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“Half Nelson” teaches a truth about K-12 education in the US

09 Dec

What causes a dedicated and charismatic teacher to become addicted to crack cocaine—to become burned out and a victim of drugs and/or PTSD?

The answer is not broken schools, teacher unions, or incompetent teachers, but a dysfunctional culture and society demanding through laws and legislation that teachers fix the problem or be accused of failure.

While critics of public education often play the political game by blaming teacher unions and so-called incompetent teachers (even though there are no reputable studies or evidence to prove these alleged claims), few seem to care about what Forbes reported in High Teacher Turnover Rates are a Big Problem for America’s Public Schools.

In March 2011, Forbes reported, “NCTAF’s findings are a clear indication that America’s teacher dropout problem is spiraling out of control. Teacher attrition has grown by 50 percent over the past fifteen years. The national teacher turnover rate has risen to 16.8 percent.  In urban schools it is over 20 percent, and, in some schools and districts, the teacher dropout rate is actually higher than the student dropout rate.”

Forbes says, “Teachers cite lack of planning time, workload, and lack of influence over school policy among other reasons for their decision to leave the profession or transfer schools.”

 

And if you think Charter Schools are any better, you may be surprised to discover what The Washington Post reported, “Teacher turnover, which tends to be alarmingly high in lower-income schools and districts, has been identified as a major impediment to improvements in student achievement.”

The Washington Post said, “The authors (of a study) find that the odds of charter teachers exiting are still 33 percent higher than those of regular public school teachers. There is an even larger difference in secondary schools, where charter teachers are almost four times more likely to leave.”

Half Nelson reveals a primary reason so many teachers quit even if they have the so-called job protection of tenure (a report from the public schools of North Caroline says about a third that quit annually have that so-called precious tenure critics complain of).

Why would someone with such an easy, kick-back job with labor union protection quit?

Dan Dunne (played by Ryan Gosling) is a young, urban, middle school, inner-city history teacher taking drugs to make it through the nights and weekends but during the weekdays he is a popular teacher—the kind that  students see as a role model.

I identified with this movie. For thirty years, I taught in public schools surrounded by barrios infested by teen street gangs that had been around for generations. I witnessed drive by shootings from my classroom doorway, riots between gangs, grieved with my students when kids were shot down in the streets never to return to school, and a year didn’t go by that some gang banger that was also a student in one of my classes didn’t threaten me by asking what I would do if a gang jumped me.

Half Nelson brings us closer to that world and reveals another reason why so many teachers quit and never return to the classroom.

If you want to discover the truth about many of America’s schools and why teachers and possibly many students drop out, I suggest you watch this movie that the odds say you haven’t seen.

If the average ticket price of a movie in 2006 was $6.55, and Half Nelson earned $2.7 million in North America, that means less than 500 thousand people saw the film and there are more than 314 million Americans that did not see it.

Maybe most Americans do not want to know the truth, because many parents would have to accept the blame for illiterate and/or failing students. Parenting is a serious job—not a game.

Discover a film with a clear political agenda against teacher unions

______________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga.

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