Our Schools are Failing Us

Written by Harold McNeill on February 9th, 2017. Posted in Tim Hortons Morning Posts


Photos (family files as well as from a High School buddy, Guy Venne). Yes, that’s me in the lower right (left) with another buddy, Aaron Pinsky.  Aaron’s dad’s Caddy, in which we spend many a lost night, and on the right one of our girlfriends, Dorothy Hartman. The photo centre top is three more High School buddies performing at one of the school 50’s dances that became so popular.

Are Schools Really Failing?

Never a week goes without some FB post, newspaper article or TV program lamenting the abysmal state of our education system. These discussions often spike when teachers threaten to strike, or a ‘think tank’ such as the Fraser Institute disparages public schools when comparing them to their private school counterparts, or when the government implements some policy mandating an action that is not pleasing to all.

Others rail about a lack of discipline among students or point to cell phones and texting as destroying the ability of our youth to socialize. Many suggest kids today are mollycoddled to the point of graduating without having achieved the slightest degree of competency in “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” If only, they suggest, we could get back to basics as was present in an earlier age (presumably their age).

Then, I happened upon an English Literature textbook written in 1974, in which one essay clearly articulated the criticisms being levied against students and the system “back in the day”. Some may recognize the problems as first witnessed in our misspent youth at the Cold Lake High School. The article was first published in the early 1950’s, a time when I was just entering Junior High.

(The essay was copied from the book as an online link could not be located).



Let’s Take Bubble Gum Out of the Schools

A clear and present danger to our society lurks in the corridors of our new ranch-type schools.

Bubble gum comes with the terrazzo tile.

The magnificent buildings and elaborate facilities have far outstripped the actual the processes of education. It’s like moving into a fifty thousand dollar home with holes in your shoes and no desire or resources to get them half soled.

In the end, the beautiful new high school building stands as a mockery to our boys and girls who can barely read and write.

In this elaborate construction, we are, of course, trying to keep abreast of our business community – bigger and better facilities all the time. This works very well in private enterprise, but in education, it is something else. For one thing, we do not “follow” it to its logical conclusion. When a large corporation puts up a magnificent building, it does not turn the edifice over to executives making thirty-two hundred dollars a year. The janitor gets that. For another thing, there is a direct connection between “bigger and better” facilities and expanded production and distribution of goods and services.

There is no connection in education. In education, all you need is a few benches, a desk, a pointer, a blackboard, some chalk, and a TEACHER; everything else is “the fixin’s.”

The big problems which face education today is fairly simple. No one reads books anymore.

This may sound like an oversimplification, but I don’t think so. The hight school boys and girls no longer read any books. It is appalling. Today you can stand before a group of high school seniors and tell them the basic tales of our literature: the stories out of Dickens, Verne, Hardy, Conrad, Hugo, Dumas, and Bulware-Lytton, and they stare at you as if you had just dropped down from the planet Mars.

The students (sic) are required to read one book a semester, but they can usually catch something on TV, and that’s that. They are also required to read one thousand lines of poetry – which wraps up their lil ole credits – and away they go; bubble gum and all.

This is not the fault of their teachers. The teachers are not permitted to do their job. Our entire system of education needs overhauling. A magnificent building is all right, but it will never produce educated men and women. Only teachers can do that, and they can do it (they have done it) by candlelight if need be.

On such occasions, teachers are thought together and told what to wear and how to conduct themselves in front of the guests. This is part of the story of our present-day education — the four-year high school course which qualifies the kid to enter the State College where he promptly starts on a two-year course of what they call “remedial” English learning to read and write. It is part of the system of “letting them do what they want”…

I think it would be better if we went back to the old system when the teacher sent for a parent and he stood in the hallway with his hat in hand waiting to be interviewed, and maybe a little scared about the whole thing, too.

This is all of one piece with the fact that the teachers are so badly underpaid. The people of the commercial society are not fools. They understand perfectly well there are a few people who, because of their careers, have no frontiers in the social structure. These are the teachers, of course, and the creative people.

The first thing our commercial friend does when he makes a lot of money is to sponsor something which has in its title the world “Education,” “Institute,” or “Cultural.” He feels that no matter how little the teacher gets, the teacher has acquired a special status. Why give him financial security, too? Since the teacher is paid out of tax funds, there is no the way this can be resisted, except to be on good behavior when the groups come a-visiting. Luckily, we still have Free Enterprise so that many creative people can remain privately employed or self-employed, and keep the doors closed to intruders. If all creative people were paid out of taxes, you would have a “Parents-Writers Association, a “Parents-Composers Association,” and a “Parents-Artists Associaton.”

It is not only that teachers are underpaid, but also that they are interfered with by the “outside” that forces them to become quasi-politicians. The academy is gone, even thought the British remain encouraging. We had it once but lost it.

And so at long last, we have run smack into something (education) that we just cannot buy – or phony up in any way – frustrating isn’t it?

Is it presumptuous of me to challenge the entire idea of progressive education? I believe that some day the educational system will wake up to this danger of letting them do what they want. What nonsense! Did they think that they can replace the schoolteacher with authority to tell them what to do? Today is a huge joke. You watch them running from classroom to classroom, and it’s all fake. They know nothing. Nothing at all. If you doubt my word, I care you to go into a classroom or high school seniors in your town and ask them five questions.

I. Who was the Marquis de Lafayette?
2. Who was Jean Valjean?
3. Name four members of the United States Supreme Court?
4. Who was the first man to circumnavigate the globe?
5. What dow we call the series of letters by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Medison which helped to bring about the United States of America.

If you get more than three correct answers, let me know, and I promise to push a peanut with my nose from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia.

They know nothing. No one reads books anymore, and the teachers are helpless. The teachers are paid twice as much as they are worth as babysitters, which they are; and they are paid half as much as they are worth as teachers, which the system does not allow them to be.

There are no short cuts! In economics, you start with the land. In education, you start with the books. Nothing else can do it for you – not even TV, movies, Hopalong Cassidy, ninety million comic books a year, slopping around with paintbrushes, or letting them do what they want. Letting them do what they want belongs in the insane asylum. Half of them can’t even tell you the name of the Governor of their State, let alone letting them do what they want!

It is a great tragedy. A tragedy for the students, a tragedy for the teachers, and a tragedy for those of us who have read a book. It is most certainly part and parcel of the current drive against intellectualism. When all of these uneducated boys and girls come out of school, they somehow carry with them a vague suspicion of all those who have read a book. That’s how simple it is. It is part of our state of affairs today, and you cannot separate one from the other. It is part of the current fear of “learning.” Among the uneducated, “book learning” breeds resentment, fear, suspicion, and hatred; and soon as it has happened so often, they’ll join the first demogogue who comes along and says, “Let’s go get them as has read a book.” It is difficult for uneducated and unread people to adjust themselves to a tolerant viewpoint. It cannot be done.

This is a grave danger. An uneducated man gets indigestion and has a bad dream. In the dream, someone is chasing him around the edge of a mountain with a long spear. He gets up in the morning, puts a revolver in his pocket, and goes our looking for the guy who has been chasing him around the edge P1060208of a mountain with a long spear; and pretty soon he recognizes his “tormentor” – by an amazing coincidence it is usually some who is not a member of his clan, race, or church. Sometimes the fellow with the spear even turns out to be a business competitor. Then the uneducated “dream boy” lets him have it; or more often, he just bides his time in anger, fear, suspicion, and hatred. A man’s creed, a man’s whole life, is in harmony with his intellect.

The crying need at this moment in our history is first, to quality our teachers:; second, to give them a living wage; third, to divest the little darlings of their bubble gum, comic books, and zip guns; and, fourth, to turn them over to teachers without any interference. Never mind the beautiful buildings – leave those to Du Pont. What we need in the classroom is a revival of the art of reading books, a revival of homework, and a revival of the complete authority of the teacher.

Harry Golden (B: 1903 – ?) in an Essay from Only in America, Let’s Take Bubble Gum Out of the Schools, The World Publishing Company, c1950.

It appears that through the ages, many older people like Harry Golden (about 50 when he wrote this article), only see an earlier age (their age) as being a time when all things were wonderful. It was only with their getting older that their world seems to be crumbling around them.  I don’t suppose Harry is still alive, but if he was I’d say: “It’s OK Harry, we made through the 1950’s and the world still survived despite the awful school system in which we were brought up.”

Then again, perhaps you may have noticed one small part at the end of the article that seems to ring as true today as it did back then.



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  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Hi Dorthy, So glad you found those stories and, yes, they hold many fond memories. Thanks to social media and the blog, I’ve been able to get in touch with many friends from back in the day. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Well, well. Pleased to see your name pop up. I’m in regular contact via FB with many ‘kids’ from back in our HS days (Guy, Dawna, Shirley and others). Also, a lot of Cold Lake friends through FB. Cheers, Harold

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Oh, that is many years back and glad you found the story. I don’t have any recall of others in my class other than the Murphy sisters on whose farm my Dad and Mom worked.

  • Harold McNeill

    November 26, 2021 |

    Pleased to hear from you Howie and trust all is going well. As with you, I have a couple of sad stories of times in my police career when I crossed paths with Ross Barrington Elworthy. Just haven’t had the time to write those stories.

  • Howie Siegel

    November 25, 2021 |

    My only fight at Pagliacci’s was a late Sunday night in 1980 (?) He ripped the towel machine off the bathroom wall which brought me running. He came after me, I grabbed a chair and cracked him on the head which split his skull and dropped him. I worried about the police finding him on the floor. I had just arrived from Lasqueti Island and wasn’t convinced the police were my friends. I dragged him out to Broad and Fort and left him on the sidewalk, called the cops. They picked him up and he never saw freedom again (as far as I know). I found out it was Ross Elworthy.

  • Herbert Plain

    November 24, 2021 |

    Just read you article on Pibroch excellent. My Dad was Searle Grain company agent we move there in 1942/3 live in town by the hall for 5 years than moved one mile east to the farm on the corner where the Pibroch road meets Hwy 44. Brother Don still lives there. I went to school with you and Louise.