Editor, Daily Press:
As another retired educator in town, I was intrigued by the recent discussion of public education on the "Point, Counterpoint" page of the Press.
Neither Fred Gibson nor Jonathan Jobe mentioned the most serious problems plaguing our schools today: lack of parental involvement, classroom overcrowding, declining school budgets, use of out-of-date textbooks, and perhaps the most pressing problem of all: the failure of the schools to deal adequately with today's technology. With a phone in every hand, today's children are full of random information and ideas and no clear understanding of what it all means. And education has become mixed up with entertainment. Today, every "good teacher" must entertain as well as profess.
But then I realized Fred and Jonathan had loftier ideas about education. They were trying to establish what they thought the purpose of education should be. Many great minds have undertaken this task. In 1934, John Dewey put it this way: "The purpose of education has always been to every one, in essence, the same - to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society." In 1940 Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education." Great thoughts these, but so abstract we still might ask, what specifically should schools be doing?
Jonathan tries to answer this question by relating the subjects he was taught. He mentions history, both world and American; lessons in how our government works; lots of math, including trigonometry; classes in science and English every year. Students in his day actually read their textbooks and novels. They even had to memorize the times table, learn cursive writing, and write coherently. And they had to demonstrate competence in all these things. So there!
Since Jonathan's evocation of his school days was rather like mine, I decided to interview a recent graduate from Tahlequah High School. I wanted to see how much schools had changed from the good ol' days. Lo and behold, my interviewee took virtually every subject and accomplished almost every task Dr. Jobe mentioned. In addition, she had elective courses in art, Cherokee, Spanish, and computer skills. If she had a complaint about her schooling, it was classes taught by poorly prepared teachers, such as history taught by coaches.
So schools haven't changed all that much. In some schools, students still recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing patriotic songs. For no matter what faults they may find with their country, they love their country. The proverb is true: "Home is where the heart is."
Fred, in his slightly sardonic style, makes the case for the schools' sorting purpose. The top students get the top jobs; the average students fill middle management positions, run small businesses and work at trades; the dropouts make do with government assistance.
Whether the schools will deal with their pressing problems and develop other, nobler purposes, remains to be seen.