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In the reading written by Mike Rose, “I Just Wanna Be Average,” he talks about the imperfections inside Our Lady of Mercy, the vocational school in Los Angeles, California and, I think in both vocational education and education overall. Rose paints an amazing picture about what it was like to be a student there, observing and experiencing everything from knowing a 16-year-old pimp/ drug dealer, and racism from one of his teachers. His directs his contentions toward educators by depicting it anecdotally, convincing the reader to realize that kids put on vocational tracks are being thwarted as opposed to helped. What he learned in that school was even though his fellow students were often mislabeled as unruly or misfits, many of them were intelligent and had incredible potential, but as he says “Students will float to the mark you set” (pg. 126).
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He starts his essay by describing what it was like to commute on two public buses across town to get to Our Lady of Mercy, and the other regulars. Rose then goes on to state how he ended up in vocational education in the first place. As with most schools, there are tests and assessments. He had to take the Stanford-Binet IQ test, and based on results he would be placed into an appropriate educational track. Another student had shared the same last name and their results had been switched, thus landing Mike Rose in vocational education. He nor his parents knew at the time, but this placement into the vocational education program was “a euphemism for the bottom level” (pg124). Because he and his parents were unaware that there had been a mistake with his placement, he remained there for nearly two years. The first instance of the educational system failing. The reason this is important is the fact that students fall through the cracks and just get pushed along.
Then he goes into the types of teachers there, and their incredibly lacking teaching ability. His teachers were often unprepared, and on autopilot. Often times they were both physically violent and verbally abusive. Rose describes his first day in gym class, where his teacher said to him, “Rose? What the hell kind of name is that?” Rose replied “Italian, Sir,” “Italian! Ho. Rose, do you now the sound a bag of shit makes when it hits the wall?” “No, sir.” “Wop!” (pg. 125) In case you don’t know, Wop is a derogatory word for Italian. He accounts that his teacher would often paddle the kids, he said, to make men of them. His homeroom English teacher was abusive his first year as well. He had a Spanish class his second year who was taught by a “tiny man” (pg. 125) named Mr. Montez who had almost no control over the quite rowdy class. One day there was a fight inside his Spanish class, and what little control Mr. Montez had over that class was shredded. Rose said everybody had felt a little strange about how that ended. Saying that “They had pushed and pushed and bullied their way into a freedom that both scared and embarrassed them” (pg. 126). The vocational track is where most students go who aren’t making it anywhere else. Rose calls it a “dumping ground.” The reason Rose explains the way his teachers were and interacted with the students is important because it seemingly is unbiased, without disdain, but fair, and it shows what it is like to be stuck in a program such as vocational education. Outside of a few good educators there, he claims that most of them couldn’t relate to or appropriately engage the students. Rose blames the vocational system for not giving teachers a reason to teach, and less of a reason for students to pay attention.
Since most students, and himself weren’t up to the educational standards of peers their own age and had learned the wrong ways of doing things, the teachers were mostly lacking “inventiveness” (pg. 126) on how to bridge that gap. Because of the way he wasn’t being engaged, he was only doing what he had to in order to get by, saying it was the “intellectual equivalent to playing with your food” (pg. 126). He then goes on to say that his turning around in school started in his sophomore biology class. Brother Clint, he said, “probably slowed down a bit or omitted a little of the fundamental biochemistry” (pg. 128) and might have left some stuff out, but the syllabus was the same for both the vocational classes as they were for the general or regular education classes. He was a strong instructor who was fluid with his classes and could match the classes attitude. Anyway, Brother Clint had noticed that Rose was doing well in class and checked his records and subsequently discovered the mistake in his placement and recommended him begin college prep classes. Shortly thereafter he was placed into the prep classes. Rose said that it is peculiar how his placement into and out of the vocational education were out of his and his parents’ control. It is interesting that it took only one person to notice and fix his placement problem. What he is saying in this piece is that it only takes one person to make a difference. This is important because it shows that the teachers or educators were essentially just going through the motions in that they were just doing the bare minimum, nobody had noticed his potential prior to this.Rose writes a lot about his fellow students, to help paint the picture more accurately. Doing so helps to gain his perspective as to what is was like in the school.
None of the vocational education students were dumb, but that was the general impression by the teachers. What Rose is doing is helping to show how desperate a student can be, or how turned off they in fact are. Ken Harvey was a hooded, and a car enthusiast. He had said one of the most memorable statements to Rose in religious class. The class was discussing life in general, and the tenacity of it, and the teacher had called on Harvey for his opinion on the matter. What Harvey said stayed in Roses’ mind to this day. He said “I just want to be average” (pg. 127). When Harvey said it, Rose thought it was “stupid” (pg. 127). Looking back Rose realizes that Harvey was struggling. Many kids in difficult situations like Harvey, protect themselves by assuming the social position they are seemingly placed into. Rose writes “reject the confusion and frustration by openly defining yourself as the Common Joe. Champion the average” (pg.128). What he means is that when individuals are stuck somewhere, they slump to the bare minimum, or average as a way of protecting themselves, so they aren’t put out on a limb. This is true because almost any student in this situation, or somebody who has been in this situation can relate to how impossible life and education can seem. How you might want to just get by or give up all together on any education.
When Rose started his college prep classes, it was an adjustment for Rose. He said he was “erratic” (pg. 129) without discipline and very behind in math. He was struggling with the adjustment. His frustrations mathematics, like many had, stemmed from not having the fundamentals given to him appropriately. His prior teachers had failed to engage his intellect as had an okay understanding with basic equations, which only seemed to get more frustrating and embarrassing to deal with. Its important to relate to how an individual would in this circumstance conduct themselves.Around his junior year his father became ill, and decompensated quickly. Not too long after he passed away. He goes on next to his senior year and he had an amazing impressionable teacher named Jack MacFarland. Mr. MacFarland taught English, and seemed to teach it well. Rose said “Jack MacFarland couldn’t have come into my life at a better time” (pg. 131). His teaching style was very involved and brought him in. MacFarland had reignited the flame in Roses’ interest in reading and creative writing. MacFarland was a mentor to Rose and pushed him to go into what he loved doing. If not for him, Rose would not be the man he is today. Rose goes on to convey to the reader how MacFarland taught his classes explaining how this teachers compassion had such an impact on him. The spark in MacFarland had brought Rose back into the flame of learning. This is important because Rose was almost ready to give up, as so many before him had.
What he is saying to the reader is that there is hope out there for kids, maybe not everybody, but somebody. That vocational education system needs an overhaul, as does regular education, but too many kids are up against it all. With no basic educational foundation and being placed into vocational education, we need better educators who can effectively break through to every student. There is no solution offered up in the reading, but given his circumstance you can see what needs to be repaired.In short, there are good and bad teachers and students. Some teachers don’t know how to bridge the gap, and some student don’t know how work to close it. There are times in any person’s life where someone is going to make a difference for you, and you still might not be to where you want to be, but do not give up. Keep chugging along and be open to what steers you in your direction. What matters is the individual perspective and how the individual proceeds forward in life. Find the goal and get there.