Monday, September 27, 2010

American Education

I was relieved to hear both Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes tell PAGE how important public education is to the state of Georgia, but they were, as they say, all over the page on how to fix the thing. Mr. Deal comes from a background loaded with educators (wife, parents) and sympathizes with the teachers’ as they take work home to be done for the next day, referring to them as “unseen servants”. Mr. Barnes credits his father with taking him to UGA, in a pickup truck and dropping him off to begin college. Great stories from two guys who place a lot of importance on education and there were some really good ideas expressed by both. Whether to make better use of resources (Deal) or stress professional development and stipends for those teaching math, science, foreign language and special education (Barnes). Deal stressed the idea of taking the micromanagement aspect out of the classroom and restoring the joy of teaching to those in the profession while Barnes talked about extending the school day fifteen minutes in the morning and fifteen in the evening. They agreed on many points during most of the discussion such as making sure a child can read on grade level by grade three. So how do we get there?  If, as the former governor said, “you turn SATs around by making sure a child is reading on grade level by grade three”, how do educators ensure that will happen?  Years ago in a county near here, there was a young lady who began to hang around the gym to watch the girls’ varsity basketball team practice.                                                                                                      
The coach noticed her for about a week and then asked her if she would like to join the team. She said she would and became the tenth member of the squad, having no experience and in grade eleven. She never missed a practice and became a defensive player because there just wasn’t enough time to learn how to shoot. A day came when the coach noticed her still in the gym quite a while after practice and she said she needed a ride home so off they went. She lived several miles out in the country and it was dark when they drove down a winding dirt road finally arriving at a run-down shack of a house in a clearing. No lights were on, only the faint glow of candles in the window and he watched as she washed her hands in the pump at the end of the dirt driveway. It was then he realized why this child had wanted to play basketball. It was to keep from going home. She went on to graduate and enter college, majoring in psychology. I hope she’s doing well.

You see, education is not about money. It’s more about caring. Most of our teachers began their careers with no thought to what they would make, only that it would be enough. They learned about the intrinsic value of some things in life. They loved a subject and they loved the kids and wanted to put the two together. The truth is teachers today need help. Not the kind that comes from a stipend or incentive pay, although those are worthy offerings. No, the help they need comes from home in the form of parents or guardians, grandparents or stepparents or whoever has major influence over the child. The person who can say, “Yes, it is important to learn how to read, to write, to think, so you can communicate and tell others what it was like to be you.” There has to be collaboration between home and the school or even the most effective teacher is going to have difficulty. When you think about it, what did it cost you to learn how to read? Nothing really…A mother or father, grandmother or maybe just someone who cared enough to see it happen.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Dad always said, “son, don’t ever hit anybody in the rear when you’re driving cause it’s gonna be your fault.” He was right of course but I just had to test the theory, having driven for forty-five years and not actually experienced a rear-ender from the giving side. I was a receiver once…some woman in a Cadillac hit the trailer hitch on my old truck but when I pulled over to see what damage had been done to her car…she just waved and kept on truckin. I guess she thought I was going to sue or something but my back felt ok and I couldn’t catch her anyway. When you get hit in the rear it’s always a good idea to be holding your back when you get out of your car…just in case.

The other day, it was a perfect morning; I was sitting in the right lane with cars to my left and an old beat up government car in front of me. I assumed whoever the driver was must be on his way to wherever they take old government cars when they retire. I was wrong. Someone had given me this nice little pen and notepad set and I was looking at it when the cars to the left started moving. So, I pulled my foot off the brake and bumped into the piece of junk sitting in front of me. Remember the old Bill Cosby album about the surgeon who makes a mistake and the patience hears him say, “oops and then asks, did you just say oops?” I went oops.

It was a tap for Pete’s sake! I got out, walked up to the beat up ol’ government vehicle and this guy in the driver’s seat rolls down his window and, I’m not making this up folks, says, “what happened?” “I think I bumped you”, I said. He says, “Oh” but I am reading his mind and what I read is, you mean like, from the rear! As in, payday! I asked if he was ok and he says yes and we pulled over to a parking lot to check the vehicles. My truck has not a scratch. It was a tap, for Pete’s sake!

The beat up ol’ government vehicle has so many cuts and bruises he can’t figure out which one I may have put there but, by golly there’s got to be one somewhere cause, I’m feeling mighty lucky this morning and this pain in my back came from your truck. So I stand there as he makes a thorough inspection of this hunk of junkyard refuse walking all around to make sure me “plowing” into him didn’t cause any frame damage or whatever.

I notice a slight limp developing about the time he hits the passenger side door but I go through the motions and say, “well, looks like we’re ok here, sorry this happened, have a nice day, let me get the heck out of here before you need CPR and an ambulance. “Uh, I think we need to call the police”. Christmas has arrived!” “My ship has come in!” “Time for that little Bermuda cruise, after I have my back looked at of course.” Now we’ve got the local police involved and because this was a government vehicle that looked like a piece of Swiss cheese, he wants to call the GSP! Mr. GSP makes another thorough inspection of the car from hell, asks if we’re ok then says, “well, looks like we’re done here I’ve got a serious call to get to across town.” Whew! Glad that’s over, could have been worse, the driver of the future parts on wheels could have been seriously injured, I thought. The next week I get a call from, you guessed it, my insurance company. “Oops”. Seems Dad was right all along, “son, don’t ever hit anyone in the rear unless you’re willing to pay for a cruise to Bermuda.”