Thursday, August 30, 2012

Column for Aug. 30, 2012

This week we sent our now nine-year-old back to elementary school for his fourth grade year.  The one private school in the area closed several years ago, so we never got to send him to that institution.  Our options are down to home schooling, the one county charter school, and our local elementary school.  Since we have neither the time nor the inclination to home school, considering that we have a toddler and a four-month-old in the house, we are going with public school education.  Since I try to be as active a father as I can reasonably be, I went to the back to school orientation night at our local school to meet my son’s new teachers and school staff.

Not being one to shy away from a serious conversation about opinion and common sense, I decided to talk to the two guidance counselors that were there after they offered me a flyer.  “Guidance counselors at an elementary school?  Really?”   That was my expression of frustration at the seeming overkill of staffing.  For several years, I have lamented the existence of a guidance office in an elementary school, seeing it as a huge waste of money.  We then proceeded to have a discussion about how they thought that children needed someone with whom to talk, counsel, and work out their issues.  I retorted that as children, we rode in cars without seatbelts, played with pocket knives and lawn darts, didn’t have counselors in elementary school, and we turned out just fine.  We didn’t have any form of guidance counselors until I was in junior high and high school.  Both were in the same building, so the staff there did a lot of double duty.  The main focus for the guidance counselors was not for making us feel good or to get the free services of a para-psychologist so much as it was to help with planning our academic careers.  I am pretty sure that children in primary school are not yet planning their educational careers.

I am convinced that part of the reason we have the violence we do in society is because we have discipline problems in schools and families.  We caudle children, working to build their self-esteem and the feeling of being equal to everyone else rather than building in them the drive to succeed beyond others or their own perceptions.   What we end up with is a bunch of spoiled, undisciplined brats that feel good about themselves.

John Tedesco, who is running for Superintendent of Public Instruction, asked for online feedback from citizens.  He asked simply, “What would be the first three things you would do to improve schools in NC?”  I read with interest some of the feedback given by others.  Some of it I agreed with, some of it I didn’t.  I am not going to share the words of others, only what I responded.  “1. Return to a focus on the basics. Learn them well and the other subjects can come after a mastery of the basics. 2. Return to as much local control as possible with local funding rather than being beholden to large government bureaucracies for money. 3. Keep staff based upon need and merit, not based upon tenure, available funding, experimentation, concepts such as small class sizes, or programs that just sound good.”

I read an article recently that spoke of how schools are dealing with and still operating after budget shortfalls and staff cuts.  The article also showed how the dire threats by opponents of state education budget cuts were over-stated.  The article had the headline, “After N.C. classroom layoff angst, schools make do”.  Of course they “make do”.  That is what we do.  To quote Clint Eastwood in the 1986 movie, “Heartbreak Ridge”, “You adapt.  You overcome.  You improvise.”  Look, when I was in elementary school, we had ratty old science textbooks that were falling apart and that said something to the effect that “someday, man will walk on the moon.”  The man who just recently died, Neil Armstrong, did that very thing some ten years before I even got that textbook.  Still, the information of pure science didn’t change, nor did the value we got out of those old books.  We didn’t need new ones to learn.  We made do with what we had.

I got what I believe is a decent public school education.  I applied myself and the school faculty challenged me to excel.  And this was in a state that was ranked at the bottom of per capita state education funding yet at the same time had the highest SAT scores in the nation.  We can have that same attitude again in public schools and start producing some well-educated, well-adjusted children rather than under educated brats that feel good about themselves.

No comments: