Warning: I’m pulling the soap box out, and getting ready to stand on it. Yep, I know I’m going off on a wild tangent here, but I think this is important to the audio and music community. Shoot, it’s important to us all as Americans.
If you have read the ‘About Vaughn’ page, you know that I taught audio at the college level for a decade. Well, on Thursday I began a part-time job teaching audio technology at the largest high school in the state of Tennessee. I tendered my immediate resignation the following morning. Lest you think I’m simply a loose cannon, let me explain.
I took this job not so much because I needed another job, but rather because I thought I could make a difference. Plus, we’re talking about audio technology baby! This is the stuff I’ve dedicated my life to. Wouldn’t it be great to plant some seeds of knowledge in the fertile ground of young, eager minds? Well, maybe, but I’ll never know. You see, after more than two weeks of the most pointless, boring, and dysfunctional "training" you could ever imagine, I was introduced to my first students. Were they excited about learning all the little secrets that differentiate bad audio from good? Did they dream of careers as recording engineers, or maybe live sound engineers? Maybe they just wanted to be the badest tone-monster guitarist that ever walked the planet. Yea, right. Truth is, for the most part they didn’t give a flying rip about audio. These students, you see, were largely dumped into my classes simply because it filled a hole in their schedule. Okay, I know this doesn’t sound very teacher-like of me, but that crap really sucks!
So, what was the problem? Where was the breakdown? Was it the fault of an out of touch principal with a broken give-a-damn? No way. The Principal was someone I will forever look up to. Great guy. The fact is that the system is broken. Nationwide, our public school systems are so dysfunctional and bound in red tape that they have no chance of effectively using our hard-earned tax dollars to provide quality education. That’s why, in Nashville like in metros around the country, folks with kids do everything they can to either move out to a surrounding county or put the kids in private school. Metro Nashville’s per-pupil spending is huge - over eight grand per student per year, we’re talking private-school level tuition here! What I witnessed is pure thievery of taxpayer dollars.
The intro to Robert Weissberg’s book, Bad Students, Not Bad Schools puts it like this: "Americans are increasingly alarmed over our nation's educational deficiencies. Though anxieties about schooling are unending, especially with public institutions, these problems are more complex than institutional failure. Expenditures for education have exploded, and far exceed inflation and the rising costs of health care, but academic achievement remains flat. Many students are unable to graduate from high school, let alone obtain a college degree. And if they do make it to college, they are often forced into remedial courses. Why, despite this fiscal extravagance, are educational disappointments so widespread?"
Okay, so back to my story. What exactly was so wrong? The short answer is ‘everything’. The long answer is, well, long. Let’s start with the weeks I spent in training with ‘educational consultants’ who bombarded us with acronyms, buzz words, and techniques de jour. What a waste of tax dollars. What I really needed was to simply be enabled to conduct the most basic of my teaching duties. Three weeks after being hired, on the first day of class, I still was not officially in the system and could not even see a class roster, take attendance, or perform any other basic teaching duty. Maybe they were afraid that if I saw the class rosters I’d quit, which of course I did. My classes were all above maximum promised class size, and filled with kids who were dumped into the ‘elective’ audio class even though they didn’t want to take it. Why? Because the system is so over crowded that they struggle to find seats for every rump.
How about equipment? What exactly does eight grand per student buy you in Tennessee? An empty former locker room, that’s what. I was to begin teaching audio in a barren room, with nothing more than a single dried-out dry erase marker. No equipment, not even a single textbook. Why? Because the red tape that has strangled the life right out of the system ensures that no equipment actually arrives when it’s needed.
The real problem, of course, is the students themselves. Metro Nashville public schools are populated, for the most part, by kids who’s parents don’t give a darn about their kids education, or who simply are financially unable to get them out of the system. Like I said, those with the means either move out of the metro area, or pony-up the private school tuition. A lucky few get their kids into a legitamatemagnet school, but with the metro school system starting to call all of the schools ‘magnet schools’ - even though they are not - it’s getting hard for parents to find a real magnet school. So the kids who are in metro schools (not just Nashville, but nation wide) end up being largely disadvantaged, and from poor home environments. If you think this sounds like a teachers worst nightmare, your right! I can honestly say that some of those kids scared the livin begeebies out of me.
So, the question is: how on earth will good teachers be recruited to teach in metro schools? What type of person would be attracted to such a job? I don’t know the answers to this one, but I do know this much: not me.
I’d like to hear what all of you out there have to say. Shoot me an email. Whether your experience is as a parent, teacher, or student. What have you seen in education that is broken, or better yet, have you witnessed some ‘points of light’ in the system? How about audio education specifically? As a community, we all need to be concerned about maintaining some level of audio integrity in the age of stolen MP3’s, don’t we? If your only comment is "dude, get over it and start talking about speakers again", well that’s just fine too. Serriously, I want to hear whatcha got to say! How can we save our schools, which will in turn save our kids, and ultimately our country? This is important stuff!
Next week, the soap box will be safely stowed where it can’t hurt anyone, and we’ll be back to the wonderful world of audio and speakers. It’s gonna be a blast!