I had a conversation this week with Sean, the man who visits my house quarterly to spray for carpenter ants. We always talk about education because he knows I was a teacher and he is an involved parent. On his most recent visit, he told me about a playground at his son’s school that cost $30,000 to build a few years ago. It was recently bulldozed over. Why? Because someone had gotten a splinter. And now they are looking to raise the money to build a new playground at a cost of $60,000. Huh? Couldn’t there have been a less expensive solution? Sean had one. He and the other fathers offered to give up their weekends to sand the wooden parts of the playground and cover them with a plastic coating so that no child would ever get a splinter again. A logical, common sense solution it would seem. But it never happened. He and the other fathers were told they couldn’t do this work because it conflicted with the custodian’s union. The custodians couldn’t do that work because they didn’t have the time. So instead, the entire playground was knocked down!
Sean also mentioned a great program they had each morning in his oldest son’s school where all the students gathered together for twenty minutes in the morning to discuss the issues of the day. His son loved this morning meeting and absorbed all sorts of information in this less traditional part of the day. He said, “The knowledge just sneaked in. The principal cancelled the morning meeting because it was taking away from the regular curriculum. The kids were devastated. Parents protested, students wrote letters but the principal decreed that she was the boss of the school. She made a decision she didn’t want to change. Again I ask, “Hughie understand the pressures on education but please, let’s use some common sense and conclude that if a program is working, it’s worth keeping in place.
When is common sense coming back to education? Our politically correct, litigious society is taking more and more away from the education of our students. School districts are taking body mass indices (is that really their business?) While taking exercise away from the kids at recess because they don’t want anyone hurt. The high school I taught at went from physical education every other day to just one semester a year. Teens only need physical activity for half a year? Where’s the common sense???
Music, art, and some of the trade courses are being taken out of schools so students can focus on passing tests that really only measure how well they listen and read. These are great skills, to be sure, but they are not the only ones needed for success. We need our artists, our entrepreneurs, our tradesmen. They are integral parts of the fabric of our society. We are weeding out the courses that for many students are the only reason that school is worth attending. With our outsourced society, we vitally need the creative, hands-on artists and craftsmen more than ever to create the new products and businesses our country depends on. Instead these extremely talented kids are being beaten down by a school environment and testing structure that makes them feel less valued.
It’s time now to consider adding back those programs and enhancing the school climate with programs that teach and support the whole student as he/she prepares to live life in our very complicated 21st century world. Now doesn’t that make sense?