What is Wrong With Public Education… and What To Do About It
If our country is one big room, the elephant in that room is the state of public education. Everybody seems to know there are grave problems, but no one wants to talk about it. Well… almost no one… I am near the end of my teaching career, so I have no reservations in talking about the elephant, and to speak in, I hope, no uncertain terms.
As in most great issues there are “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” If names appear in all this, they are names of “the good;” the names of “the bad and the ugly” are withheld for obvious reasons. If a name does not appear, it does not mean I’m calling the person left out as “bad” or “ugly;” it means I don’t have room to list all the names of the “good” in education.
I am going to list the “mind crimes” committed against all of us when we were students, against our children as students, and against our grandchildren as students at the feet of a villianized group I shall call, for simplicity, Eduway — sort of like Amway, I suppose. Eduway consists of parents, teachers, administrators, school board members, and tax payers; it is a group of “bads” and “uglies.” Thank God the “goods” are as equally distributed and widespread!
Who in the hell am I to pontificate about the problems of education? Just because I am a teacher? No, I hope to show, despite the fact I am a teacher, Eduway hamstrings the lofty goals of the lofty idea of public education because the “goods” struggling against Eduway are usually “lifers” in the profession of education or “traditionalists” who think their experience in education is the only one that can be had in education. They have nothing better with which to compare, or they refuse to look for anything better, in the name of “that’s the way it has always been.”
Briefly, I have been a professional teacher for over forty years; six years in higher education (Texas A&M University at College Station and University of Texas at Austin); 32 years in high school (Jrs. & Srs. in Waxahachie High School); three years in a private college-prep church school (Canterbury Episcopal in DeSoto). I chose to teach high schoolers; I did not teach because I could not do something else. The secrets to my longevity are my subjects I teach or have taught: upper level physics, upper level math, astronomy, computer science, history & philosophy of science — my discipline problems are essentially scheduled out. My teaching specialty is college preparation.
Professionally I am a “square peg in a round hole;” I do not fit. On the campuses of Waxahachie and DeSoto I was and am the only Ph.D. in the classroom. (Note: this is crucial — NOT a doctorate in education) My degrees are not in education, but in physics. Before I started teaching in high school, I knew how to teach, without a single hour of education. (I started in Waxahachie on a provisional basis, agreeing to get my “necessary” education hours in two years, thanks to Billy Bates, former football coach at Cisco High School and superintendent at Waxahachie ISD at the time.) How did I know how to teach without a single education hour?
Because I did not listen to Eduway, mostly made of “professional educators” eaten up with the myth of education. Mrs. Edward Lee of the Cisco schools (Ciscoites might remember she lived right across the street from the old 3-story high school building.) told me before I graduated from CHS, “Ronnie, take as few education courses as you can.” (At the time, I did not know I was going to teach — maybe Mrs. Lee knew something about me I did not; I would not put it past her.) I listened to Mrs. Lee — I took zero hours of education in eight years of undergraduate and graduate school at Texas A&M. I taught Jr. High and High School science and math teachers for Extension of UT Austin, and, as I visited with them and asked them what they would have done differently, they consistently said, “Take fewer education courses, and more content courses.”
Eduway says you must have education courses to be able to teach; that is a myth. I am living proof, and the world is filled with others just like me — countless college and university professors who know how to teach and have never had an education course in their life. I suspect they learned the way I did — on-the-job training, employing the “monkey-see, monkey-do” method. Thrown in front of my first lab course I taught, I mimicked my professors, like Dr. Nelson Duller and Dr. John McIntyre of physics and Dr. Manuel Davenport and Rev. Stadleman of philosophy; I mimicked my high school teachers like Mrs. Lee, Mrs. Evelyn Bailey, Mr. Jack Hughes, Mr. Arlin Bint; I mimicked my junior high teachers like Mrs. Hart, Mrs. Schaefer, and Mrs. Pat Owens. In my opinion, the only training needed for teachers is so-called “student teaching” — on-the-job training, and only on-the-job training.
My experience implies there is no science of education. Eduway acts as if there is. If such a science existed, then teaching and learning would be done the same way everywhere. But the truth is, how we learn is as complicated as how our brains work, and we know so very little in both areas. Education courses are propped up as content courses by college and university departments of education, like science and math courses are content courses, only the latter need no such propping. I can think of no more useless courses or of time more wasted than the time spent taking education courses. (Some of my best friends are education professors.) Even the professional “educators” know it: To finish up my required education hours for my teaching certification through Texas Woman’s University (TWU), the education department there allowed me to write papers in lieu of taking the rest of the courses, when one education professor, looking at my folder, said, “Now, let me get this straight — you have a Ph.D. in physics and we are signing you up in a course where you practice turning on projectors and setting up equipment in the classroom?” We both agreed that was pretty silly, to say the least.
Teaching is an art, a skill; I think it is a calling. Despite my anti-clerical philosophy (Some of my best friends are in the clergy.) I understand what it means to be “called” into the ministry. You learn how to teach well by teaching, learning from your mistakes, and constantly adjusting and tweaking.
Two qualities must be possessed by a “good” teacher: competency and compassion. A “good” teacher has both to spare; a “bad” or “ugly” teacher has only one or neither. A lot of teachers teaching today are “bad” and/or “ugly.” Under a rare administrator at Waxahachie High School who did not listen to Eduway, faculty members, led by department heads, did the interviewing of applicants to join the faculty. We interviewed a veteran teacher we knew from the past whose mantra was “I just love kids.” Which was bullshit, because we knew he was a racist. No compassion, and probably not competent. “Good” teachers must know what they are talking about, and they must care deeply and passionately that their students develop a love of learning whatever subject they are teaching. “Good” teachers are not surrogate parents; they are not “friends” of their students (though, after graduation so very many of my former students have become my good friends; one of them is the administrator of this website).
Eduway has brought the profession of teaching to the brink of low-income labor — almost the antithesis of a professional career. Teachers should have the professional respect of lawyers and doctors, a profession self-governed and self-regulated, instead of being reduced to second-class citizens by low-income professional classification. Teachers are considered workers more than professionals. Eduway administrators of all levels get paid more than classroom teachers, as a rule, for doing little or none of the work with the students — the whole purpose of the entire educational enterprise.
Eduway has introduced the “business” model into schools, as opposed to the “institutional” model. (I watched the operation of the “institutional” model for eight years in college.) This has been as a cancer in American education, both in public and private schools. Not too long ago I had a board member of Canterbury hold up the “business model” as the guideline for private schools. I should have seen this coming, as over the years at Waxahachie compiling my list of “things I do not understand about public schools,” teachers stopped leaving the classroom to become principals; rather, they left to become “managers.” (Teachers-become-principals for money are “sell-outs” — they betray students. Now, some non-competent, non-caring teachers that can’t be shed need to be “encouraged” to become administrators, like the Corps of Cadets when I was at Texas A&M, wherein outfits would “push” assholes into the corps staff — promote them — so that the outfit would become much, much better without them.) Admittedly, many faculties would become much better with certain teachers “promoted” to administrators. Phrases like “chain of command” were introduced into faculty-administration relations- a setting where they do not belong. As I saw in college and university administrations of “true” professionals, there is no need of a chain of command. (Some of my best friends are promoted school administrators.)
Notice how little I’ve said about the students themselves? Congratulations! You see the horror brought on by the self-aggrandizement of Eduway? The idea of public education is probably the best, certainly one of the best, ideas the US has given the world — the idea that citizens of means and property would make a material sacrifice for the younger generation (pay their school taxes). Eduway has turned public schools into an adult affair, like any other business; Eduway would have schools be about budgets and the wise spending of taxpayer’s money, instead of being of the students, by the students, and for the students. Without students as the main concern there is no school. I remember times in Waxahachie when district policy was guided by the accountants, by the budget! That was no true school, that was a farce, or, better, a tragedy for young minds.
No wonder students don’t like school! The school is not theirs; it is an adult playground ill-concerned about learning wherein adults use the “business” of schools as a means of self-promotion and students are seen as end “products,” products of some kind of K-12 assembly line. Eduway wants students to become consumers, not independent, innovative thinkers; Eduway wants to rubber stamp for the student the same thing stamped for the student’s parents.
Eduway spends time, money, and effort drumming up useless “in-service” programs for teachers, when almost every faculty has an almost endless source of meaningful, applicable “in-service” resources: its “good” teachers. Great in-services are actually the cheapest ones! Money is wasted paying curriculum directors, whose contributions to the classroom are, in my opinion, as useless as a ham sandwich at a Jewish picnic. So-called H-R departments, or human resource centers, become, thanks to Eduway, little more than enforcers of heavy-handed administration; H-R centers should be help centers for teachers, not centers harboring even more administrators.
Too many coaches are teachers, and too many teachers are coaches. In my experience a good coach and a good teacher in one is as rare as that aforementioned picnic sandwich. Coaches should not be allowed to become administrators unless they have morphed into something more than a coach, as did Billy Bates and Lonnie Nichols in Waxahachie. Nothing sadder and weaker than an administrator who can never be more than a coach. (Some of my best friends are coaches.)
Eduway shows its stupidity no better than in the sphere of teacher evaluation. Teachers are evaluated by people removed from the classroom! They should be evaluated by a practicing panel of their peers — pure and simple.
All principles should be required to teach at least one class, and be evaluated like any other teacher.
At the high school level, students should be empowered, given a sense that the school is not the adults’, it is the students’. Student body representatives should be present at all faculty meetings, all principals’ meetings, and all school board meetings; also they should have a say in what teachers are hired or fired. (Eduway would say I am calling for the inmates to run the asylum — idiots!) I lived an actual case when bright students actually wrote the scheduling software for the school; it did not last long; many adults hate to be outshined by students, even on the students’ “turf.” I wrote a short novel years ago entitled Brave New School, describing a school with such an empowered student body; unfortunately, Eduway librarians would file such a publication under “fantasy.”
This can go on and on, but I will truncate this with an appeal to pay teachers like professionals, not like second-class employees. Teachers don’t work for a State, a school district, or a boss; they work for students, just like lawyers work for their clients and doctors work for their patients. We need salary incentives to attract the best minds into teaching instead of desperate minds who cannot function in other capacities. You get what you pay for, and tax-paying parents should be outraged that their most precious children are placed in classrooms for most of their young lives too often with people paid proportionally to their competency and their compassion. It is almost organized child abuse! Meanwhile, look at the high-end salaries given to people who hardly step into the classroom. (Some of my best friends are campus administrators and district administrators.)
Elect school board members who are more teacher supporters than business people; elect school board members more interested in what goes on in the classrooms than on district fields of athletic play; elect school board members more interested in academic achievement than extracurricular contest winners. (Some of my best friends are school board members.)
Again, somebody has to talk about the elephant in the room. Perhaps it is appropriate the talk comes from someone like whom (possessing a Ph.D.) Waxahachie made sure they did not hire again; appropriate from someone who was never assigned as a mentor for an aspiring classroom teacher — maybe, for fear of what would “rub off” on the aspirant?; appropriate the talk comes from someone who, in the end, was drummed out of public schools for doing what he was asked to do when coaxed out of retirement; appropriate from someone who, when given the choice, always sided with the students; appropriate the talk comes from someone who, I think, never “sold out.”
I speak up for the “good” teachers at Canterbury, with whom I share so much in background, as well as lunchtime — teachers with last names like Hoffmann, Reves, Bailey, Polewski, Caulder, and Edwards. I did it for the “good” teachers of Waxahachie High, past and present, C.W. Block, Kathryn Aday, Amy Cote, Mona Choucair, Billy Ray Hancock, Emily Price, Brittney Duvall, Ron Appleton, Lisa Elliot, Sean Cagle, Doris Butler, Carrie White, Wanda Cain, Don Bowman, Ted Harris, Benji Arnold, Tommy Simpson, Dr. Rusty Reeves, John Nickols, Billy Stoffrogen, and Don Henslee. Add to the two Waxahachie administrators mentioned prior, the names Harold Dorsey, Jerry Colosimo, and Don Williams. And, of course, I speak up for those Cisco High School teachers and Texas A&M profs I’ve already listed above.
But most of all, I did it for all the students I have known, inside and outside my classroom, and for students everywhere. May those young minds who are coming after today’s students receive better from public education.