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My wife, a retired school administrator, has been subbing as an assistant principal at a nearby high school the last couple of months. She recently told me she’d had to deal with several kids who had been given infractions for sleeping in class. In each case, she discovered the student had an after-school job to help the family keep groceries on the table and worked so late there just weren’t enough hours left for sleep.
Back in the 1950s when I was growing up, our public school system had a program called distributive education. This program allowed students to attend school in the mornings and then work in the afternoon. Their DE coordinator helped them get jobs with cooperating businesses and kept an eye on their progress as they worked. They got grades and school credits for the work.
This program would have been a real boon to the students my wife was dealing with. They could have started working shortly after noon instead of at 4:00 or 4:30 and gotten off work several hours sooner without cutting their paychecks. And with the supervision of the coordinator, they would have been learning good job skills and attitudes as they worked.
Sadly, she said there was no such program in our school anymore. We spend so much money teaching our kids to pass standardized tests, making sure non-performing students are placed in regular classes so they can drag the rest of the students down to their learning level, and wasting untold money fulfilling federal mandates, we don’t have any money in the budget for programs that would actually help someone.
Our school system fairly screams at the kids, “You’re nothing if you don’t go to college!” We take people who would make excellent electricians, plumbers, mechanics or piano tuners, and we tell them those pursuits are for losers. They need to get a college degree, or they’re worthless.
Rather than actually try to find ways to run good schools, our big-city board of education fiddles while Rome burns. Way back when, we had school board members elected at-large. The entire district voted for each place, and we had some pretty good school boards. Nowadays, we have single-member districts, and each board member is dedicated to getting whatever largesse he can for his own district and not caring all that much about the school system. The bickering has gotten so bad we recently ran off a good superintendent and more recently caused our board president to resign because all the infighting was too much for his health.
Part of the problem comes from corporate America, which places far too much emphasis on degrees. A cousin of mine worked his way up in a large corporation until he hit a glass ceiling beyond which only degreed employees were allowed. Never mind that he was both smarter and more capable than his boss or his boss’s boss. He quit and started farming, and by the time he retired he was one of the most successful cotton farmers in West Texas. So much for the degree.
We MUST change the thinking in our society and our schools to see the value of individuals and their interests and abilities instead of pushing everyone to go for a college degree, causing huge percentages of them to drop out and feel bad about themselves and other huge percentages to graduate with degrees but no usable skills.
David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states. He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. Since his retirement from insurance a few years ago, he has devoted his time to helping Kristen Lamb start Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp and trying to learn to write a successful novel himself.