The State of Public Education

The Rolling Stones sang, “Don’t know what you’ve got, till it’s gone,” words that are prophetic for every generation.

My children had the privilege of attending and graduating from Wauwatosa West High School in suburban Milwaukee, WI. The Wauwatosa public schools have long enjoyed a reputation for excellence, and I must confess that while my two older children were at West I had difficulty understanding why they deserved that reputation. At times things happened that were just plain wrong. To be fair, I must say that when I addressed the issues my concerns were heard with respect on every level except at Whitman Middle School. It was only when I became involved with another school district in the area that I completely understood why Wauwatosa deserves its reputation.

I don’t want to embrass anyone by naming the district, but let’s just say that the city name ryhmes with “best phallus” and that nothing could be more appropriate because they are screwing things up royally.

Imagine a school of just under 1600 students that somehow requires four principals and a “dean of students” as administration, and where those principals routinely fail to acknowledge parents with so much as a “hello” when they pass them in the hallway. Imagine a school that does a “hallway sweep” when the bell rings for first hour and takes all students still in the halls to the office to record their tardiness and write them a pass – ensuring that rather than arrive in class a minute or two late many of them will be fifteen minutes late – and doing this to teach them that it is important to be in class on time. How about a school that doesn’t know how to use spell check, and so the principal sends correspondence to the home with misspelled words (i.e. “confisgated” [sic])? How about a principal who sends an email to a parent related to disciplinary issues with glaring factual inaccuracies? What would you say about a school that negotiates away absences when a student is barely attending school at all, but draws a hard line on tardiness when the student begins attending regularly? What if that same student could not beg, borow, or steal the attention of a principal when they were barely attending but now that he is attending finds that he is under the closest of scrutiny by the administration? What about a school that tells a student caught smoking on school grounds before school (which is, of course, both illegal and against the rules) that they are “making the school look bad” when across the street from the school, on the private property of the neighbors, literally dozens of students are smoking? You may argue on this one that those students are out of reach of the school’s authority, but in this area the schools believe their jurisdiction extends to whatever students do on the way to and from school.

Whatever happened to catching a student doing something good? Here is what happened: When you can’t teach, you discipline. When you can’t effectively function as the administration of a school – even with an absurd number of principals with absurd titles like “Dean of Students” and “Principal of Instruction” (aren’t all adminstrators concerned with education and therefore instruction?) – you change your mentality from education to incarceration. You stop seeing young adults as human beings, and start seeing them as problems to be dealt with. You move from educator to traffic cop.

Unfortunately, the “best phallus” schools are not the only schools in this sitation. The only way it will change is if parents stand up to this kind of nonsense by not tolerating poor performance on the part of school administration and faculty. This is done by addressing the issue first at the school, then at the district level, and with the school board. School board members can be voted out of office, and if they fail to perform they should be reminded of this reality.

Let’s take back our schools!

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