I was originally going to write my big, earth-shattering conclusions in this installment of this series.
But I find that I have both more to write than I thought, and some loose ends to tie up.
So today, let’s tie up loose ends.
As you may have gathered by reading the series (assuming you’ve read the whole thing), I’m angry about a lot of things, upset about quite a few more, and have grown deeply cynical about many, many more than that.
But I find that I need to amplify a few things.
For starters, for all the lousy teachers that my kids have had, there have been good ones, too. My son’s fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Preston; my daughter’s sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Maxwell, were both exceptional people who brought a lot of good to the room every day, and genuinely not only cared about their kids, but did a fantastic job of trying to make kids not only love learning, but show some respect for the idea of learning. Zam’s third-grade teacher, Ms. Bongiovanni, kinda caught Zam at the bottom of his behavioral skid – but brought a lot of energy and determination to trying to get things turned around. Zam’s “special ed” coordinator in elementary school, Heather Alden, certainly did her best. Both of my kids’ kindergarten teachers, Mrs. McClain (for Zam) and Mrs. Kobilka (for Bun) were among the best possible entrees to schooling a kid could ask for.
And of course I couldn’t shout out to the teaching profession without mentioning my Dad, Bruce Berg, who was (and I think most anyone who went to Jamestown High School in the past forty-odd years would agree by acclamation) the kind of teacher every kid should have at least once. And I had him for a total of three semesters (American Lit, Writing and Speech), so I’d know.
Taken by themselves, I think the good teachers in my kids’ lives – like the good ones in my own – probably counterbalance the bad ones (my Kafkaesque sixth-grade teacher, my son’s loathsome fifth grade teacher, my daughter’s incompetent ninth-grade social studies drone) pretty ably.
Of course if taking teachers by themselves was what “education” in this country was all about, there’d be no problem. We, as parents, could find and contract with the right person to teach our kids whatever writing, history, experimentation, calculation and reasoning we were unable to ourselves.
And that’s not how it works. Teaching and teachers come with all sorts of organizational and intellectual overburden to go along with reading, writing and arithmetic; their union; the educational academy, and all of the different theories about how kids should be educated that have popped up, metastasized into the various school systems, gained and lost traction, and have been discarded over the years.
By the way, I’d like to point out that I’m not attacking the Teachers’ Unions – the NEA and the MFT – at least, not as ideas and ideals. Teaching used to be a lousy field, intensely susceptible to the vicissitudes of local personalities and tastes. Not that that was entirely a bad thing – local control is an inherently good thing in almost every possible way – but there’s nothing wrong with a craft, trade or profession trying to better its lot. I grew up as a beneficiary of Teachers’ Union benefits; I have myself been a teachers’ union member (the MN State Colleges and Universities’ “Interfaculty Organization”, the union for state college instructors). I’ll defend a worker’s right to organize as readily as I will his right to speak, worship and shoot. It would help, of course, if they’d recognize that organizing, like speaking, praying and shooting, have consequences that nobody is bound to appreciate. And the union has contributed to those consequences, like every other factor in this story.
I’ve also heard from some of this series’ readers, saying it’s “illogical” to condemn public (and compulsory) education because of a couple of incidents that happened to my kids and I.
Which would be true, if that were the case – but the “acute” incidents came on top of years of observing, reading and realizing other things about how our society opts to educate – or at least school – our children. They were the rotten cherry on top of a noxious intellectual sundae, if you will.
So enough about the cherry. Next week, I’ll talk ice cream.