More on school controversy

If you are so inclined you can go to The Pilot’s web page and look on the left-hand side for the Opinions Page. There are several very interesting letters to the editor around June 11, and a very interesting – actually a not-bad editorial from June 8.

However, the editorial writer left out an important consideration, in my (never) humble opinion: schools are not the arm of government, but of the people of the community. At least, that’s how they started out to be in this area.

When I was growing up, each town school had its own School Board. My uncle was on the School Board for West End School for a number of years, and my ex-father-in-law ran for the School Board for Southern Pines (I don’t remember whether he won the election). The schools reflected the needs and expectations of the communities they served.

I grew up, until at least the fifth grade, with a daily devotional – a reading from Scripture, a prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance. In the third grade, Mrs. Pullen required us to memorize the whole first chapter of the Book of Genesis, which I can still recite, mostly accurately, today.

I also remember the third grade vividly as the year we seemed to do nothing but conjugate verbs and memorize multiplication tables – sans calculators, of course! and we probably got a good start with fractions that year, too. There were no ubiquitous calculators in 1964-65, nor were there spell-checking and grammar-checking word processing programs; we had to learn the principles of both arithmetic and grammar in our own little heads.

We also learned Civics – the value of responsible American and community citizenship. Along with the Pledge to the Flag every morning, we learned to treat that symbol of American liberty with respect – how to honor it from saluting it to retiring it.

Somewhere in the mid-1960s, Mrs. O’Haire, that famous atheist, began her campaign to remove prayer from the public schools, and about the same time, governance for our schools was transferred to the County and State levels. Mrs. Pullen’s rigorous morning devotionals were pronounced “Un-Constitutional.” Grammar became an outmoded and unnecessary exercise, Civics was replaced with a succession of increasingly watered-down “heritage” courses, Math became largely a matter of preference… and somewhere along the line the Latin classes I’d heard people proudly brag of hating (even while they would show off by declaiming Virgil) also disappeared from the curriculum.

Discipline also began to change. At Aberdeen school, paddling was allowed, and standing in silent, straight lines in the hallway as we processed from our classes to another class, the library or the cafeteria was required. When a local bully made noises on the school playground and in the underpass under U.S. 1, parents informed the principle with the solid expectation that the bully would be dealt with – and he was.

But by the time I got to Pinecrest High School, corporal punishment – like grammar, systematized mathematics study, Civics and Latin – was pronounced decidedly passe. We had a smoking area! and cutting class and other shenanegans were met with … were there any consequences? I don’t recall any. We didn’t have standard classes; we met in large open classrooms: on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays we had “Small Group” with a small class; and on Tuesdays and Thursdays we had “Large Group” where we all gathered together to hear a teacher give lectures, usually with the aid of the overhead projector, from which we were supposed to take notes. We didn’t have textbooks; chapters were reproduced in mimeographed packets called “LAPS” (Learning Activity Packages), and courses were theoretically self-paced.

We were supposed to be part of a great educational revolution – which failed, obviously. Some time between 1975 and 1996, each of the large rooms was divided into four smaller ones, books returned to the classrooms, and more traditional methods were re-instated. However, calculators had been introduced and become de rigeuer for all students (in 1975, only the really advanced students would have invested the couple hundred dollars for a calculator), and an appalling number of students had to use the damned thing to figure out simple addition – I’ve seen them, literally, adding 2+2 on a calculator; they swear it’s easier than thinking.

And grammar has been re-introduced – but it is really nothing more than Parts of Speech, which 9th grade teachers scramble to work in because it’s usually part of the 9th grade State End of Course exam; forget the beginning differentiations between nouns and verbs that we experienced as early as the first grade. The systematic study of how words work together in order to convey meaning is unheard of – in fact, most high school students demonstrate an appallingly inadequate stock of words (vocabulary).

Education used to be the community’s means of preparing children for a responsible, productive, active adulthood, in which that child was expected to grow up to make responsible moral and civic decisions. In those days, education was what we’d now call “wholistic” – academic, intellectual, moral and spiritual. Nowadays, removed from the community and consolidated into larger, “more useful” geographic units, it is merely the passing on of a few basic skills (how to operate a calculator and use a computer) and the instilling of certain bits of information, mostly geared to render graduates incapable of rational independent thought and wide open for propaganda ploys from a liberal intellectual elite.

God help us.

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