Home » Education » The Trouble with (Education in) Cobb County, GA

The Trouble with (Education in) Cobb County, GA

When Inquiring Minds Are Not Allowed To Discover.

As large as the Cobb County School District is, and as much as they boast of their STEM/STEAM and various magnet programs, there are no actual considerations for students who are exceptionally gifted with IQs above 130.

Many of our elementary schools are Title One schools, and the schools that are magnet/IB high schools turn down Title One endorsements due to the stigma; parents of “elite” children do not wish to have their students attend a Title One school. What this means in the big picture is that students who are not enrolled in these programs do not have new books, field trips, or other enrichment opportunities that could largely enhance their learning.

Prior to resigning from my teaching post for Cobb County Schools this past year, I was taking the gifted endorsement course. It seemed that with each of the assigned readings I found myself thinking of my daughter, a handful of students I have taught in the past 14 years, and myself. In one of the assigned case studies there was the tale of a boy named Alex who was “different,” obviously bright, but never challenged in school.  While there was no evidence that his parents advocated for him, in reading of a relationship Alex had with a professor and college aged students, there must have been something in his home life that would cause him to gravitate toward a college professor and much older students.

However, for many gifted students, home life may not have enrichment opportunities that would lead them to seek out mentorship from anyone such as a professor or college students. This is disturbing as most students spend more than 80% of their lives in school with teachers who come from all backgrounds and teaching ethics; therefore, there are no guarantees that students like Alex would be recognized as gifted, let alone have unique needs met.

When you are the parent of a gifted child, your battle is never done. I do believe that just as education must provide the least restrictive environment for learning disabled students, it should also for learning enabled students.

When my daughter and I first moved to the district, she was in second grade. In kindergarten she was already reading chapter books, and was placed in 5th grade math.  She was in the gifted program in our prior district and she was excelling. Happy. Thriving. From the minute we set foot through the doors at her Charter, Title One school, all of this changed. I was told she could not read books in the Accelerated Reader (AR) program that were above grade level as this would skew the data used for Title One funds. She was made to read picture books. We supplemented at home, but this was difficult as young children are by their very nature rule followers and see teachers as the highest of authority.

By the time my daughter was in third grade there was a battle with one of her teachers over the fact that she preferred fact over fiction. My daughter preferred reading biographies to the junior versions (allowed) of the Harry Potter series. Her favorite fictional books were those in historic settings. The closest she ever came to enjoying fantasy was Black Beauty… as told from the horse’s perspective; and at the age of five she realized it and was able to discuss it.

In her elementary school, the AR program was required, and in 4th grade, my daughter who read at that time on a 12th grade level, lost her love of reading. The same was done to her in regard to math, and all that she had learned at such a young age, was lost, the methods used to teach math were lost on her, and she now struggles in math, a subject she once excelled in.

Science, also was a favorite. She was curious. By the age of five she wanted to be an anthropologist. Due to a phenomenon I call “Learning in the Bible Belt” – science, inquiry, and theory building is not taught to the majority of students. She was chastised by classmates for not going to church and for “believing” in dinosaurs. Teachers never addressed these issues, or recognized it as bullying.

At the age of 17 my daughter has finally became comfortable with not being confined to cathedral shaped box. Had I been able to, we would have moved to a more progressive area.  Now, I wish we had, as my daughter’s natural gifts have been to a large degree extinguished either by teachers who due to their own biases did not teach inquiry, or due to their own fear of chastisement by administration.

Yes, this exists and I have been on the receiving end of such chastisement my entire career.

There is research to support that students who are taught that bible stories are fact, have difficulty discerning fact from fiction in school. I propose that teachers who believe bible stories as fact have difficulties teaching students to question and to delve, to challenge the text to dig deeply, to inquire. This might be the reason Southern schools produce the lowest scores across the nation.

cropped-apple-and-snake.jpgStudents like the ones who used to gravitate toward my desk for ex parte conversations about science, history, and social issues are the ones who have not been encouraged to question the unquestionable. These are also the students who thrived in my classroom, yet seemed to struggle in others. Teachers must challenge students, and that challenging does not stop at getting them to learn 10 more words than the required 5, or to work 4 more math problems than the required 2. It means to challenge them on deeper levels that cause them to want to dig more deeply into and outside of the curriculum. To be nurtured, so that they may also nurture minds in the art of inquiry.

When a religious fundamentalist was named Secretary of Education, I saw that my tenure in K-12 education would most likely end with my daughter’s in 2018. At that time, I could only hope that as when I began college, and it was then my gifts were finally discovered and nurtured, that hers would be also.

As it turns out, I never finished my gifted course, or the 2016 school year. My principal wrote me up earlier that year because I “refused to teach the Bible as fact”… and when Cobb County School District let her get away with it, and became involved in false accusations of my aiding students in cheating on a non-state mandatory test… Fast forward to a good PAGE (Professional Association of Georgia Educators) appointed attorney… and my case was “settled” without the false allegations of misconduct going forward, and without my filing charges against the high school principal for violating my civil liberties.

The day I was written up because I “refused to teach the Bible as fact” I enrolled in a course taught by Henning Mediation and Arbitration. PAGE, and organizations like them can only do so much, and they have done a great deal for me. However, they cannot do more than protect a teacher’s certification. They do not handle employment law or civil rights violations.

As a mediator, I hope to fill that gap for teachers who have limited resources for protecting not only their jobs, but their reputations. I also hope to provide a means of resolution for students who are made by coaches to bow in prayer, and for parents who feel they must go along so their children will not be singled out, bullied, disenfranchised, or lose favor with coaches who can make or break their hopes of athletic scholarships.

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