Keep state out of schools

Published 6:59 am Wednesday, January 23, 2002

There are few times when I take the side of government as it seeks to seize more control of our daily lives. Harkening back to last year's fix-all proposed educational reform meaning Gov. Don Siegelman's proposed courtesy in the classroom law I am amazed at how, even now, my fundamental beliefs are so rarely shaken.
As state and federal mandates come down increasingly more often typically with the subtlety of a hard-swung baseball bat in the eyebrows it becomes more and more difficult for teachers and administrators in schools to do their jobs of teaching and administrating.
I am the son of a former school superintendent and a teacher and the brother of a high school principal. My mother, father and brother have a combined 60 years of experience in public schools, and I have watched them for my entire life as they all seek to cope with rules, laws and regulations designed to make schools better and their lives easier.
What has really happened? Do you believe that children today are smarter and more well-educated than children were when you went to school. Do your kids know how to tell time using a clock without digital numbers? Do they know how a checking account works? How to use a card catalogue in the library? How to solve advanced algebraic equations? How to write term papers and essays?
In some cases yes, and in others no just as it was when we all went to school. The irony of the case, though, is this: Children have access to audio-visual-based learning. They have Internet access. They have computerized car catalogues that make research a snap. They have calculators. They have computers.
With all of these tools they have access to, the fact remains that they aren't performing at a higher level in most cases than students in years past.
Why? There may be no good answer, but I believe a few simple things are at work that make life hard on teachers and school administrators. These things are called laws. Laws that mandate curriculum. Laws that prohibit the separation of students based on levels of ability. Laws that regulate how many students of which race can be punished. Laws that govern virtually every aspect of a school environment.
What has our governor done to help rectify the problem of poor performance among students and their general lack of regard for authority? Pass more laws, by gosh.
That's what government does. It seizes control – virtually wresting it away from the community because after all, how could a bunch of rednecks know what's best for their own schools? It's an abomination.
Schools need more local autonomy. If the Escambia County School System wants to require students to use courtesy and respect when addressing school faculty, great. But wasting the state's resources on this cause is a poor allocation of tax dollars.
Kids probably do need some lessons in manners and in being polite and respectful. But it shouldn't be up to the state to force it down our throats or the throats of our kids. I want our state to spend some money to figure out what laws we need to rid ourselves of, and not which ones we need to invent so more bureaucrats can have something to do.
I had to say "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" when I was in school because my principal said so. I don't recall the governor being involved.
And frankly, I don't want Don Siegelman telling my child what she can and can't say.
Let's leave the making of such policies to principals and school administrators not governors. Then our schools will be in the hands of our communities and local residents not in the hands of our ever-failing bureaucrats.
Brian Blackley is publisher of The Advance.

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