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5 Tips for Fixing America's Schools (From a Former Teacher)

Maybe you've heard how Chicago's school system almost imploded in a bluesy, hot-dog-stuffed cacophony of Windy City stereotypes. Or maybe you haven't heard about the Chicago Teachers Union drama because you don't get NPR in your town. Or you don't care because you live on an island populated with calculator/kid hybrids called kidkulators and public education doesn't matter to you. Kudos. For the rest of us, the public school world is a scary place. Parents are sending their kids into charter schools, taking their children's education into their own hands at home and throwing their babies into rooms full of protractors and decades-old Got Milk? cafeteria posters, hoping for the best. The desperation is as palpable as the Holy Spirit at a Billy Graham convention.

I spent two whole years "teaching" kindergarten, then five more sleeping in and homeschooling my eight kids. The only person more qualified to talk about the state of American education is ol' John Dewey himself. Ha ha, that's an educator joke. Here are five super legit ways to fix America's schools.

#5. Academic Fight Club

Remember back in the 1980s when Japanese domination in the classroom led to theoretical discussions of our nuclear options? In fact, there were two weeks in 1989 when three different legislators proposed math-themed internment camps for school-aged Americans of non-Japanese heritage. All three were thankfully defeated in the House by 11 to "What's Russia Up to These Days?"


"The Cold War isn't over, it's lukewarm."

The point was that we went bananas over the idea of Japanese academic superiority. Was it warranted? No. Look at Japan now, all on the brink of war with China and stuff. But we did learn one thing that the Japanese school system had going for it -- the way of the samurai, which allowed children to die for their education. Sometimes those deaths took place in the form of stress-induced suicides, and sometimes they were more about honor battles with Macchios.

Proposal: The United States replaces the current mandy-pandy public education system with a rigorous academic fighting establishment.

Allow me to explain. Children thrive on competition. It's a known fact that twins often eat each other in the womb, not only taking on the strength of their other but warning their mother about what's what -- from the inside. And even non-twins are known to divert their mother's resources for their own nourishment. Why not take that fierce competitive spirit and nurture it? Why not breed a nation of fetii who have a hunger for for both their mother's blood and the (academic) blood of others?

I know what you're thinking: But Kristi Mae, what would we do with the bodies? Here's my answer to you: purses. Just kidding! We're not going to use the flayed skin of human children to make top-of-the-line handbags worthy of the Kardashian Kollection. Here's what I and specifically Cracked.com and all its staff and advertisers propose:

Militarize the classroom. The average kindergarten classroom looks something like this:

Photos.com

It's like the classroom found a sponsor, and that sponsor was ADHD. What if instead of Pee-Wee's Playhouse up there, we sent kids to this:

Getty

Look closely. Can you spot the differences? Let the kids sit on the floor in order to harden their loins. Let the bare walls be a canvas for their imagination. Let the canings help them remember their times tables.

Next, we divide students into teams based on intelligence. We could use IQ tests, or we could show them pictures of the Willy Wonka meme and see who laughs. No need to overthink things. Then we subdivide intelligent teams into more intelligent teams. Actually, most classrooms already do this, but they call it "reading groups." We would just be giving those higher-up teams guns and the dumb teams passports.

Finally, we turn off the lights and see what happens. See? I told you we weren't going to turn children into purses.

#4. Capes

Every student in America should be issued a cape. Not just a cape for flying and invisibility and starting drama, but a cape that has pockets for calculators or thumbnail drivers. Imagine a world where American youth can access their guns from the capes on their backs. We talk a big game about giving our youth the very best, yet you rarely see capes on back-to-school shopping lists. What are you afraid of, teachers? That your students will fly away when they get bored? Then don't bore them.

Plus, think about what capes would do for the self-esteem of American students. It's a known fact that 110 percent of American kids already think they're the bee's knees. Stick a cape on them and their egos will go through the roof. "Oh, I live in the greatest country on the planet and I also dress like a superhero. Let's get a second helping of that, guvna." Maybe you don't think students need more of an ego boost. I disagree. I've seen how far overconfidence can take one. History fact: In 1961, JFK promised he'd get an American on the moon by the end of the decade. The only reason he felt confident enough to make such an audacious promise was because he was a stone cold fox. Do you think Lumpy Abe could have gotten us to the moon?

Blech!

Get real. If the sport of yachting had a face, it would be JFK's. That's what gave him the confidence to make a promise he had no business promising, and then the beauty of his face made it so. We don't have the technology to sew a mask of John F. Kennedy to every girl and boy's face yet, but we do have the technology to make capes that we buy from China. And those capes will give our children confidence.

Let's take Precious, for example. Personally, I never saw that movie because it made me mad that I couldn't call anyone "Precious" anymore without the comment being construed as a burn on their weight. But I know the movie is about a girl who slipped through the cracks. And that it was based on the novel Push by Sapphire. And that she had bangs. Do you think Precious' parents would have abused her if she were wearing a cape? Actually, let's drop that one. Hogwarts kids are good at school and they wear capes.

The boom you just heard was my mic hitting the stage.

#3. Less Homework, More Gnomework

Real talk: One of the first things every would-be teacher is asked to do is write out a philosophy of education -- a simple paragraph explaining how they view their role in the classroom. As if anyone coming out of teacher school knows what they're in for. It's not until you actually get into the classroom that you realize that 95 percent of your education program was about B.F. Skinner and you don't know how to teach jack. As a new teacher, my philosophy of education was "Let me teach your kids and I'll do them real good." Then I "accidentally" left the middle button of my blouse undone at my interview. Boom -- I had a kindergarten classroom.

Me.

Getty

By the time I started homeschooling, I adopted a more traditional classical education approach. But I could have chosen a different path. For example, unschooling -- the one where you let your kids do whatever the crap they want as long as they don't eat two magnets at once. Or the Montessori Method -- a philosophy where you let children learn by playing with toys. Or the Dangerous Minds method, which isn't so much a philosophy of education as it is a lifestyle for women who love leather blazers. Or, best of all, the Waldorf Method, which is all fairies all the time.

Double real talk: I misrepresented every single one of those philosophies of education. Sometimes I lose battles with my imagination, but it's OK, because whenever someone calls me out, I play like Juliette Lewis in that music video when she was crazy. Everyone's so enamored with my hipbones, they don't mind that I lied to them.

All of the above examples illustrate the power of imagination and how crucial it is to win the war on stupid. Remember that time when I said we should institute an Academic Fight Club where the losers are not made into purses for the Kardashian Kollection? That was a thought experiment -- me using my imagination to invent a terrible idea. We can use that same creative fuel to solve math problems and science. Or better yet, not. Maybe instead of history, we should teach herhistory. Instead of grammar, gramma's cookie recipes. Maybe if our kids weren't so freaked out about standardized tests, they would enjoy school every now and then. And most importantly, they'd appreciate this huge book I wrote on gnome lore for every girl and boy. Buy it on Amazon today!

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Kristi Harrison

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