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When I went to school

Posted: June 5, 2014 9:07 a.m.
Updated: June 6, 2014 5:00 a.m.

I grew up in North Augusta, a town of 2,000 people at that time. I attended elementary school and graduated from high school there. There were 34 graduates in my class of 1949. Bear with me for a moment through what may sound like boasting in order to make my point. Of the 34 of us came the following:

• a high school football coach;

• a Harvard Ph.D. who taught nuclear physics at MIT and Cal Tech;

• a medical doctor;

• five public school teachers;

• a Department of Social Services supervisor;

• two real estate developers;

• a Naval Academy graduate who later became an attorney;

• two members of the U.S. Navy who achieved the rank of commander;

• three managerial persons in industry; and

• the executive secretary of the Augusta National Golf Club.

My point is those people attended school in the same old buildings that had been in use all our lives. We had no cafeteria, no gymnasium, no parking lot (didn’t need one; no students and only one teacher drove a car to school). They walked or rode the school bus. There were no free breakfasts or free lunches. We had a small snack bar where you could purchase colas and pre-packaged sandwiches. We didn’t even know what a wellness center was, and there were no guidance counselors, special ed, music or arts teachers. All we had was a principal (yes, he walked to school, too), one sports coach who coached all sports and taught American history, and the teachers who taught the basic subjects.

Now, I’ve told you what we did not have. What we did have was parents who had high expectations of us, conveyed those expectations and left little doubt that there would be repercussions of some sort if we failed to meet them. We had classmates who had enough self pride not to be left behind, and who recognized that society anticipated and expected we would succeed. And, if we didn’t, nobody -- certainly not our parents -- were going to blame someone other than us. Nobody would have said the education system was inadequate. Everyone knew that if we didn’t succeed, it was because we had not given the proper effort.

Compare that to today. If and when we don’t get the desired proficiency from our students, we tend to throw more money at it. Enlarge the bureaucracy, add assistant principals and assistants to the assistants. Abandon the buildings and build new and bigger ones, feed the students more free meals, add wellness centers, and on and on with that philosophy.

You can spend us into oblivion, but if the parents don’t provide the incentive, most students are not going to provide the effort, and the desired result is not going to be there. I’m afraid too many of them are just going to continue driving their cars and texting each other while the rest of the world surpasses us. We are now near the bottom and falling fast. And the sad part is that too few are willing to change because, after all, “It’s not our fault.”

There are always exceptions to every rule, and to the all too few parents and students that don’t fall into my generalization, my apologies.

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