Soul Searching and Selecting My Cause – The Sorry State of Education in Russell County and Throughout Kentucky

The retreat is going well, although the last three days have been spent working, even though I’d planned only to work Tuesdays and Thursdays through this month, while on retreat. I need to spend the majority of my time writing, researching and coming to some conclusions.

But, when a client has a crisis — what’s a good girl to do?

So now, after stomping the multiple client fires, I’m ready to settle in. And, in between work hours today, I chatted with Pops a bit. About my future, the direction of my career and the fact that I don’t really know if I’m more afraid of success or failure if I pursue a fiction writing path.

The fact is, I’m had alot of pretty lofty goals in my life. And, I’ve reached almost all of them thusfar…

But looking at the goal reaching process with 40-year-old eyes is a bit different than the view from the same eyes a couple decades younger. Now, I must ask myself why I have this compulsion to set and reach these difficult self-created goals, only to then set larger, more difficult ones that require even more sacrifice.

I’m ready to slow down and enjoy life a bit. I’m ready to quit busting my butt so many hours every day… and yet the truth is, I’m not sure if I know HOW to relax. And, I know I want to make a difference, and I’ve been trying to find THAT path too.

Today, I think I’ve determined my “cause” — education in Kentucky. Our education system here sucks air. We are teaching to the lowest common denominator and thereby pulling down the cream of the crop rather than pulling up the lowest academic performers. Right now, IMHO, we are in a generational crisis. Our young people are being saddled with debt of our making and are not being afforded the education and tools to be able to survive the load we are piling on their backs.

The rankings for our elementary schools in this state are (mostly) acceptable — but something weird happens between the middle and high school years — something that’s damning our kids to lives of not-so-quiet desperation. Let’s take my favorite target right now… Russell County High School… it has horrible statistics. Case in point:

With a reading proficiency score of 30% and a math proficiency score of 32%, a graduation rate of 69.95% and an average SAT score of 19.4… well I’m not feeling confident about the education my son is receiving there… of course when I call home and he tells me what he’s done in school that day (or more importantly what he’s NOT done) my confidence level (already low) bottoms out.

Right now, I’ve given him a homework assignment and daily class assignment. I might as well, no one else is. I’ve asked him to keep a daily journal from the time I left for Colorado until the last day of school. I want to see just how much actual education is happening. I want to know EXACTLY what fantastic learning experiences he’s gaining now, since the Principal refused to release him early to allow him to come with me to Colorado and hike the Rockies, see the sights and… oh… maybe even LEARN something.

So far, in English, they have started reading Black Beauty. His teacher said that this book was selected so there wouldn’t be anything really challenging so late in the school year. Bravo! I say. God forbid that the children be challenged after the CATS testing is over. Let’s give these Sophomores (soon to be Juniors) a novel that most kids read at age 9. My second grader will be reading Black Beauty over the summer. She is 8. Perhaps my 16-year-old can tutor her, eh? *shaking head*

Russell County Elementary School, unlike the High School, seems to be doing an excellent job — and the rankings prove that to be true too. But the older kids that are being prepared to be released on the world and left to their own devices… their educational background doesn’t stack up as well as their younger counterparts. What a shame.

And tomorrow…. what’s in store for my teenage son? Three classes spent in Art. Now, it’s not that I don’t like art, I do. But, when it’s replacing classes like math and chemistry… well it’s a bit upsetting. Every day’s report is a new high in educational lows, it seems.

IMHO, more money is not the answer. Creating administrative and teacher positions isn’t solving the problem. The PER CAPITA annual spending has little to do with the quality of the education received. What we need is a fiscally responsible school system (in the same way the REST of our government needs to be fiscally responsible) and we should get something of quality for our children (for our insurance policy on the next generation) for each and every educational dollar we spend. And it should begin today.

I’m not sure what role I will fill yet, but I do now know what cause I plan to take up for my “activism” choice as I struggle to find more balance in my life between work, family, art and activism… and maybe a bit of fun now and then. Who knows, stranger things have happened!

You know I feel like designing a bumper sticker that says “I survived the Kentucky Educational System” — but I’d have to keep it myself. I can’t give it to my sons because I’m not sure that they will.

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