Education expert says students not blueberries
by Dick Yarbrough
May 21, 2013 09:53 PM | 1624 views | 4 4 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dick Yarbrough
Dick Yarbrough
Dear Public School Teachers in Georgia: It looks as if you have survived another year of underwhelming support from state legislators, many of whom would kiss a tree toad if so instructed by the anti-public education crowd. I know it is frustrating, but — as my daddy used to say — consider the source.

One reader harrumphed recently that I should make my bias about public school teachers more evident and let it be known that I have four in my family. I can only surmise that he has just returned from Mars and hasn’t perused my previous screeds on the subject. I know first-hand what teachers have to put up with, things I suspect said reader has never experienced.

Well, I’ve finally found someone else who appreciates you: Jamie Vollmer. Vollmer is an Iowa businessman who had the same prejudices against public education as do many of our knee-jerk politicians. No more.

His is a famous story of lecturing a crowd of educators when he was affiliated with a small ice cream company in Iowa. He says in retrospect his talk was “perfectly balanced — equal parts ignorance and arrogance.”

He was asked by an educator what his company would do if they found an inferior batch of blueberries intended for their ice cream. Vollmer said the company would send them back. The educator nailed him, saying in part, “We can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”

Vollmer says that is when the light came on and he realized that “a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw materials, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.”

He told me that the blueberries with whom you are dealing in the classroom these days are the most diverse, demanding, distracted students ever seen and with an enormous sense of entitlement. Somehow, I don’t think that’s your fault.

Mr. Vollmer has spent the last 25 years trying to get politicians and anti-public education automatons to understand teachers aren’t the problem. It is our current education system which is designed for an industrial society that no longer exists.

In the old days, it didn’t matter if kids dropped out. There were good paying jobs awaiting them in the industrial world. Not true today. This is a high-tech society we are living in and a good education is mandatory.

What does Mr. Vollmer suggest we do to fix our public schools to deal with this new environment?

“You cannot touch a school without touching the culture of the area where the school sits,” he says.

The local community is the answer, not top-down government mandates.

“We need to push back against the insanity coming out of government. (Can anyone say “Common Core” and “Race to the Top”?) “School districts need to gather allies,” Vollmer believes. “Get five or ten allies — business people, nonprofits, parents, ministers — and look for things that work.”

He maintains legislators will be loath to meddle if their constituents are working together to solve the local problems themselves.

I urge, beseech, plead and implore all the education groups in the state to toss their Power Point presentations and corny acronyms in the trash can and take Jamie Vollmer’s advice. Start getting local allies in the school districts focused on reforming our public education system to adapt to the new world before the ideologues destroy it. Do it for the teachers.

Vollmer quotes the late and legendary U.S. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, who said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one.”

We’ve got enough jackasses already. Let’s find some carpenters.

Jamie Vollmer will be speaking at a meeting of the Georgia Association of Professional Educators in Atlanta on June 7. Every legislator in the State of Georgia should be required to attend his talk.

In the meantime, teachers, thank you for your good works this school year despite the plethora of jackasses running around who think they know more than you. May they gag on their blueberries.

Your friend,

Dick Yarbrough

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.
Comments-icon Post a Comment
May 23, 2013
Mr. Yarbrough, you normally write a fine column. This one was well beyond fine, to the point of supreme excellence! Thank you!!

BTW, since the state is confiscating Cobb taxpayer education dollars to pay for other non-education things, I wonder if it would be fiscally advantageous to Cobb Schools for the county to "secede" from state funding altogether, keeping that extra funding at home...
John Adams
May 22, 2013
Amen! Yet another excellent column. You remain both a great friend to classroom teachers everywhere, as well as a burr in the saddle of the "educrats." Please keep up the great work, Mr. Yarbrough.
Laura Armstrong
May 22, 2013
Jamie Vollmer is onto something, except there are at least two things standing in the way of putting his exceptional theory to work: The big business of education; there is too much profit to be made off of school districts, which are mostly run by educrats spending taxpayer money with little accountability. Schools have become less about the kids and more about gorging at the govt. trough with the teachers and students getting the bad end of the deal. Second is the politicization of our kids...Marxist or other radical groups (La Raza, certain teacher unions like in Chicago, etc) trying to win their hearts and minds while they are young so as to push their radical social change ala Wm. Ayers "Education IS Revolution!" and the social justice agenda, which teaches agitation and anger rather than reading and writing. We don't see the radical teachers in the south, much, but they are prevalent in examples we read about all the time. (boy suspended for biting pop tart into gun shape). And the radical educrats and teacher's teachers know that if they can just get the south, they've won the war, and our kids will grow up to be good little statists. I would love to ask Mr. Vollmer how to battle this element.
Old timer
May 23, 2013
Laura....amen....from a concerned retired teacher....
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