Everybody talks about schools, but nobody does anything about them. It’s kind of like the Methodist Church. Deep down in their heart of hearts, people know what a church is supposed to be, what a church is supposed to preach, what a church is supposed to stand for. Deep down we know the message that we’ve been commissioned to take to the nations. It is a message of love and inclusion — absolutely — and we mostly get that right.
It is a message of grace. We are big on that — so big that we identify three kinds — prevenient, justifying and sanctifying. We are also called to teach repentance, but when you start talking about actual repentance, lots of folks think you’ve quit preaching and gone to meddling, so they just let that part slide in many churches because, after all, we just can’t afford to dissuade anybody from coming to church — particularly anybody or bodies that might comprise a giving unit.
That’s just my opinion, of course, but mine is the only one I have.
And it is the same with education. Deep down in our heart of hearts, we know what will make a successful school. We’ve had them before. Most of the people who will read this column actually attended schools, I would wager, that worked very well, once upon a time.
I taught for 38 years, and I kept a photograph attached to my podium. It was a picture of my second-grade class. There were 37 of us little linthead children in that picture, staring back at the camera with contentment and a touch of pride. And one teacher — Miss Ruby Jordan.
Thirty-seven kids in one class, with no teacher’s aide, no computer screens, no technology. Her tools were paper and pencils and books, along with intelligence, common sense and — and this is the key — the full support of the administration and the parents of the children she taught.
Miss Ruby Jordan did a hell of a job and, quite frankly, I don’t think it was all that hard. I have a great memory, and I don’t remember any classroom disruptions to speak of. I remember a few scuffles on the playground during recess and remember that punishment was swift and just when those incidents did occur, but we read and wrote and did arithmetic and took our Iowa Test of Basic Skills toward the end of the year — the only “standardized” test we ever took — and went on with our business.
We started school after Labor Day and got out on Memorial Day and took few days off in between, save a couple of days at Thanksgiving, two weeks for Christmas and sometimes a few days in the spring. We managed just fine.
Somewhere along the line education lost its way. Someone in some ivory tower in Washington or Atlanta or somewhere else decided that schools had to become everything to everybody. I think the real trouble began when Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education, and we hired hundreds of Washington bureaucrats with nothing to do. Today the Department of Education has 4,000 employees and a $68 billion budget, and they cause way more harm than good in the day-to-day function of the local classroom.
The job of the school is to teach and to prepare the student to function as a productive member of society. The teacher should be in charge of the classroom, and no student should have the right to disrupt the class and keep others from learning. Education should be a high privilege, and teachers should be honored and respected. They should be paid a salary commensurate with their education, and skill and the lazy ones — the ones who hand out work sheets and sit behind their desks playing on the computer and counting their days to retirement — should be dismissed.
The school boards should require discipline and hold the students accountable and support the building administrators who should support the teachers who should not fear the students or reprisals for the students’ lack of effort or caring.
All the technology in the world will not supersede the positive effect of a good teacher and a positive relationship of mutual respect between a teacher and a student and, collectively, a class.
We know that. Educators know that. One day politicians might see that and actually do something about it. One day.
We’d better. You think good education is expensive? Just take a look around at how expensive poor education is turning out to be.