A Whole in the Head - In Korea students don’t have to pass their classes in K–12th grade to be promoted to the next grade, they get promoted anyway.  They don’t have to pass their high school classes nor a state test to graduate but they study like crazy anyway because they want to do well on the college entrance exams.  Koreans compete with thousands of other countrymen to get into the top universities. A student’s future is largely determined by which university they attended.  The better the college the better the chances of getting accepted into a “good job” (= more money) and getting a better quality selection of a future spouse. Koreans call it “Korean high school hell”. The teachers leave at 4:30 but the kids stay at the school (by choice) or go to a tutoring academy until midnight or sometimes until 2a.m. Tom’s high school niece went to live with us in Texas for 2 years. She said that she had already done the same math problems in Korea in 6th grade.  Later when she returned to Korea she was behind her classmates in math and science.

   In Texas, if a student doesn’t pass part of the state TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) test in grades 3, 5 and 8 they will not be promoted to the next grade.  If they do not pass part of the test in 11th grade they will not be able to graduate, even if they passed all of their required high school classes.  They can continue taking the test yearly after leaving high school until they pass it.  They’ll then receive their high school diploma in the mail but they’ll have missed all the pomp and circumstance of walking across the stage in front of family and friends at the graduation commencement.

   Last month, during graduation week, some of the 613 Forth Worth school district seniors that didn’t pass the TAKS test were protesting for the district to allow them to walk the stage anyway even if the folder handed to them would be empty.  They stated  that they had completed and passed all of the required high school classes.  They have a point, even in college graduations a graduating teacher can walk the stage and receive her degree without passing the state’s teacher exit exam.

Before the state tests were implemented in 1990 all Texas students could graduate by completing and passing their district’s required courses.  The test has been quite controversial. Some problems being that:  schools are rated according to the students’ scores; teachers are pressured to teach for the test and students’ complaints that some questions were from subjects studied many years ago. The test will be done away by 2011 to be replaced by end-of-course-exams.  It will start being phased out next year starting in elementary school. Well, back to the subject, .some of the students and their parents picketed in front of the school district’s headquarters with posters demanding to let the kids walk the stage. This made national news and, more notably, the Paul Harvey commentary, because one of the posters that a woman was holding said, “let are kids walk”.

 “How ironic”, I chuckled, before I caught myself, because it was I, high school English (ESL) and Spanish teacher, who wrote in last week’s article “a whole in the wall”.  I knew better than that and I have many excuses to go with it, the main one is that I probably had the steel room riddle stuck in my head. It goes like this:

Joe asks, “You’re stuck in a steel room without any doors or windows.  There’s a wooden dresser in front of you and a mirror behind you.  How do you get out?”

Bob says, “Duh, I don’t know. How do you get out?”

Joe answers, “First, you look at the wooden dresser; then, you turn around and look in the mirror.  You see what you saw.  You take out the saw and turn back to the dresser.  You saw the dresser in half.  Two halves make a whole.  You climb through the hole and get out.”

Yep, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.