The Culture of Educational Non-Performance
I began my career in education as a substitute teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). This monster district encompasses Los Angeles County from the San Fernando Valley to Compton, from Torrance to Riverside. I accepted a series of long-term substitute jobs at Sun Valley Jr. High in the late 1980’s. Sun Valley Jr. High is situated centrally in the San Fernando Valley and was once a nice school in a middle-class neighborhood. By the time I was subbing there in 1988 it had become what can only be described as a ‘barrio school.’
My eyes were opened to the dark side of racial non-accountability when I took a position subbing for a teacher who was dying of brain cancer. Kids of various ethnicities populated this 8th Grade English Lit class, and I worked hard to accommodate their backgrounds and skill levels. But there were several boys in my 3rd and 4th period classes who belonged to Hispanic gangs. They attended class about 30% of the time. When they showed up, they produced nothing. They did not participate in class. They often left without permission, and they spent their time in class harassing other kids, disrupting lectures, picking fights and tagging desks with indelible markers, and sometime paint. At the end of the semester I gave F’s to these boys.
I was dumbfounded when I was called before the administrators at Sun Valley Jr. High and reprimanded for giving failing grades to these destructive, disruptive, do-nothing gang bangers. The principal told me that I had to change the grades to D’s, across the board. I explained that the boys whom I had flunked produced ZERO work, committed vandalism within the classroom on a regular basis, and otherwise spent their time harassing and threatening myself and the other kids, and that they did not merit D’s, which were passing grades. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I did not change the grades an administrative procedure would change them and that I would be punished for insubordination. I was young, this was my foot-in-the-door to a teaching career, and so I threw up my hands in defeat. I did, however, write an open letter to the administrators of this once high-performing school, voicing my disapproval of their practice of ‘social promotion’ of antagonistic, non-performing, and dangerous students. After a couple of years working for the LAUSD, I found this practice was commonplace and usually favored Hispanic students. Members of Hispanic gangs, and other non-performers, were rarely held accountable for their actions, and were thus given power over teachers and the system.
This abdication of merit has spread across the country. Political Correctness within the educational milieu and the contamination of Social Studies curricula by “multiculturalism” are to blame. But the root of this malaise, this culture of non-performance, is the welfare system. A recent poll reflecting attitudes about the size of government revealed a disturbing gulf between Hispanics and other Americans when it comes to their values related to the role government. The Pew Research organization found that a whopping majority of 75% of Hispanics prefer a bigger government providing more services over a smaller government providing less. Even more alarming, this poll revealed that first-generation Hispanics are creatures of government, with 81% preferring bigger government with more services. Second and third generation Hispanics are proportionally less inclined, but having 75% of all Hispanics believing that the nanny-state is desirable, bodes ill for rugged individualism and self-reliance. A minority, 41%, of the non-Hispanic general population, including blacks, prefer big government, with 48% expressing that limited government is better for the population. The conclusion drawn by this Pew survey is that the belief that government is the primary source of security and prosperity is being fostered within the American Hispanic community. Concepts of limited government, free markets, and individual accountability are being lost on the youngest generation of Hispanics living in the United States, legally or illegally. This shift from self-reliance to government-dependence underpins the culture of non-performance. And, as one still working within the public school system, I see the culture of non-performance becoming the norm for many students.
I retired from full-time teaching to pursue activism and writing, but have gone back to substitute teaching a few days a month because I like to keep my finger on the pulse of the public schools and frankly, I need an occasional ‘kid fix.’ I have a natural love for children and interacting with and teaching them brings me a lot of joy. But my recent experiences in Colorado are not dissimilar to my experiences in Los Angeles a quarter-century ago. Like a cancer, the culture of non-performance has spread from Southern California, the border towns of New Mexico and Arizona, into the heart of the Mountain West, and beyond. America’s Hispanic population has mastered access to our social services, low-skilled jobs, the electoral system, and political activism. But the educational system is to many little more than daily warehousing, or a social opportunity. In my (admittedly limited) experience as a public school teacher I have observed that a majority of the non-performing kids who value neither educational content nor the educational process itself, are of Hispanic descent.
This is not a problem of genetics, geography, race, or even cultural heritage. The culture of non-performance is the result of nanny-statism and the poisonous favoritism that big government exercises in propping up “underprivileged” populations. By eliminating natural opportunities to be competitive, and giving medical care, education, housing, food, and even tuition at low or no-cost, the big government that dispense the support that healthy individuals should provide for themselves, is removing the need for individuals to perform in the education system or job market. In recent years, Hispanics have been given incentives to enter the United States illegally since social services, education medicine, driver’s licenses, and voting ballots are easily available without proof of citizenship. All manner of privileges once reserved for legal and assimilated American citizens, are given liberally and without consequence to law-breakers, parasites, and non-performers. This is not a criticism of people of Hispanic lineage. This is an indictment against a government organ that is destroying the spirit of individuality and success by playing nanny to generations of immigrants.
I love children as individuals and I interact with them in ways that I hope will build up their sense of individual worth and desire for achievement, but my observations are undeniable. Not all, but a majority of Hispanic students with whom I interact, are acculturated to academic failure. I see capable, bright students who use their creativity and energy finding ways to waste class time, avoid work, and disrupt the learning of others. They often seek to make a name for themselves through socially inappropriate behaviors instead of academic excellence. Many immigrant students have had years of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Language is rarely an authentic barrier to educational achievement for these kids. They’re smart, functional English-speakers, they understand the expectations, but they also know that performance in school is optional. They will be socially promoted and graduate even if they’ve wasted their years in public school. And the government, which they regard with trust and which they see as an unlimited resource for financial support, will provide a living, cradle to grave, for which they only criteria they need to score is to be a member of an ‘underprivileged minority.’
Generational poverty is the bane of the American underclass, but it’s also a lifestyle choice. Hispanics who fail to perform in the public school system are accustomed to lifestyles of single-motherhood, social services support, Medicaid, subsidized housing, free lunch programs, food stamps, and if they live in poor neighborhoods, an army of volunteers from churches and community groups who will lavish them with free food and gifts–especially during the Christmas season.
Many of these non-performing kids regard educational achievement and financial independence as potential barriers to the government dependence which they have embraced. Success and self-sufficiency limit the amount of government-provided security one can obtain. In spite of their innate intelligence, talents, and capacity to excel, they choose incompetence. Achievement and excellence besets one with the expectation of a good-faith effort to advance and prosper. Educational malaise, non-performance, and habituated dependence remove the unpleasant and uncertain prospect that one may actually have to care for one’s own needs and become a responsible and law-abiding member of society.
Hispanic students are gradually losing their ability to perform. If 81% of first-generation Hispanics look to big government as their source of personal care and support, they will never enjoy, or fight for, the uniquely American characteristics of liberty, individuality, competition, and achievement. Like the wretched parent, enabling a dependent, addicted child, the United States government is furthering policies that will hobble a generation of Hispanics who, having no requirement to perform or compete in the arena of Free Market Capitalism, will lack the skills and knowledge necessary to survive when the government buckles beneath the weight of its own good intentions.
by Marjorie Haun 6/4/13