Monday, December 05, 2005


The last time I checked, the job of America’s public school system was to educate kids, not indoctrinate them.

Our focus needs to be on keeping kids in school through high school graduation; on making learning an enjoyable, yet disciplined experience for them.

What happened to the three “R’s” of education: “Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic?” Have the subjects of English, Math, Science, Geography, Civics, and History been so completely mastered by today’s students that some teachers feel the need to engage in heated conversations during class time about political and religious issues, causing many of their students to feel uncomfortable and ostracized because their views may differ? I may be wrong, but I don’t think that’s the case.

In an August 22nd CNN story, reporter Christine Romans said of high school students, “Even if they can get a GED and get a job, today’s high school dropout will make at least 35% less than high school dropouts of a generation ago.” In the same story, Tom Luce, Asst. Secretary of Education, said, “We have a problem. Of about every 100 students that enter 9th grade, only about 67 graduate, and we just can’t have that in this country. We’ve got to correct the problem.”

He’s right. We do.

According to the U.S. Dept. of Education, graduation rates peaked in America in 1969, with 77.1% of all 17-year-old students.

I am proud to be a successful product of America’s public school system, one of those who graduated (in 1986). Most of my teachers were wonderful, skilled educators. And there are literally thousands of other wonderful public school teachers in our country—several are my friends.

The teachers I know seem to understand that their position as an educator is one of tremendous influence. And it should be.

Today, at a minimum, kids must be taught the basics of English, science, math, and computers, since the skills (hopefully) learned in these subjects apply to virtually everything we do in our daily lives. The trick is for teachers to properly utilize that influence by causing their students to become excited about learning: not spend class time foisting their personal or political beliefs. It’s simply not the appropriate forum.

Obviously no two kids are exactly alike, nor are their parents. And while many who work in education may disagree with the religious or political positions of their students’, or their students’ parents, or our government, the classroom is not the place to air their grievances, especially when test scores continue to wane and graduations rates have declined for almost four decades.

The vast majority of public school students are young, impressionable kids — not adults with years of experience behind them, or even 18-year-olds who have recently become voters. Educators need to give their students factual information, and then teach them a framework within which they can respectfully debate (or choose not to debate) issues as they see fit. When it comes to “thinking,” educators must teach kids to think for themselves. It is as wrong for a teacher to present only one side of an issue, as it is to present only the other side.

There is a good reason tax-exempt, non-profit organizations (like churches) are prohibited from giving money in support of political candidates: the sway they may have over a congregation. Likewise, public school teachers must bear in mind that their profession is one of great importance and sway, as well.

The choice to devote their lives to providing America’s kids with a chance in this world is one worthy of honor and great praise. Yet, when the pulpit afforded a teacher is used for purposes of pushing opinions and personal agendas to a captive young audience, that praise will often and quickly turn to scorn, overshadowing much of the good that may have been done.

Throughout my own elementary, junior high, and high school experience, it was made clear that my teachers were an extension of my parents, in that my folks always told me to listen up and do what I was told. However, if a teacher or administrator ever initiated disciplinary action (of any kind), I was to demand that my parents were called immediately. It’s important to note that I never cried wolf. I never hid behind my parents’ protection inappropriately because I knew if I were being disrespectful or disingenuous, forget any concern about school discipline: my parents would punish me!

Only once or twice did I ever ask my parents to intervene. And in those cases, the teachers were actually wrong. It can happen; they’re only human. This was the healthy balance of my public school career: parents would parent, and teachers would teach...


Anonymous Joel Kerbrat Jr. said...

It is as wrong for a teacher to present only one side of an issue, as it is to present only the other side.

This is very similar to arguments that favor teaching antiscience beliefs in science class. Where do you stand on the teaching of Theory of Biological Evolution?

12:09 PM  

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