COLUMN: Current school system needs reform

Tuesday, March 9, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CST; updated 9:45 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Apparently, some school districts across the country have come to the conclusion that things cannot go on as they are. The possibility that they risk losing federal funds for operating schools where students perform poorly, have irregular attendance and low graduate rates has finally settled in. It was all over the news last week that the superintendent of the Central Falls, R.I. high school fired all of its teachers.

Closer to home, Kansas City's school district is considering closing near 30 of its schools for poor performance. Certainly no one likes to hear of the mass firings of any employees, especially teachers. Anyone who reads newspapers would find it difficult to blame the failing schools strictly on faculties and administrators. While it is understandable that teachers unions would be upset about the matter, one has to admit that since the school districts have to begin somewhere, teachers and administrators are the people over which they have control.

We all know cases of poorly performing teachers in our own schools, but we also are aware of poorly performing parents as well. Unfortunately, the schools can do nothing about irresponsible parents and obviously are limited both by parents and taxpayers as to what they can do with students.

So, it's a serious dilemma and I'm not certain schools can solve the problem. However, they can certainly set standards and demand that teacher meet those standards. Unfortunately, in our society, parents are not required to be accountable for very much when it comes to their children's welfare. As long as they don't publicly abuse or neglect them, they are free to bring them up however they choose. In earlier times society had a role in determining a child's school attendance. If children were not in school during school hours, neighbors took an interest and felt free to question the child and report his or her behavior to their parents. That's behind us now. Society has allowed children to be free to do whatever they want. They not only tolerate misbehavior by children, they encourage it. When children misbehave on television, parents applaud it, in front of their children.

OK, as a point of fact, our society's method of parenting and teaching children is not working. But I can promise that any attempt to change the situation will be met with overwhelming resistance. Many modern parents are deeply committed to making their children happy and any effort on the part of anybody to alter that commitment will probably fail. Furthermore, many grandparents support that philosophy even though they know it is not a healthy practice. I suppose the only solution will be to devise a free, public education system only for those parents and children who want one.

Although our democracy requires an educated populace for its existence, we'll have to admit that we cannot establish and maintain an educated populace. This means we will have to draw lines that make a place for the unlearned and undisciplined portion of our population to coexist with the main society. And while on the face of it, this may sound like a stupid idea, I will be happy to stand up and applaud the people who can establish any meaningful educational system out of this mess. Just the time it will take to deal with thousands of First Amendment lawsuits initiated by people who don't get to do what they want will take decades to resolve and force many schools to remain closed.

I would hate to imagine that our pride and joy ­ – the free, public education system – may have to shut down permanently and deprive children whose parents cannot afford private schools of an education. But the fact that the nation's childless taxpayers have not revolted is surprising.

Nowadays, home-teaching is the only answer some parents are willing to accept. Many parents feel that they are placing their children's lives in danger when they send them to public school. So, like it or not, something should be done. The problem is that our society has caved in to so many private interests; it's hard to find a way to back out.

It seems to me that unless a majority of parents in every school district can come into an agreement to operate schools that satisfy the federal guidelines, they will have to build their own private schools. That means that those who cannot afford the tuition will simply be left to acquire learning on their own.

The price of progress just seems to get higher all the time.

You can join the conversation with Rose M. Nolen by calling her at 882-5734 or e-mailing her at

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