Time to say, "Good-bye!"
I've really been struggling with this blog lately. The enthusiasm just hasn't been there, and I've felt like I'm just saying the same things over and over again. What makes it worse is that my Catholic conscience works on me, and makes me feel guilty when I don't post at least once a week or check on the comments as often as I should. Yesterday, I went to church, and our priest talked about Memorial Day being a time for good-byes. It occurred to me that it's time for this blog to say good-bye. Unlike Douglas MacArthur, I don't want to just fade away. I've always found it depressing when I've gone to check out other blogs that I've read, and there hasn't been a post for a week, then a month, then several months. If I'm going to end this, I want to end it with an exclamation point. In doing that, however, I want to give voice one more time to some of those points I've tried to make over the last three years. So here goes!
I firmly believe that public schools in America are doing a better job than they're given credit for. Oh, we have our flaws--there's no question about that, and I've written about a number of them. When I say we are doing are doing a good job, however, I base that on two basic points.
First of all, in the great majority of public schools around the nation, any kid who really wants a good education can get one. Our schools in Warroad are probably about average--maybe a little above--and it is very clear that our kids are getting what they want. The kids who don't give a rip don't get very much out of it, but the kids who want to go to a vo-tech are able to do that, and the kids really want to get prepared for college are able to do so. Our district's schools have failed our AYP in math for the last two years, and judging from our junior class, I'm guessing we will again this year. Yet, I recently talked to a 2007 graduate who is in pre-med, and he didn't have to take any math in college because of all the "college in the classroom" credits he was able to gain in our "failing" school. As I've said before, I have three sons who also graduated from Warroad. One of them is very bright, but the other two are apples who didn't fall far from the tree. All three of them went to college, all three graduated from college, and all three have good jobs in the fields they graduated from today. And believe me, the success my kids have enjoyed is not unique in Warroad, and it is not unique among kids who have graduated from public schools across the nation.
The biggest problem in American public education today is that so many kids don't put much effort into their own education. Some kids are incredibly lazy and irresponsible, and that problem is combined with the fact that the American public does not want to put too much emphasis on school in general and academics in particular. And that leads to my second point: American public schools are giving American parents what they want.
Bill Gates and other business gurus can complain all they want, and say that American schools should be turning out more academic wizards. I'm not saying they're wrong, but that is not what the American public wants. The American public wants their kids to be "well-rounded." That means they want them get some academics, but they also want schools to enable their kids to be be sports stars, and/or work part-time jobs, and to be able to go on family vacations that last a week or more during the school year, and have homecoming and frosty-fest coronations and pep rallies during the school day, and use class time to vote for kings and queens and other things, and to be able to miss a day or two here and there for various other reasons and still get decent grades. Bill Gates might not like it, and sometimes I might not like it, but we are "public" schools, so it's our job to give the public what it wants. And that's what we do.
Finally, my last post wouldn't be complete if I didn't harp on the subject I've harped on more than any other. As good as public education is, it could be so much better. Public school teachers and principals need more power to demand better effort and behavior from our students. The bottom line on that is that it has to be easier to kick kids out.
I know how harsh that sounds, but it really isn't. Believe it or not, I am not an old curmudgeon. In fact, I think it's fair to say that I'm one of the most popular teachers in our school. But 35 years as a teacher and coach has taught me that kids understand limits. Make it clear to them that a certain level of behavior and a certain level of effort is required and there will be very few who will have to be shown the door. And for those who are shown the door, allow them to come back and try again next semester or next year if they finally realize that their education matters. I have seen too many bright kids allowed to get by with performing miserably, and I've even seen some end up dropping out because we were so damned tolerant.
Hey, it's been fun! And just because I'm shutting down this blog, that doesn't mean I won't be visiting yours. You never know, maybe I'll get the itch again and open up another blog, and heck, there's no law saying that I can't come back sometime and post on this one again if the spirit moves me. After all, Stephen King announced his retirement a few years ago, and it seems to me I've read two or three books that he's written since then. In any case, thanks to all of you who stopped by now and then to read my pearls of wisdom, and especially to those of you who left comments. You are the ones who made this fun.