On Education

For years I have championed public school. Perhaps in a hardheaded way, because I am a product of public school. Notwithstanding the wonderful memories and relationships that public school afforded me, I would like to take an objective look at the education system.

Wesley started the first grade this year. The pandemic has caused his school to implement some resources that we have known were available, but never thought we’d actually have to use; namely virtual learning from home. Our experience with the first couple of weeks of virtual learning has caused me to do some critical thinking about education. For years I have championed public school. Perhaps in a hardheaded way, because I am a product of public school. Notwithstanding the wonderful memories and relationships that public school afforded me, I would like to take an objective look at the education system.

One of things that I still like about public school is that a child will be exposed to peers in their community. I do think it is good for children to learn how to interact with other children who are being raised with different values, beliefs, and traditions. After all, this is how life will be as adult. The simple principle Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself still takes quite a bit of practice and I think it is best taught to practice as a child.

Exposing a child to the peers in their community is also one of the things I dislike about public school. In my public school experience-especially in Middle School-much of the class time was spent disciplining children who had no desire to learn. I imagine that this is one of the greatest challenges for a teacher. Some of the same troublemakers that I watched purposefully disrupt class are now troublemakers in society. I see them from time to time when they make the news for criminal activity. So the time taken away from my education to discipline an incorrigible student was essentially wasted for everyone. On the other hand, learning how to deal with difficult people has come in handy many times in my adult life.

Perhaps there is an advantage in attending a smaller school. My wife is always surprised when I recall any of my teachers. She attended a much larger school than I did, and remembers her teachers as impersonal if she remembers them at all. There were only about 45 students in my graduating class and I had known most of them since kindergarten. So our teachers-I am related to a few of them-had a better chance of getting to know the students, which I think is a good foundation for a quality education.

It is unfortunate that public education is entangled in politics. Often decisions are made by bureaucrats that probably would be better made by teachers and even parents. You can read Year-Round School for a good example of that.

As a parent I am thankful for the opportunity to enroll my children in our Church’s Christian School. This was not an option for me as a child. In the last couple years of his life, my dad had the chance to work with Cornerstone Christian Academy. He was impressed by the curriculum-Abeka– and the freedom the administration had in organizing the school.

I am currently chipping away at my college education a couple of online classes at a time. It has taken this long because I have never been keen on going into debt for a degree that may or may not land a quality job. Even before the pandemic, online classes were really my only option. After reading some of the posts from my fellow students on the class discussion boards-a common assignment in online courses-I am strongly convinced that online classes are not working for everyone. It is painfully clear to me that many of the concepts being taught are not making sense to some students. More than likely these students will still pass the class with an imperfect understanding of the subject. Which is ultimately a failure.

No doubt we’ve all encountered people like this who may have eventually earned their degree. My dad used to tell a story of a college graduate at work who had made a really boneheaded production decision that cost the company a lot of money and time. Anyone with any kind of sense should have known better. In response to this error, one particularly perplexed blue collar worker shook his head and said, “He been to college though.”

To some degree home schooling is not much different that online college classes. Fortunately, most parents that I know with ambition enough to home school their children care enough to make sure their children are getting sufficient understanding of the subjects. Much can be said about the presence of a teacher who is genuinely interested in the education of a student.

Maybe the highest level of quality of education comes from a private tutor, or someone who is focused on only one student. This would be quite expensive. In many ways I think that this is where a parent is responsible for a child’s education. There are some things that are best learned from a father or a mother.

I grew up in a house where reading and discussion were valued. The arguments we had at the kitchen table were hardly ever about personal matters, but history, science, art, literature, or culture, and often could be solved by referencing the dictionary or the encyclopedia. To hear “Look it up” in a confident tone meant that you were about to lose an argument and be schooled. Even so, we never dwelt on who was wrong, but moved on to the next subject. That, I think, is how to create a culture of learning in the home.

Kindergarten

I cried when my mamma left me at school on my first day of kindergarten.

I cried when my mamma left me at school on my first day of kindergarten. “Look Zane, there’s a little boy with red hair.” She tried to comfort me as she pointed to Scottie, a boy with flaming red hair and a rat tail. Eventually I quieted down and took my seat directly across from Corey, a boy with a flat top haircut and perpetual drool on his chin. Miss Whitehead, our teacher, must have told him to wipe his chin at least six times a day for the rest of the school year, because I can still hear the frustration in her voice. Once all of the little children settled down and stopped sniffling a boy named Blake threw a bottle of glue across the room. As if on queue, the entire class stopped what they were doing and said, “Ooooohh”. This was the standard instinctual reaction for anything out of the ordinary for the next six or so years.

Miss Whitehead was a petite lady and was still in the early years of her teaching career. She had one of those bob haircuts that we popular in the early nineties, and she wore stirrup pants. It also seems like she wore a lot of horizontal striped shirts. I’m sure she was pretty trendy at the time. She must have gotten married and moved away because I only remember her being there for the first year of Elementary School. I did not move away, and neither did most of my classmates, Jordan, Ashleigh, Amanda, Stephanie, T.J., Maurice, Bexter, and several others. We would make memories together for the until we graduated thirteen years later.

I look back in regret at how much I hated nap time. I’m fairly certain that I never went to sleep anyway, although I did enjoy faking going to sleep so that the child assigned to wake everyone up would have to shake me. There was one kid that went sound asleep everyday and always woke up slightly dazed and grumpy. I might have been Corey, the drooler. I do recall Miss Whitehead calling me out for not being quiet during nap time. I had gotten some cowboy action figures, which Mom wouldn’t let me bring to school, but I had cut the trading cards out of the back of the cardboard packaging and I kept them in my pocket. Miss Whitehead caught me red handed playing with my cards instead of napping. I was upset with her for confiscating them, but I eventually forgave her.

We were mesmerized by the water fountain. Each of us waited out turn to get a drink of the cold water, all ignoring the exasperated pleas of Miss Whitehead to “Keep your mouth off of the water fountain!” Looking back, I think we all thought that she was talking to everyone else. I must admit that most of the water fountains I’ve experienced look ergonomically designed for your mouth. It wasn’t until she yanked my head off of the spout that I realized that I had been putting my mouth on the water fountain for as long as I had been drinking at water fountains. I try to avoid water fountains in general know that I’m an adult.

You learn a lot about change in kindergarten. About midway through my kindergarten year, we switched classrooms. We were all led en mass down to the new classroom so we wouldn’t get lost when the move finally happened. For whatever reason, Mom was late dropping me off to school on the day that we finally moved. I went straight to the old classroom only to find the door locked and the lights out. I wandered back to the front of the school to try to find the new classroom, but I couldn’t remember which door. I peered through the door windows of each classroom on the new hall, but didn’t see any familiar faces. I made the trip back to the old classroom before looking into another strange new room. Eventually someone from the office found me and took me to my new classroom.

Story time was my favorite part of kindergarten. We would all gather around Miss Whitehead’s chair and sit “Indian Style” on the floor. This was back when we sat Indian Style, today they call it criss-cross-apple-sauce, which confuses the kids. Anyway, we would sit there as Miss Whitehead would read to us from a book, holding it open so we could see the pictures, the most important part. It was during one of these sessions that Keisha, a mouth breather, stood up with he skirt dripping. It’s one thing to have an accident, but another to have an accident in public. “Why didn’t you tell me you had to go?” Miss Whitehead said with a tender voice although she was visibly frustrated. Keisha just stood there and shrugged, breathing heavily. The entire class remained completely silent and stared open mouthed at Keisha, each one of us grateful that we had not been the one to have an accident. There is nothing quite as intimidating as the kindergarten stare. We were old enough to know what was going on, and pure enough to hold anyone’s gaze unflinching. In many ways it was worse than the entire class saying in chorus, “Ooooohhh!”