Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Lessons From Tutoring: Week 1

A couple weeks ago, my school sent out an email asking for tutors. I've never tutored officially, but I saw openings for Art History and Photoshop and decided that talking about things I love with people who need help with those subjects would be a cool source of extra income; especially if I can get them excited about these subjects as my profs did to me.

As of right now, I have only been a tutor for one week, but I'm pretty sure they have taught me far more than I have had the time to teach them.

That isn't a confession of my tutoring failures, because I kick ass. I love the subjects, know the material frontwards and backwards, and come from a family of teachers. It's just that these students have some serious hurdles to jump in terms of learning disabilities and bad habits acquired because of those academic short-comings. And through that they have shown me an ugly truth I was somewhat blind to for years...

...our academic system has failed pretty much all of us.

I knew it was bad. I even knew that it was awful, terrible, completely fucked in some ways. However, part of me wanted to believe that it did work for those who really tried and weren't severely handicapped. I got decent grades, I learned a lot, I have degrees to show what I did and what I learned (and not just what I memorized and threw up onto a test later). But it failed me as much as it did them.

I'm not a genius by any stretch of the imagination, but I learn pretty quickly; and even in areas that I'm not so strong (e.g.: math and science), I can get what's needed to pass fairly quickly and hobble forward without too much of a hindrance later on. That meant that my academic path was always one of hard-work followed by long stretches of boredom. I knew that there were students who struggled with things, but I thought that in the time that I was bored and writing poems or doodling on the side of my notes, they would be "getting it" and moving forward with the rest of us... or that they would be moved to a slower/lower class where they would actually get taught at their speed. I didn't realize that most of those students just never got it. Ever.

Yet, they still passed the classes and most of them graduated on time.

The main reason for that has to be their effort. They really do try. They give it their all and go the extra distance when they can to try and get/retain what they're learning, but for many its not enough... and because of a lack of funds, tutors, and time, they are passed as a reward for their sweat and tears. And at the time, I'm sure it feels like a great reward. But down the road, when they have to tell a teacher or a tutor that they can't read well and that they don't know how to take notes and can't find any of their handouts (syllabus included), it feels like more of a weight. A disgrace. Not to them, although I'm sure they feel it too... but to the people and institutions who let them slip by.

How is it that we can spend so much money on wars against drugs, terror, and in countries that don't want our help... but when it comes to educating our own populous we are fine with half-assing it? We owe ourselves more than that.

We owe them more than that.

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