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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  • Andrew Dunn

    May 14, 2019 |

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far Harold, aka. Tractor guy! I could not have done without you!

  • Harold McNeill

    April 25, 2019 |

    I find it interesting to contemplate how a small community evolves in general isolation from the rest of the world. We have a similar situation in the northern communities in Canada to which access is limited. The inclusion of the world wide web and mass media has changed things, but these communities are still left pretty much to their own devices when it comes to personal interaction.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 19, 2019 |

    Hi Dave. Not that I am aware and I have a fairly comprehensive family tree for the McNeill side of the family. I will pull it up and scan. Cheers, Harold. Great chatting with you and I will give Ben a nudge.

  • Dave Cassels

    March 16, 2019 |

    Were you related to Guy McNeill who owned the Bruin Inn in St. Albert in the late 40’s or early 50’s? Guy was a close friend of my father-in-law who was the first President of the Royal Glenora Club. My phone number is 780 940 1175. Thank you.

  • Harold McNeill

    March 15, 2019 |

    So glad you found the story and enjoyed. Indeed, they were memorable times. I did a fair amount of searching but never managed to contact any of the Murffit kids. However, it was neat to make contact with the Colony and someone I knew from back in the day. I have enjoyed writing these stories from back in the 1940s and 50s and have made contact with a lot of friends from those early years. I will give you a call over the weekend. Cheers, Harold

  • Yvonne (Couture) Richardson

    March 7, 2019 |

    I enjoyed your story. I too, lived in Pibroch in 1951, as my parents owned the hotel there. I was a very close friend of Bonnie Murfitt at the time. I moved to Edmonton in 1952, however, and have not seen her since. I would like to be in touch with you to talk about your story. My email is listed above and my phone number is 780-475-3873.

  • Laureen Kosch/Patry

    March 5, 2019 |

    I grew up in Pibroch and would not trade those years for anything. “ Kids don’t know how to play anymore” Never was a truer statement made. During the summer we were out the door by 8am, home for lunch, and back when it got dark. For the most part our only toys were our bikes and maybe a baseball mitt. I will never forget the times when all the kids got together in “Finks field” for a game of scrub baseball. Everybody was welcome, kids from 8 to 18. I didn’t know it then but I guess I had a childhood most dream of. Drove thru town last summer. It all looked a lot smaller.

  • Harold McNeill

    January 13, 2019 |

    Well, my dear, it’s that time again. How the years fly by and the little ones grow but try as you may you will have a hard time catching up to your Daddy. Lots of love young lady and may your day be special
    Love, Dad

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Guess what? My response went to the Spam folder. Hmm, do you suppose the system is trying to tell me something?

  • Harold McNeill

    January 5, 2019 |

    Thanks, Terrance. Your comment came through but went to the Spam folder. Have pulled it out and approved. Can you send another on this post to see if you name is now removed from Spam? I’m not sure why it does that. Cheers, Harold