Cumberland Times-News

Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything

September 22, 2012

It works well in some places, but not others

I once went to a party that several teachers attended, and at one point was on the verge of collectively asking them, “If you dislike it so much, why don’t you quit and find something else to do for a living?”

 However, I found it wise to say nothing. (So, I learned later, did a couple of other teachers who didn’t agree with them.)

If they had asked me, “Well, what do you know about education?” I don’t know how well my answer would have gone over.

I’d have told them I was a student for 16 years, and I keep up with what’s going on in education. Many of my friends have been teachers, as have some of my relatives — including my mother and father, and my dad went on to be a high school principal.

All of the above people have talked to me about it, and I have listened. (When people ask why I didn’t become a teacher, I say it’s because I lived with two of them for 25 years. I have a pretty good idea of what the job is like.)

Other than that — plus the fact that some of the people I most admire are teachers — I don’t know a damn thing about education.

It would be interesting to hear what my late parents would say about the state of education in America today ... particularly when it comes to things like the Chicago teachers’ strike.

There are places in America where public school education is succeeding wildly, while elsewhere — like Chicago — the same cannot be said.

Salary was not a sticking point in Chicago, where the average teachers’ salary is $76,000 and they were offered a pay raise. That might seem like a lot of money to people in our area, but maybe not to people who live in a big city.

There also is the question of whether teachers or any other public employees should be allowed to strike because of the public’s reliance on them. (President Franklin D. Roosevelt was one who believed they should not.) I’ll leave it to other people to argue about that.

Proposed teacher performance evaluations based on students’ test scores are a major issue nationwide. Although 80 or 90 percent of Chicago’s teachers are rated excellent or superior, only 55 percent of their students ever graduate. Something in that doesn’t add up.

People in just about every other profession are evaluated on their performance — even legislators, who are booted out of office if their constituents become dissatisfied. (The same thing happens to pastors.)

If I don’t do my job at the newspaper to my the satisfaction of my editor and publisher, they’ll find someone who will. And so on.

Shouldn’t teachers be held accountable in similar fashion? Not entirely. There are too many factors they can’t control, regardless of their dedication to the job.

I wouldn’t envy any teacher who has to work under the conditions that are likely to be found in an inner-city school. The physical plants are frequently deplorable.

Some of my friends tell me they love teaching, but other things my parents never had to contend with — such as the modern bureaucracy and never-ending reports and paperwork  — are what get them down.

My parents said they couldn’t think of anything they would rather have done than be teachers, but they also believed they got out of it at the right time, just as things were starting to change ... in 1971.

Dad and his fellow principals were the captains of their ships. What few bureaucrats there were trusted them to do their jobs properly and left them alone to do so.

The man who was school superintendent a few years back told my father, “Jim, you and the others couldn’t be principals today. You’d all be in jail within six months.” Dad agreed.

That said, Dad and his fellow principals were for the most part loved and respected by the students, parents and teachers and virtually everyone else in their communities.

A friend who retired from Dad’s old job told me he had enjoyed it, but “I wish I’d been allowed to run that school the way he did.”

What about the students? How much should we hold them accountable for their success or failure?

It must be incredibly challenging to teach someone who has no interest in learning or isn’t able to learn. This hasn’t changed since I was in school. I’ve heard my parents and their teacher friends talk about it.

It’s one thing to be the offspring of a well-off family who goes to a first-class school that’s everything one would want it to be ... a veritable launching pad (as a teacher I knew once described his school) for the future.

It’s another thing to be born into a situation where poverty, hopelessness, failure and dependency abound.

Schools in places where the economy is good are usually good schools. Where the economy is poor, the schools are likely to be failing. Matters not whether it’s inner-city Chicago or the impoverished coal fields of West Virginia.

Some kids I knew came from families who didn’t have — as my grandfather used to say — a pot to (relieve themselves) in.

However, they were determined to get an education, find a job and work themselves upward, to make better lives for their children than they had. It could be done then, and it still can be done.

A successful chef who was born in an inner city said he figured out early on that if he stayed where he was, he’d have only a prison cell or an early grave to look forward to.

So he wangled his way into a culinary academy and worked as hard as he could to get where he is today ... while at the same time looking back to where he came from, in the hopes of finding kids like himself to help.

Some of my friends go several times a year to places like the one this chef came from, to try to help young people a few at a time.

They show them that another life exists out there, and what it’s like, and how they might be able to get there someday.

Whether they realize it, they’re teachers, too. What gives me hope is that America has many others like them ... just not nearly enough, and the size of the task they face is staggering.

How do you fix a system that works well in some places, but poorly in others, particularly when it’s hideously expensive to begin with?

As is the case with too many other questions, there’s no single answer.

Text Only
Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything
  • He was here long before Duck Dynasty

    July 27, 2014

  • He means well, and this time they spared his life

    Our pal Phil is the only re-enactor certified in writing by both the Lee and Custis families to portray Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee (whose wife was Mary Anna Custis Lee). When he’s in uniform, he generally stops at the bottom of the path that leads to the summit of Little Round Top, salutes Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy and asks permission to join us. (Get it? Generally ... General Lee?) We always return his salute and grant him permission, in part because he’s our friend and also because the real Lee never got to see what it really looks like from up there. (Get it? Grant ... Grant? U.S. Grant? Real Lee ... really? OK. I hear you. That’s enough. Seriouslee.) Phil gets a kick out of being able to sneak up on us while we’re distracted by tourists.

    July 20, 2014

  • They’d have fallen like Autumn leaves

    So there we were, minding our own business (at least momentarily), leaning against the cannon at Little Round Top.

    July 13, 2014

  • Better read that french fry before you eat it

    People give me otherwise-insignificant items they hope will amuse or inspire me. I appreciate this. I’m always glad for free entertainment, which as Goldy’s Rule 33 says is everywhere. All you have to do is wait and it will come to you. Also, I have been writing columns for 37 years and embrace inspiration anywhere I can find it.

    July 6, 2014

  • The moose is loose, and it’s coming for you

    So how would you like to look out your kitchen door window onto your porch and see a moose looking back at you from close range?

    June 28, 2014

  • There are some debts you can never repay

    Today’s column will be relatively short, as my columns go, for reasons that should become apparent, and I thought long and hard before writing it.

    June 21, 2014

  • It could have saved the county a lot of money

    Random thoughts sometimes occur to me when I least expect it, usually when my brain has become tired.
    When I voice these thoughts at work or in other places, people may tell me, “Goldy? It’s time for you to go home.” Yes, ma’am.
    Here are two random thoughts of recent vintage:
    • If Bugs Bunny were an Emergency Medical Technician, would that make him a MedicHare?
    • If Daisy Duck got a job driving for United Parcel Service, would she be an UPS-a-Daisy?
    I wouldn’t blame you if you think that sounds Goofy — or Daffy.

    June 15, 2014

  • These two were part of the Not Top Ten

    Occasionally, at this time of year, I see reference to a “class orator” or a “class speaker.”

    Nothing wrong with that — people can call such things whatever they want, as far as I’m concerned — but it makes me wonder. Have “valedictorian” and “salutatorian” become politically incorrect, and I didn’t notice? It may come as a surprise to you, but I really have not kept up with what is politically correct or incorrect. That’s what people tell me, anyway. With some of them, it actually seems to be a compliment.

    June 8, 2014

  • Coming soon to a highway near you?

    People say to me, “Goldy? Can I ask you a stupid question?”

    In theory — and theory only — the correct response is: “The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” Not so much. There ARE stupid questions, some of them so stupid that to call them stupid is to damn them with faint praise. Other questions are — on the face of it — legitimate questions, but shouldn’t be treated as such ... not if you subscribe to the same philosophy that I do: Free entertainment is everywhere; all you have to do is wait, and it will come to you.

    June 1, 2014

  • This was a skill that proved very useful

    The Belmont Park stewards have decided to let California Chrome wear his nasal strip during the Run for the Carnations. Nasal strips usually are worn by people who snore and may have saved numerous marriages. It helps the Triple Crown hopeful to breathe, and some twolegged athletes wear nasal strips for the same reason. In this case, Chrome’s nasal strip may keep him from (wait for it) ... losing by a nose.

    May 25, 2014

Latest news
Must Read
House Ads