In the wake of my retirement beginning June, 2016, I’ve experienced personally that the positive I’ve done professionally as a Ph.D. scientist who likes to teach (as opposed to a science and math teacher) stands out more than the positive criticism of our educational system I’ve offered in recent years. The wonderful things my former students/present friends said to me at my retirement party was like a life-long justification of my decision so long ago to teach high school juniors and seniors rather than teach physics on the collegiate level. At the same time too many people at the party seemed to ignore my criticisms of secondary education leading to high school graduation (probably because I used at the party an “inappropriate” term — the “s” word as part of a strong negative adjective abbreviated by “BS” — in describing part of the school administration I experienced over 40 years of teaching in public and private school) and missed the message because they could not get around a word in that message. I used the “BS” descriptor as a word of emphasis to call people’s attention to the issues I raised in the years just prior to my retirement. In my opinion “BS” does not make my descriptor “positive criticism” oxymoronic, if one hears all the criticism. (See 1: Education Reform — Wrong Models!, [May, 2013], 2: Education Reform — The Right Model, [May, 2013], 3: Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need, [May, 2013]) I learned that even in adulthood so many still judge people strongly by the language they use; the adults overlook the context of that language utilized to draw attention to the context; ironic and sad, but true.
So, in sincere gratitude for all the accolades sent my way at the beginning of my retirement, I’d like to attempt my positive criticisms of the education of the young minds in our society once again, this time without such strong language that unfortunately distracts so many. In a time-honored metaphor, I’d like not only to be an old war horse put out to pasture with accomplishments, fun, and fond memories attached, I’d like to be an old war horse put out to pasture with thought-provoking, reformative, and time-proven suggestions also attached. I’d like to leave a legacy of both knowledge in our children’s heads and ways of improving what we are doing on our children’s campuses to improve that knowledge. As I spell out in 1: Education Reform — Wrong Models!, [May, 2013], 2: Education Reform — The Right Model, [May, 2013], 3: Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need, [May, 2013], we can do better than we are. I know this because I have experienced the “better;” my suggestions are not hopeful fairy tales of what could be; my suggestions are methods I’ve seen work marvelously at Cisco High School, Texas A&M University, Waxahachie High School, and Canterbury Episcopal School.
This time I’d like to use an analogy — one between my experience both in and out of Texas A&M University’s Corps of Cadets in my undergraduate years 1964-1968 and my experience living within administration/faculty/student body situations for 60 of my 70 (so far) years.
Texas A&M University is one of those unique institutions offering a full-time ROTC program by which undergraduates can simultaneously graduate with a bachelor’s degree and a commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the armed forces calling for a service career of twenty years or so (The Citadel is another such institution, I think.). As a freshman (a “fish”) at A&M in the school year 1964-1965, I had to be a member of the Corps as well as an entering physics major, as that was the last school year being in the Corps was compulsory. Beginning the following year of 1965-1966, I opted out of the Corps, learning I did not want to pursue a career in the military; so I became what was known then on campus as a “non-reg,” a non-Corps student. For the record, I was in the Army ROTC branch of the Corps, assigned to company “Devil” D-3 of the Third Brigade. Nowadays Texas A&M is almost 9 times larger than it was in 1964-1965 and the overwhelming majority of students are “non-regs.”
Like the service academies at West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs, being in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets means you “play soldier” 24-7 during the week and on most weekends. You have to eat, drink, and play Corps as well as eat, drink, and play going to classes working toward your bachelor’s degree. You are living simultaneously in two not necessarily different and incompatible worlds. For instance, being in the Corps helped me become more disciplined in my study habits. (As a fish back then I had to study, and only study every weekday evening from 6:30-10:00 PM at my dorm room desk, monitored every 15 minutes by the sharp eyes of the upperclassmen hall monitors of our outfit (company).) On the other hand, when I became a non-reg my sophomore year, I had only one world to deal with, which for me as a physics major was about all the “world” I could handle. Therefore, I know the Corps and its effects upon academics “inside and out.”
Here’s the point: in the Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M, there are three possible modes of “juggling” the two worlds, with various degrees of emphasis among the three modes, depending upon the mind of the individual student. 1) You can successfully and consistently keep working toward two goals, the degree and the commission, 2) you can work harder on the degree without much concern for the commission, or 3) you can work harder on the commission without much concern for the degree. In my fish year, I saw hundreds of fellow students in each mode. Being in the Vietnam war era, the war in southeast Asia played a part in each student’s mind as they found themselves in one of these modes, as each mode carried with it its own risks back in those days. I was in mode #2 — I was well on my way being kicked out of the Corps early the second semester, so “un-sharp” was I (I was called “Cadet Basketball.”), until the company commanding officers (seniors) saw my good first semester grades. My good grades were needed to keep the outfit’s grade average above the level of acceptability monitored by the Corps Command in the Trigon (A&M’s version of the Pentagon). Those in mode #3 became known as majoring in “campusology,” more involved with extra-curricular Corps-related activities than with their responsibilities in the classroom. Campusology was very seductive to lots of students, as #3 mode was lots of fun, even if you were on the receiving end of the hazing fish got constantly; I had loads of fun taking advantage of “fish privileges” and driving upperclassmen (sophomores (“piss-heads”), juniors (“serge-butts”), and seniors (“zipper-heads”)) “crazy.” (Mess hall had its own fun vocabulary — e.g. “bull-neck” was meat, “deal” was sliced bread, and “baby” was mustard, to name a few that can repeated in polite conversation.) Campusology majors ran the greatest risk, for if you don’t pass, you cannot stay on campus long. I tragically saw a good friend be seduced by #3.
Our fish year was only a couple of months along, and my friend and I were both taking calculus for the first time ever, but not in the same section (classroom). Despite the fact we were in different outfits across campus from each other, he and I arranged a meeting in the library (Today that building looks like a tiny annex attached to the massive library that came after.) so I could help him with his calculus. His first serious question to me was “What is a derivative?” Again, he was not joking; he was serious. Those of you who are “calculus savvy” know someone asking that question two months into a calculus course is in, to put it mildly, trouble. I helped him, but it was too little too late for him. He couldn’t get the help from me he needed, I worried about his academics from then on, and beginning the next semester, he slid into academic probation, resulting in his having to transfer to another college or university. He was but one example among many who were lured by the fun of campusology. I’m pleased to say that over many years thereafter he was able to work his way back and eventually get his degree from A&M.
No institution of higher learning deliberately sets up a “campusology major” to ensnare unsuspecting students; students alone were responsible for the mode they found themselves in at A&M back in the 1960’s. But campusology can be a problem on any campus. For all non-Aggie or non-Aggie-knowledgeable readers, substitute “sorority” or “fraternity” for “Corps of Cadets” in the above and I think all readers will see my point (not to mention substituting “athletics,” “student government,” “committees,” “clubs,” “community service,” “jobs,” etc). The social structure of institutions today, just like at A&M in the ’60s, can become the “prize” for students instead of the intended prize of academic success — the only path to a college degree. If a student of higher learning looks toward another prize other than the one intended by the establishment of the institution itself, they have created for themselves an inverted, “tail-wagging-the-dog” world; they closed their eyes while swinging at the pitch; they come to realize there are no degrees in distractions or diversions — no degrees in campusology.
A form of campusology is at work in our public and private schools, a form whose remedying would go a long way toward getting our high school graduates back on par and even ahead of high school graduates in other countries around the world. I’m not talking about the usual high school extra-curricular activities that take up students’ academic time, like athletics, band, theater, student government, clubs, squads, jobs, proms, etc., though these can be campusology-like impediments toward high school graduation; how many students tragically have to settle for GED’s because they didn’t graduate high school due to being seduced by secondary school campusology? No, I’m talking about a campusology that affects students like I was privileged to teach in high school — students sharp and talented enough to easily juggle loads of extra-curricular activities alongside impressive academic success in the classroom. In other words, a campusology that impedes student preparation for direct matriculation into 4-year universities, an impediment in addition to cost. It is a campusology that, curiously, involves the relationship between school administration and school faculty. If relieved of this campusology, the percentage of high school graduates in all sizes of graduating classes capable of successfully and immediately attending university classrooms would jump from, in my observation, from around 10-11% to around 25%.
This high school adminstration/faculty campusology I’m speaking of here is labeled “wrong models” in 1: Education Reform — Wrong Models!. Moreover, this labeling can be applied to administrations and faculties at the junior high or middle school level, in my opinion. The relief from the problem of this campusology/wrong model is spelled out in 2: Education Reform — The Right Model and in 3: Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need.
In brief, then, a campusology-like mode potentially grips both administration and faculty in public and private schools. As articulated in, again, 2: Education Reform — The Right Model and 3: Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need, an “adult game” of management diverts both administrators and faculty away from their one and only charge or client — the student body. Teachers are called “professionals,” yet treated like “employees;” administrators are called “managers,” yet behave like “bosses.” Policy-level academic decisions are made by administrators, not classroom teachers; teachers are called away from their time with students to help the administrators “manage.” (Hall duty, lunch room duty, bus arrival/departure duty, etc.) The campusology becomes obvious when teachers are trained to focus upon being a part of a “team,” as opposed to an egalitarian gathering of colleagues. Teachers are groomed to climb the tenure ladder and establish working relationships with their “bosses,” the administrators, all to the negligence of their duties to their students in the classroom. Teachers are encouraged to be promoted out of the classroom, to leave their students and become “middle managers” — i.e. assistant principals on the path of becoming head principals. This promotion is heavily loaded with salary increases, increases towering over those reserved for becoming, say, a department head staying in the classroom. Such a situation lends itself pregnant toward becoming a “good ol’ boy” system, wherein school districts cooperate with each other to pass bad teachers away from one district to another and to create positions for “buddies” across districts so that the “buddy” can get a few more years service to pad their retirement payments. Ex-teachers and ex-administrators often are grafted away from campuses to become salesmen for exclusive “good ol’ boy” school-supply companies (not in the spirit of capitalistic competition) charging inflated prices, taking advantage of the school-tax-dollar “cash cow.” Nothing in the “good ol’ boy” system seems to have the students’ (or teachers’) best interests. This is why I called “BS” on it this past summer.
Schools are not about the careers of administrators and teachers; schools are about the development of young minds toward meeting the intellectual challenges of the world beyond high school.
2: Education Reform — The Right Model and 3: Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need remind us this campusology featuring the “good ol’ boy” system need not be. To repeat myself, I saw vestiges of the “right model,” the professional/colleagual in Cisco High School, in at least two campus administrations during my 32 years teaching at Waxahachie High School, and in Canterbury Episcopal School. Where I really saw this right model functioning full-time was in graduate school at Texas A&M University. Wherever I saw this remedy from all forms of campusology, it had nothing to do with departments of education or with degrees in education. This tells me that not only is there no science of education, departments of education and their curricula either are culpable in the perpetuation of campusology in secondary schools and the “good ol’ boy” system, or they are inadvertently so. Sprinkled throughout 1: Education Reform — Wrong Models!, [May, 2013], 2: Education Reform — The Right Model, [May, 2013], and 3: Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need, [May, 2013], is the constant theme of teachers declaring the education courses they took toward getting teacher-certified were “useless,” save the time spent in the classroom doing their student-teaching. Holders of degrees in education need to get back in the classroom taking long, hard looks at student behavior rather than at school organization and management. Moreover, school district administration and school boards need to focus on the classroom also, instead of trying to manage others from their ivory towers. All school organization outside the classroom should be postured in support of the classroom; the schools are not the focus of education — students’ minds are.
As an aid in thinking about education reform, think about a large regional hospital, wherein hospital administration and board are analogous to school administration (campus and district) and the school board, professional staff (the doctors) are analogous to school faculty, and patients are analogous to the classroom students. Ideally the entire hospital focuses upon its mission of promoting the health and recovery of its patients; hospitals are for patients the same way schools are for students. What if this hospital was infected by the campusology/good ol’ boy system such as described in schools above? Doctors would have to have administrative approval of their diagnoses and their prescriptions; doctors would be encouraged to become hospital administrators, as the latter are paid more than the former; emphasis for doctors would be upon climbing the tenure ladder; the hospital softball team becomes as important as successful patient stays. That, to me as a potential patient, is insane! Are schools fraught with divertive campusology and good ol’ boy tactics potentially harmful to student education any less insane? Based upon 60 years in the classroom as a student or teacher, I don’t think so! I trust all good teachers, those who are competent and also who care, resonate with what I’m saying.
If any school tax payer, any former or present school administrator, any former or present school teacher, or any former or present student thinks positively toward any or all of the above, please read my specific, suggested solutions toward needed education reform in 2: Education Reform — The Right Model and 3: Education Reform — How We Get the Teachers We Need. In all probability, many such readers could come up with better suggestions, ideas, and plans than I. In fact, good friend and former student Dr. Burl Barr thinks I don’t have a prayer reforming departments of education as I propose; reluctantly Dr. Stephen Weldon, another friend/former student, agreed with Dr. Barr. See if you can change Dr. Barr’s and Dr. Weldon’s views on this matter. Please pass on to us all your suggestions, ideas, and plans.
The idea/philosophy of public education is, in my opinion, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, legacies passed on to modern humankind by the United States of America. What is happening now in our USA classrooms does not reflect that great legacy. We need to do something about this incongruity, not just talk about it. Please join me in working for the development of young minds.