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Education Requires More Than New Buildings
What transpires in classrooms is only the tip of the iceberg. The public doesn't see the effort teachers give to trying to come up with something fresh and creative to make class "interesting" and "fun" -- which seem to be the main things that our society wants these days.
Teachers aren't exempt from doing stupid things just as young people aren't. I did some dumb stuff that I'd just as soon forget! One of our friends who taught for Bill when he was a Social Studies Department Chairman now teaches in Ohio. A fellow teacher and she had planned a Pioneer Day to give students a realistic picture of life before the days of super markets and takeout food. They wanted to do something that the students would never forget, and they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.
They went to a back lot where students decapitated, plucked and cleaned two chickens. The news got out, and the superintendent called: "Please explain this. I've been called by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and the media; and you will be called also."
The newspaper carried Sherry's picture with the incorrect caption "CHICKENS KILLED IN CLASSROOM!"
"As if we'd kill them inside," Sherry said. "The only good thing was that all this blew up the last day of school! The thing that makes me feel worse was that it caused trouble for my administrators."
That summer the crew of the Good Ship Lollipop -- as we call the houseboat that we rent -- had a hilarious time, telling chicken jokes and cackling. Every year Sherry's husband gives her a chicken object for Christmas - vases, salt shakers, etc., and her superintendent also sometimes receives chicken gifts.
When the Mayhills and Sarah Ward led the fight to save the old Knightstown Academy building from demolition, it was deemed inadequate for learning. Looking back, I wonder how we learned anything in such an antiquated physical plant where we were taught by strict teachers who adhered to the pedagogical philosophy of "Old Eaglebeak," the dictatorial superintendent.
I started teaching in 1958 at an old school on South Post Road in Marion County. Its teachers' lounge consisted of three rickety chairs next to the coal bin in the boiler room, and our equipment was minimal. The vice-principal was so tough that students who had the misfortune to be in a study hall that he monitored called it "The Morgue."
And yet, in spite of these deprivations, people developed fairly complex reading, writing, and cognitive skills, learned enough math to get by on, and developed an understanding of history, government, and geography. One of my best students became a big New York / Washington attorney after graduating from Columbia University. Others became dentists, physicians, and business owners.
Everything I've learned and achieved during my lifetime was built on the foundation that those old-fashioned teachers instilled in me. I know why they, my colleagues, and I were able to accomplish so much with so little: Even though society didn't pay them well, society did insist that their children respect teachers - at least at school.
There is nothing more exhilarating than "clicking" with students and seeing their minds unfold. On the other hand, there's nothing more depressing than a bad day at school. Here's a story from a guidance counselor who teachers in another part of Indiana: "I'm so sad about this boy who was kicked out of school. He's not a bad kid." The counselor asked him what had happened. "I've been late to school too many times." Why is that?" "My mother and her boyfriend promise to drive me to school, and then they don't. Last night they left in the middle of the night to drive to a gambling boat. My family is going to become homeless as of today."
I called my friend a week later and asked, "What happened with that boy you talked about?" "I'm ashamed to admit this, but I've had no time to talk to him. You know, it's hard. We're short-staffed, and I have 500 (!) students assigned to me."
Today's schools are state-of-the-art palaces. There's a certain high school football stadium in Marion County of which the Indianapolis Colts wouldn't be ashamed. I'm enraged when I pass such monuments to frivolity because they are built on false values. To pay for them may require reductions to an already over-burdened teaching staff.
Henry David Thoreau would call them an improved means to an unimproved end. We lavish treasure on bricks and mortar but neglect the very soul of learning.
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