Our Schools are Failing Us

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


CL-Cover-for-III

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).

Cheers,

Harold

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.

Harold

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Comments

  • Harold McNeill

    January 15, 2021 |

    Wow, Graham, I was taken by surprise (but then again that’s not too hard). Having all you fine folks (my children by other fathers and mothers) would have been great. I’m hopeful that sometime in the not too distant future, we can reprise that trip. Perhaps we’ll just set aside a time for someone else’s landmark day, and we can surprise them. Love to you two. Harold

  • Graham and Nazanin

    January 15, 2021 |

    How could we miss this historic event my friend!!!
    Nazy and I were booked for that cruise Harold, we were looking so forward to it.
    We will be together soon! We both wish that continued unconditional love you receive from everyone to continue as you are that special someone that makes a difference in this world.
    Happy birthday sir, cheers!

  • Harold McNeill

    January 7, 2021 |

    Glad you found the site and that Dorthy enjoyed. I’ve added a lot of school photos in other locations linked to the High School Years stories. Cheers, Harold

  • Shelley Hamaliuk

    January 2, 2021 |

    Hi there, I am Dorothy Marshall’s (nee Hartman) daughter. Mom was quite excited when she discovered this site while surfing the net yesterday, so excited that she told me to have a look! She quite enjoyed taking a trip down memory and seeing old pictures of herself.Keep up the great work!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Rick,
    Great to hear from you and trust all is going well. Our family members are all doing well but it must be pretty tough for a lot of people. I had once heard you were going to do some writing but never heard anything further. I would be most interested, but do you think the OB News have archives back to that time. Any link or information you could provide would be greatly appreciated. Did you keep copies? Regards, Harold

  • Rick Gonder

    April 14, 2020 |

    Hi Harold
    About 22 years ago I spent several weeks going through the OBPD archives. I wrote several stories that were published in the OB News. Feel free to use if they are of value to what you are doing.
    Keep this up, I’m enjoying it and it brings back memories.

  • Harold McNeill

    April 12, 2020 |

    Hi Susan,

    Glad you had a chance to read. I decided to update these stories by proofreading as there were several grammatical errors in many. Hopefully, many of those glaring errors have been removed.

    Many of the stories carry a considerable amount of social comment regarding the way the criminal justice system is selectively applied. Next up involves a young woman from near Cold Lake, Alberta, who was abducted by an older male from Edmonton. Her story is the story of hundreds of young men and woman who have found themselves alone and without help when being prayed upon unscrupulous predators.

    Cheers, Harold

  • Susan

    April 8, 2020 |

    Great read, Harold!…and really not surprising, sad as that may sound.
    Keep the stories coming, it is fascinating to hear them.
    Love from us out here in the “sticks”, and stay safe from this unknown predator called Covid.

  • Harold McNeill

    February 17, 2020 |

    Update:  Times Colonist, February 16, 2020, articles by Louise Dickson, She got her gun back, then she killed herself,” and,  Mounties decision to return gun to PTSD victim haunts her brother. 

    Summary: I don’t know how many read the above articles, but they contained the tragic details about young woman, Krista Carle’, who took her own life after suffering for years with PTSD. While tragedies such as this play out across Canada every week, the reason this story resonates so profoundly is that the final, tragic, conclusion took place here in Victoria. Continued in the article.

  • McNeill Life Stories Index to Police Notebook - McNeill Life Stories

    February 16, 2020 |

    […] Part I, Police solidarity and the push for amalgamation. Part II, Comparing police cultures and implementing change Part III, The past as a guide to the future Part IV The integration of police services […]