Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Thoughts on Subbing, Part 2

Last post I rambled for a bit about the academy system and, I think, hinted at some of what's going on.  This post I intend to talk a little more about each academy, revealing a little more of what I think about things.  Think of it as the 'exposition' part of this paper.

Also, I should note that I'm sort of new to this blogging thing, and for me to try and write a series right off the bat may be a bad idea.  Y'all can let me know if that's the case.

Each system's classes are divided up into 'strands.'  These are suggestions for a concentration of classes one should take to go into a particular field in the future.

Note:  As I'm writing this out, I've found that I'm focusing a lot on gender (specifically males and masculinity), and I think it's for a good reason.  Going from my particular community at college to a place like this high school is like stepping in a time warp when it comes to gender and gender politics. Repression is the name of the game for the students - it's been a long time since I've been immersed in a place where the mere suggestion that one might possibly condone the very existence of non-straight people is a deadly insult.  In short, I think it's regressive, myopic, and the fact that some of the teachers at the school really reinforce gender stereotypes (mostly male teachers, by the way) doesn't help.  So if I talk about males and females a lot, that's why.

The four systems are Living, Physical, Social, and Information.


I'll start here.  This system, according to some documentation I found online, 'helps people understand their roles in society.'

I'll forgive them for the poor word choice.  I see they at least had the decency to make the word 'sucker' invisible - you know, the one at the end of the sentence?

Social could also be called the 'Humanities' system.  Well, Humanities and Business and Art, at least.  This system, as far as I know, is 80% or more female and has a really high percentage of college-bound students.  It also has the sewing, cooking, and theater classes, as well as one of two art teachers.  Oh, and it has 'leadership' class.  I've subbed over there several times, and in general it's been a pleasant experience.  The males that are in the system are not hypermasculine, and I've found that of the whole school, this area is the most accepting of the possibility of LGBT folks.  (Notice I didn't say the existence of LGBT folks - that may or may not be too much for them.  I'm not sure.)  However, that doesn't stop them from throwing around the word 'gay' like it's a synonym for stupid.  I've still not figured out a good way to stop that.   Folks in Living or Physical don't really have much to say about this academy, and I'm not sure why.  I could guess that it's because a) it's full of women, or b) it's perceived to be more academically oriented, or c) I have no idea, or even d) all of the above.  I don't really know.


I've had real trouble pinning down a 'personality' for this system.  People from Living or Physical, mostly males, really go after people in Information for being 'emo' or 'fags' or 'gay.'  I guess there is a strong representation of 'emo' kids in the system, but not really all that strong.  This system seems to have the strongest links to Social.

Oh, and for the record, more information can be found on emo here.  

Info has the web design, computer programming, and publications stuff, with a heavy emphasis on "communicating through technology."  It has always seemed to me the system with the least area under its jurisdiction.  The males in this system haven't really stood out for me at all, though that may just mean there's a decent mix of folks without a dominant (or stereotypical) personality.


This system is focused on science, especially biological science.  Students here can focus on Ag, Natural Resources, or Human Health.  This system, for whatever reason, seems to have the happiest teachers, or at least the ones most satisfied with the academy system.

I see also the person who wrote the system description has been sipping the Kool-Aid a bit: "The...goal is to prepare our students for post-high school education and for their future roles in society as producers, consumers, and as educated citizens who understand the complexity of our living world."

I hate it when people are characterized as producers or consumers.  

Living is also dominated by males, though I'm not sure of the numbers or even a rough percentage.  Actually, now that I think about it, the numbers might be pretty even - the Health strand attracts a lot of females. The Ag and Natural Resource strands, however, attract a lot of males, and these seem to be the type of folks who spend a lot of time and energy maintaining the patriarchy. I've been insulted quite a bit for not being manly enough, and taunted when I don't immediately deny that I might be gay (my personal favorite:  students who are horrified when I don't act like they expect me to, especially when it comes to being a 'man'). It can be very taxing to maintain a sense of compassion for some of these folks.


I'm not sure why I saved this one for last.  It's definitely the one where I felt the most connection with students, though they are just as frustrating as any other area of the school (some even more so).  This is also the area of the school where I subbed the most.  Out here (and I say that because it's the only academy in a separate building), students can focus on engineering or technical training - what I would call 'vocational' classes.  Note that while the engineering strand allows for the possibility of college, the technical strand allows for the possiblity of community college, if that.

This system is the most gender-imbalanced.  I estimated that 80% of the students were male, but I was told that it's more like 90%.  Given the history of both vocational classes and engineering, I'm not surprised.  Having asked a few women how they felt about being rare in a sea of males, many of them said (surprising me, to be honest) that they got along better with males than females, so the environment was not that bad.  Having said that, my perception of the environment in Physical is that the dominance of males is even more assumed or self-evident than normal, probably due to the literal lack of women in the classroom at any given time.  Women aren't explicitly treated any worse than any other part of the school, but there is a lot more 'male bonding' going on than anywhere else.

Despite the fact that this system has the best rate of improvement when it comes to missed classes and tardies (I should add that it started out the worst of all the academies and has the strictest enforcer in the school), it has some very high failure rates and, I think, a relatively low percentage of college-bound students.  I talked to a few teachers during the last week of classes and they said they had some classes with 50% or more failure rates (that's a little different than grade inflation in college, isn't it?), with one teacher noting he was happy to have "3 or 4 out of 21" kids passing his Computer Applications I class.  My eyes almost fell out of my skull when he said that.

I've gone on at length about this system already, I know, but there's at least one more thing that needs said:  The teachers in this system are, as far as I know, doing a much better job of forming a community amongst themselves and their students than the other three systems.  I was a bit surprised to notice this, but I think it's true (though what sort of community they're creating, given the gender imbalance, remains to be seen).  This is also the only place in the school where I saw teachers get together in a room with students and talk to students and amongst themselves.  I suspect - I know - they say things that aren't professional and probably shouldn't be said in front of students according to school policy, but it seems to be a good thing nonetheless.

OK, enough for one post.  In the next one I'll try to focus a little more on what I think are the consequences of the academy system, both short and long.  And I might include a little more background on the school while I'm at it.


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