Waiting for Superman, the controversial documentary about public education and its many failures, was not nominated for an Academy Award. Perhaps it did not make the list because it was highly critical of teachers, their powerful unions, and boards of education. Like abortion, women’s rights, and homosexuality, public education is a sacred cow to the liberal establishment. While millions of students, particularly in inner cities across America, fail to learn even the simplest rudiments of learning and are, thus, doomed to a bleak future, the liberal answer is always “We must spend more money,” despite the unarguable fact that the cost of public education has been rising for decades now. In fact, some of the worst school systems in America have the highest per-pupil spending, with Washington D.C. being a prime example.
So what’s the solution? Can the educational Titanic be saved before it plunges into oblivion? Yes. I would like to suggest a single idea with many components that could radically change schools virtually overnight and not cost an additional dime. In the process, I can almost guarantee that learning would improve dramatically in a short period of time. I could justify my points by referring to relative research, but there is not the space to do so. Perhaps that will come later. For now, this is all you get.
The single idea is to make the school building a sacred place. By this I mean that what goes on the school is dramatically different from what takes place at home or in the street. In the building, there is a different language spoken; vulgar words and expressions, insults, and shouting are prohibited. Teachers are addressed by their proper title and last name. Each day begins and ends with a prayer thanking God for his blessings and asking for his protection.
In the building, distractions from the learning environment are not allowed. This includes all personal electronic devices, whether they be cell phones, I pods, I pads, etc. Furthermore, one of the greatest distractions is the opposite sex. Consequently, all schools are gender-segregated, including the teaching staffs. Another major distraction is clothes. To eliminate this problem, all students wear the same uniform, and the teachers have to adhere to a strict, professional-looking dress code. Also, hair styles and hair colors that draw attention to oneself are unacceptable.
Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, believed that obedience was the door through which knowledge enters a child’s mind. This brings us to discipline. In the sacred building, proper authority is obeyed without exception. Failure to follow a school policy is dealt with swiftly and firmly. In addition, students who repeatedly disobey are removed from the school until there is a clear understandingthat the improper behavior will end. Short of that, they can enroll in a private school or roam the streets.
The curriculum of the sacred school focuses on the traditional three R’s. In kindergarten and first grade, students learn to read using the phonics system. In all grade levels, written essays are required in several disciplines on a weekly basis. Literature classes focus on classic prose and poetry, and only biographies of significant historical figures are read. “Contemporary” literature dealing with drugs, alcohol, violence, and sexual deviance is not used. History classes are factually accurate but never used as a tool to denigrate America. Math is taught to to develop the capacity to think logically and to give students a competitive edge for entrance into college and the work force.
As for sports, in the sacred school they are always secondary to academic achievement. No student carrying less than a C in any subject is allowed to participate on a sports team. Practice times are strictly limited so that students have plenty of time to study. At the same time, coaches insist upon hard work, discipline, sportsmanship, and team success. The athletic department does not see itself as a feeder system for college sports. Regarding the term “student athlete,” the emphasis is always on “student.”
Well, there you have it. There are other aspects of the sacred school I could add, but you get the idea. Naturally, some readers will judge most of this as unrealistic or unconstitutional or both. And they would be right. That’s why another component must be added: State governors must declare that a state of emergency exists in public schools and, as a result, a form of martial law must be implemented. All so-called student rights that actually detract from education must be ignored until the state of emergency has ended. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures.
Do I think my suggestions will actually be implemented, and will we see a true reform of public education?Does a snowball have a chance in hell?
THOMAS ADDIS is a retired high school teacher and published author, most recently authoring a children’s book, A Gift of Light, which is available at Amazon. An M.A. graduate of Oakland University, he is Associate Editor of Catholic Journal. In his spare time, he enjoys reading and cycling.