their education beyond what anyone can give them.  Instead, their thirst will drive them to seek out opportunities to learn even more. Cures for diseases will be found. The social problems of the world will end. There will be no limit to the imagination . . . i.e. reality. I don’t have the resources to make my “wish” come true.  But as long as I live, I will use my God given gifts to impact the life of every student I tutor.  I am creating lifelong learners one student at a time . . . and loving every minute of it.

The Buzzards Laid Me and the Sun Hatched Me

While this is not one of the many personal life encounters that you will read as you explore this BLOG, this story has helped shape me into the woman that I am because it was from my mother’s heart. The words are hers and the interpretations of her actions are mine. I hope that the story will touch your heart, lessons will be learned, and the real love will be felt.

It is my understanding that my grandmother was a freshman in college when she became pregnant with my mother. After she was born, my mother lived with her grandmother. I do not know if the subject ever came up or if it was just not discussed, but the truth of my mother’s parentage was hidden from her until she was at least in high school. She believed her biological mother to be her sister. My grandmother went on to marry a man who I grew up knowing as my grandfather. Together they brought eight children into this world. At some point, my mother went to live with them to help take care of the children until their oldest child was old enough to handle the job. My mother then returned to her grandmother’s house while she was still in elementary school. ( I remember her saying that she was eight years old.)

My mother did not know the identity of her biological father until she was an adult, although the “grown folk” knew who he was. She remembers being called to the office of her high school on many occasions to talk to the principal. The principal never really had anything of importance to talk about, but she remembered the same man sitting in the visitor’s area each time. My biological grandfather knew her to be his daughter, but could not (or would not) acknowledge her as his child because of his wife and his two children. Incidentally, I am told that my mother and his daughter could pass for twins. Later on in life, my mother learned that the man would come to the school and request that the principal “send for my child so that I can look at her”.

I am not sure of the context of the conversation, but I remember my mother’s response when asked about her parents. Her response was “the buzzards laid me and the sun hatched me.” As I child, I thought it was a whimsical response. As a mother, the thought of those words brings tears to my eyes. I cannot imagine the hurt that my mother must have felt believing that her parents did not want her in their lives. I cannot even begin to fathom a parent not wanting to be a part of their children’s lives. “Children don’t ask to come here” (courtesy of Momma) and should not be subject to such a heavy burden because adults are short-sighted and shallow. And I don’t buy into the notion that parents are young, unprepared, or unable to take care of a child. They have generally nine months to grow up and get it together! But I digress . . . .

Instead of allowing her fate to harden her heart, my mother blossomed into the most caring person on the face of Earth. She never met a child that she did not love or treat like her own. She never wanted anyone to feel alone, so she was “Momma” to all the children in the family, church, and community. She loved everybody and I do mean everybody.

She did not stop with the children. Her classmates, friends, and family can testify to the size of her heart. Even pastors found consolation in her presence. She was respected in the business community and was able to get my father out of a “pickle” on more than one occasion. I realized the extent of her love when she was tragically taken from us in 2004. The funeral home had to be emptied at least three times for everyone to pay their respects at the wake. She was given a queen’s escort on the day of the funeral by the local law enforcement. Every major and minor road was blocked and manned by every level of law enforcement for the 21 miles from her house to the church and the 17 miles from the church to the cemetery. There was not even standing room only as many people could not even get inside the church to attend the funeral. The funeral home that handled the arrangements had to print additional programs for people who did not find out about the service in time, but wanted a copy of the obituary. (The local paper was printed once a week; therefore, the obituary did not appear until after the funeral.) To this day, people still tell my siblings and me how much our mother meant to them when we visit our hometown.

The greatest lesson that I have learned from my mother is that LOVE transcends all hurt and pain. I am sure that she cried many tears and suffered in silence as she grew up without her mother or father actively involved in her life, but you would never know it based on the beautiful woman into whom she blossomed. My grandfather was a U. S. Ambassador who lived well while my mother struggled. She never once interfered with the life he chose to live with his wife and children. Even when he died, she never tried to claim an inheritance. As an adult, she embraced her mother and showered her with love, time, and gifts. To my knowledge, she has never asked my grandmother to explain her actions. She treated my grandmother as if she had raised her from birth. My mother loved long and hard – the only way that she knew. She never took an instant of time for granted because “tomorrow is never promised”. She did not hold grudges, always prayed and gave to those who hurt her. Although she had been given a hard pill to swallow, my mother went above and beyond the call of duty and poured out more love than could ever be imagined.

Momma, I love and miss you more and more each day. I thank you for being an awesome example to follow. Your spirit lives within me and guides me each and every day. You set the bar, not only for mothers, but also for people in general. I am so glad that the buzzards laid you and the sun hatched you just for me . . . . and the rest of the world. Continue to rest in peace as you walk along the streets of gold.