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.