"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, July 25, 2016

Wonderful to see kids getting higher grades

The honor rolls at MAHS seem so different from when I was young. Let me emphasize that the new way is so much better. Young people should be made to feel as though knowledge is accessible. How accessible can it be, when only three or so students in a grade make the 'A' honor roll?
I remember the very exclusive status of the 'A' honor roll when I was a kid. It was something that most of us assumed we could never attain. The three kids on the honor roll were from families with strong academic connections. It was an "elite."
Getting grades lower than 'A' would seem to indicate you didn't fully master the subject matter. Were so many kids really incapable of grasping the subject matter? Was education some sort of draconian racket? I have suggested previously that the Cold War explained much about the grim complexion of our schools. We had to browbeat kids to try to get them to learn. No one perceived school as fun. I think the end of the Cold War unleashed some thinking that had a real liberating effect. School can be fun to a degree. It should be enriching and uplifting in all its aspects.
It makes no sense for people to have kids with the belief that the K-12 educational process is going to be arduous. We have kids because we want them to enjoy life. Any kid with a reasonably good attitude should find those 'A' grades within reach.
How was this transition accomplished, from the Cold War era discomfort of learning, to our new, more relaxed and more uplifting model? I'm quite certain the teachers needed guiding along. I'm sure there were formal sessions and consultations getting teachers to adjust, to be more gentle. I had a co-worker in the 1990s who said of the teachers: "I think they're working for me." She had gotten her child excused from an assignment where he'd have to get up in front of the class and tell about an embarrassing experience. She was afraid her son might get teased.
Imagine, imposing yourself to protect your kid from a possibly humiliating experience in school. The parents of my generation would not be inclined to do such a thing. Our parents had been in World War II, after all, and were conditioned to respect authority. They were much more inclined to respect government and government-sponsored education. After all, it was the big apparatus of government that enabled us to win WWII. Organizations like the VFW and Legion always felt our public schools needed such vigorous support. David Brooks has written about "the redundancies of the World War II type of organization." Today in our tech-conscious world, the opposite attitude prevails: let's get rid of all redundancies.
The old clunky, monopolistic model of Cold War public education has been pushed aside. Open enrollment and home schooling have provided needed competition. But mostly, it is our new tech-fueled world and the democratization of knowledge with the Internet, that have opened the door for enlightenment. And, toward a new type of experience for our young people in schools. They can actually look forward to school.
When I was a kid and weather forced cancellation of a school day, we'd all be tuned in to the radio, of course, and KMRS would play a song that began with "That's what happiness is."
Why were we subjecting kids to an experience - education - that was unpleasant and left them dangling shy of 'A' grades so much? The teachers must not have been very good, if so few 'A' grades were given, right?
Technology now spares us from having to deal with so many of the old impediments in life. I read recently about the trend away from church-going in American life. The author, probing for background, said "dirty jobs" prevailed in the old days, and people in such grim jobs needed guidance from a pastor who surely was better-educated than most of his congregation. That old template has faded away. We needn't defer so much to an educated/refined pastor, when we have been uplifted so much, in large part because of our digital assets. I did this reading on a "Done with church" website. You should check it out.
I suspect that not all public school teachers have made the desired adjustment seamlessly. Some, I'm sure, have had to be dragged along. If I may be cynical for a moment, let me suggest rather strongly that teachers had a selfish reason for making their school classes draconian. It was to try to emphasize their own importance. If learning is perceived as hard, it's easier for teachers to argue how indispensable they are (and to argue for continuing big pay raises of course).
If learning is more routine and even enjoyable, teachers would seem less essential to the process.
Teachers don't seem to have the persecution complex they once did. The union empowerment of teachers that emerged in the early 1980s was one of the ugliest things I have ever seen. Union-generated conflict tends to be very dispiriting. I am a progressive in my political views but am also anti-union, just based on observations made early in my adult life. Too much enmity.
A certain segment of our public school teachers became consumed with union objectives. They departed from reality. Their personalities became permanently affected. I would also suggest some didn't survive. Right here in Morris, in fact, but I don't wish to name names. I'll speak in generalities.
It may seem like I'm going out on a limb, but I'll also suggest that the torment this community experienced in the late 1980s, centered on our school, was a part of the broader adjustment process with our priorities and attitudes. It is important that we not forget what happened then.
Where to start? Well, there was a time when many people in so-called academia sniffed at sports/extracurricular, as if it was some sort of necessary evil. So when people complained about sports, regardless of the reasons for doing so, those academics would sniff at the critics, suggesting those souls were mere Neanderthals, upset only because the "gladiators" of a particular sport weren't generating enough glory for the school or community.
But here's what was happening: the old gladiatorial model for prep sports, as presented in the movie "Hoosiers," was giving way to a more enlightened model that the pointy-headed academics wouldn't need to feel ashamed of.
I remember when Sam Schuman was chancellor at UMM, an actual formal study was done of students to learn their sports background. I interpreted that study as follows: it was a shot across the bow of the old, tired intellectuals who didn't really respect athletics. "You'd better adjust and clean up your thinking." In our new age, it isn't as if athletics has some grand transcendent purpose with our kids, but it is a wholly respected part of the whole of the school experience, calling for respect.
I think some teachers had to be dragged along to the new attitude, possibly with some intense reprimands. Behind closed doors of course.
The controversy of the late 1980s in Morris was very unfortunate. The more time goes on, the more I'm inclined to blame the superintendent. An upstanding citizen at the time said to me re. the superintendent and his relationship with the critics (or insurgents): "Oh, he'd never get in with them." This statement spoke volumes. People felt the superintendent would never go out of his way to address extracurricular issues, because of course extracurricular was rather like the red-haired stepchild in education. We put up with it but were not really proud of it. So everyone just shut up.
But the public did in fact keep pushing, just like that mother I quoted who said of the teachers "I think they're working for me."
Change in society can be slow and labored. The public eventually got what it wanted. Our teams still don't win as much as we want them to - can we get a basketball team to Southwest State for the post-season again? - but the system seems healthy and well-oiled.
I was in high school when girls athletics was just getting established. It's amazing to think that just a few years earlier, "girls need not apply" for athletics. We take it for granted today. And we expect lots of kids to make those honor rolls.
The Cold War, RIP. It's easier to feel optimistic having kids. Amen and hallelujah.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwillyh73@yahoo.com

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