Readin’, writin’, & arithmetic; what went wrong?

My house in North Mississippi is only about 2 miles from the Tennessee state line and the city of Memphis.  Memphis can be a beautiful place.  The culture is diverse.  When I first moved to the area to attend seminary, I found myself for the very first time in my life in places where I was the only light-skinned person in a room.  When I went to work at night, the people of color knew that it was really uncomfortable for me–so they looked out for me; they taught me how to act a speak in their culture; they helped me appreciate different kinds of food–and best of all, they became my friends.

Lately, across the state line over there in Memphis, a lot of finger pointing has been going on over education–or the lack thereof.  Well-meaning, but misinformed community leaders, convinced the people of Shelby County that it would be best to combine city and county school systems–to save money–snicker, snicker.

The outlying municipalities in Shelby County didn’t want anything to do with it so they determined to separate themselves from the city/county system in an effort to establish there own school systems.  If the results of today’s vote (as it is being reported) is accurate, their desire is overwhelming, 80+% in favor.

In fairness, being a Mississippi resident, I need to point out that among the 50 states, MS consistently ranks dead last in most areas.  Thankfully, Desoto County, where I live, leads the state while being the largest of its districts. Many, many Shelby County/Memphis families have moved to Desoto County in recent years to escape the system that they perceive to be broken at best and corrupt at worst.

What is going on? Well, according to very recent national statistics, 70% of American 8th graders can’t read proficiently, and most will never catch up.  More than 1.2 million American high school students drop out of school every year.  44% of dropouts under age 24 are jobless and that ends in $300 billion in lost wages and lost productivity from the class of 2007 alone.  And it is only getting worse.

High School graduation for me came more than 40 years ago.  I can still remember many of my teachers and the profound effect they had on my desire to learn.  They taught me to love reading, to push myself academically, and to expect the best–from myself AND my classmates.  Even back then, I can remember community leaders saying we needed more money because American education trailed other countries.  In the 1980’s they were singing the same song, just like they did in the ’90’s, just like the did in the first decade of this century, and just like they are doing now. Give us more money, they say, so we can better educate your kids.

Readin’, writin’, and arithmetic; what went wrong?  I’ll be glad to tell you.  First, let me tell you it is NOT a lack of funding.  America, in total, out-funds all the other 25 highly developed nations.  Part of the problem is that our funding is the hands of government bureaucrats and the unions of the NEA; a top-heavy combination NOT interested in education but rather controlled by self-interest.  It doesn’t take much investigating to find out that far too many teachers in the US are under-qualified or unqualified to be teachers from primary all the way through the secondary system.  Additionally, union protection keeps the worst of the teachers either in the classroom or in a lounge somewhere on school grounds sitting all day, getting paid, but not teaching because they don’t know how!

But, let me tell you, that is not the REAL problem, as bad as that scenario is.  After the Great Depression and World War II, our parents and grandparents determined to make life “easier” for us.  They worked hard so we wouldn’t have to work hard.  They made excuses for many of us and that made it OK to not excel.  In the decades since, it has only gotten worse.

Now, teachers don’t have time to teach because they spend most of their day corralling unruly children. Those earlier generations of parents, in their desire to have bigger homes and better cars, began to ignore the importance of God in their lives.  I know this because you cannot pray in school these days, and in America it is easier to kill an unborn baby than it is to euthanize a dog.  BTW, I love dogs.

And that, my friends is the heart of the problem–no Christian God.  How has that cultural change affected our society.  AUTHORITY, DISCIPLINE, & PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY are ideas not understood by most of our children today.

Because American parents are not the final authority in the American home, they do not properly discipline their children and the kids do not know HOW to take responsibility.  Before I close this writing, let me say just a word about how I know this to be true.

I have taught at the graduate level, my son has taught in secondary schools, and my daughter-in-law has taught on the primary level.  I am personally involved with hundreds of the kids in my school district every day of the school year.  And I have four grandchildren, the oldest of which is seven.  Just last year, he sat in a 4th grade class and read to the students in that class.  You might want to argue that he is sharp because his mom & dad are professional educators.  I’ll give you that.  But, even if they weren’t, they love God, they love their kids, they lovingly discipline them, and I see in these children something very different from what I see in the lives of a lot of kids I work with everyday–self-discipline, respect for authority, and self-motivation.  Thank God.

The American public education system is top-heavy, liberal, and undependable–and parents have been fooled into believing they are not the most important ingredient in the successful education of their children.  That is what is wrong.

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