Hope is on the way but only if Georgians act
by Roger Hines
January 26, 2014 12:00 AM | 1280 views | 3 3 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Some of the things public schools do are driving me nuts. Even so, I’m excited about the efforts of the 16 charter members of the new Save Our Schools Advisory Council, an ad hoc group of concerned citizens. I know most of the members of this group. They are practical people.

More about them momentarily, except to say that they may or may not agree with my frustrations stated here. Either way, their goal is strong schools and a level of learning that will benefit all citizens.

Frustration No. 1 is the long-standing but increasing emphasis on “awareness” instead of the acquiring of knowledge. Conventional wisdom says children must be aware that glaciers are melting, fossil fuels are choking us, bullies are taking over, and inequality abounds. To emphasize this strongly enough, we must have an “awareness week” every so often to make sure students are “aware.”

In my book, a good math lesson serves a far better and more far-reaching purpose. Math doesn’t indoctrinate. It states what is. We can argue over the use of coal and other such topics, but everybody knows students need unadulterated math. I say emphasize math and such and leave awareness to parents and children at the supper table.

Another frustration is the confusion that exists between education and job training, and the testing mania this confusion birthed. The No Child Left Behind law has done several things that are not good. It turned schools into testing mills and diminished the humanities. It fostered a technocratic view of education (skills, measurability, jobs, income prospects, overall economic impact) and diminished — because they don’t measure so easily — the liberal arts (broad learning, great ideas).

How many jobs does knowledge of history produce? Not many. But pity any nation that doesn’t know the fundamentals of its history.

How job-oriented is literature? Not much. But pity the citizen who knows only his daily labor and thinks not of the great ideas or stories that can give it context, meaning and even joy.

And how concerned is modern education with meaning and joy? Again, not much. I say “Hurrah” for the Chamber of Commerce because the business of America really is business, but to limit a child’s education to emphasis on making a living is to engage in job training, not education.

Lastly, what drives me nuts is the prevalent use of schools to drive social agendas.

For instance, in California students K-12 can now choose which restroom, boys or girls, they prefer, all in the interest of and respect for “gender preference,” “gender neutrality,” and “transgender rights.”

But here’s the good news. Georgia isn’t California and state legislatures and local school boards still call most of the shots in education. Georgia still has the freedom and the constitutional responsibility to provide education for its citizens, in spite of the stubborn efforts of the federal government to interfere.

Also, private citizens are still free to promote actions they believe will make things better. One such group is the ad hoc Save Our Schools Advisory Council. Spearheaded by former Cobb school superintendent Kermit Keenum, the council has issued a report listing 10 concerns and five recommendations for improving school funding. Of its 16 charter members, seven are career educators. The other members are business and political leaders from Marietta and Cobb County.

Having known and worked with over half of the charter members, I appreciate their hearts and their desire to lift up all citizens through good schools.

Their recommendations are modest, though substantial. Who could oppose a moratorium on unfunded mandates for local school districts, or more freedom for local schools to utilize SPLOST funds as they wish? The centerpiece for all the council’s concerns and recommendations is localism, not federal involvement, not new taxes. The council’s report argues not for new monies but simply the restoration of monies which the state has failed to provide, i.e. funding from the 30-year-old Quality Basic Education Act.

As for the joy of the humanities, the council’s report points out that in the past five years, 41.8 percent of Georgia’s school districts have reduced or eliminated art or music programs. Fourteen percent have reduced athletic programs. Eighty percent of school districts have furloughed teachers. Ninety-five percent have increased class size.

And what do these figures have to do with my frustrations? For all the frustrations I described at the outset of this column, I must still face the fact that tomorrow morning 93 percent of Georgia school-age children will walk into a public school. This behooves us to stay attuned to the needs of our schools and to appreciate citizens who try to make things better.

Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.

Comments
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Kevin Foley
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January 27, 2014
"Indoctrination" is a popular word among conservatives these days. It's supposed to make you think about Communism as in "indoctrination camps."

In fact, the "awareness" Mr. Hines talks about is instilling children with a sense of consciousness, that there is a big world around them full of diverse people all of whom have the same rights and responsibilities as every one else.

Here is what Dr. Philip Agre has to say about this in his 2004 treatise, "What is Conservatism and What is Wrong with it," which I recommend all Americans who call themselves conservatives read:

"(T)ake the notion of "political correctness". It is true that movements of conscience have piled demands onto people faster than the culture can absorb them. That is an unfortunate side-effect of social progress. Conservatism, however, twists language to make the inconvenience of conscience sound like a kind of oppression. The campaign against political correctness is thus a search-and-destroy campaign against all vestiges of conscience in society. The flamboyant nastiness of rhetors such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter represents the destruction of conscience as a type of liberation. They are like cultists, continually egging on their audiences to destroy their own minds by punching through one layer after another of their consciences.

"Once I wrote on the Internet that bears in zoos are miserable and should be let go. In response to this, I received an e-mail viciously mocking me as an animal rights wacko. This is an example of the destruction of conscience. Any human being with a halfways functioning conscience will be capable of rationally debating the notion that unhappy bears in zoos should be let go. Of course, rational people might have other opinions. They might claim that the bears are not actually miserable, or that they would be just as miserable in the forest. Conservatism, though, has stereotyped concern for animals by associating it with its most extreme fringe. This sort of mockery of conscience has become systematic and commonplace."
East Cobb Senior
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January 27, 2014
Foley, one of the main differences between "Conservatism" and "Liberalism" is common sense and non-sense, you and your ilk represent the latter. The premise of your response to Mr. Hines is blown out of the water when you start calling Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter nasty and cultists then condemn those that name call and character assassinate. You are a hypocrite just like your ultra-liberal minions.
Kevin Foley
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January 28, 2014
East Cobb Senior - You make Agre's point perfectly.
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