Nine Days

By Mike Hancock

Special to the PRESS

It’s the middle of April, and this: “So what do I have to do to pass?”

Hypothetically, you’re a student at Port Isabel High School, and you just posed that question to a teacher, on the aforementioned date. What do you suppose the answer is?

(A) Throughout the year: turn in assignments on time. Prepare for exams. Be punctual. Attend tutoring if needed.

(B) Forfeit your summer for a condensed, rigor-intensive course encompassing all the regular year’s curriculum. If successful in this endeavor, you gain credit for the class.

(C) Go to school for nine extra days. Do some work. You’ll pass. 

If you’re likely to fail one, two, or three classes for the year, you’re answer is C.

Read that again.

Students can fail all of their core classes any given year, attend school for nine extra days, and get credit for them all.

My students weren’t really affected directly, being in a dual credit class. Very nearly all were working for scholarship money, in competition for class rankings, ACT, and SAT scores. Make no mistake, however; they knew the deal.

“Wait. So he (or she) can do nothing all year, take school halfway serious for nine days, and pass? And still be able to get help going to junior college and technical schools?”

They know why that’s so, too. A great deal of money is tied to passing rates. And passing rates that are legitimate on paper and bogus in practice still, well, pass.

Schools get their money, students are eased through a secondary education with the hope of success still having a pulse. So who loses? Who fails?

Imagine being eighteen with absolutely no grasp of the importance of critical thinking, logical fallacies, how language works. Or no understanding of history, human geography, or science. No intellectual curiosity. Which means being that way at 28. At 38.

If you vote, how would you pick your candidate?

If you have children, what will be your advice on education? Or advice in general? 

What will be your definition of success? Of happiness?

Then there’s the X factor: one, two students in those “regular” classes that should be advanced but slipped through the cracks. Maybe they’re not assertive enough. Not popular. They keep their heads down, turn in assignments, discreetly ask questions, seek advice out of earshot. They spend their days surrounded by apathy and are given every reason to give in to it.

It’s difficult, nearly impossible, for them to reach their potential.

When, at the end of the year, a teacher gets a note from them with a quick scrawl:

“You taught me to think.”

“You taught me to believe in myself.”

How many of those notes have we lost? Was it worth the money?

The parents, the educators, the community, should reflect on this. How long before action is taken to fix this obvious elephant-in-the-room travesty?

Bet it’s longer than nine days.

Editor’s Note: Mike Hancock taught dual credit English courses at Port Isabel High School from 2013-2019. He abandoned his beloved tacos for a university post in China, where he’s working on a second novel, due out from Force Poseidon Books in 2021.

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