The days of the little red schoolhouse and an apple for the teacher are so much a part of the past that most people today wouldn’t even know what it means. More’s the tragedy.

Today’s schools are not the warm, homey affairs they once were; today’s schools are factories. Just listen to the words used by the people called educators. They talk about their “delivery” of education as though it was a load of canned goods. It’s a “load” all right, but not what they have in mind!

They talk about the students as “units.” Never mind the students as human beings with first and last names. The children have identifying numbers. Never mind knowing brothers and sisters and knowing the parents. They are just the ones who don’t turn up for meetings.

The schools now are “facilities” and the grounds are “campuses.” The teachers dress like the students and the students dress like slobs and sluts. Discipline is difficult if not impossible and parents are a torment to be tolerated.

Unions run the shop and the teachers dance to the tune. The ones with concerns learn early to keep their mouths shut to keep their jobs safe; those who venture to criticize are quickly demonized and demoralized into submission.

The idea of a neighborhood school is going the way of the dodo. Instead of one or two classrooms per grade for elementary and middle school there are many classrooms. There are also many students; so many in fact, that often those in the same graduating class don’t even know each other.

When I was in high school in a small town back east, we had 400 students in the entire school. I knew all of them by face and most of them by name and knew every single one of my class members.

I not only knew them by name but knew about their families and the kind of people they were and where they lived. That’s not to say I was buddies with them all nor is it to say we were one, big happy family. Not at all. We had our cliques and the in crowd and the out crowd. But bottom line, we knew each other as individuals.

Now I know there are lots of problems with our system of education. Too many of the children are not learning what they are in school to learn. I’m talking about the basic necessities of life — reading, writing and arithmetic. They’re not learning art and music and history and science. They’re not learning how to think and to solve problems. They are not learning to be self-sufficient, informed, capable citizens of this country.

Oh they’re learning things all right, but not exactly the things parents think. They get lots of information about feelings and self-esteem and entitlement and their “rights” and drugs and sex and alcohol and death and dying and lifestyles and diversity and how never to make judgments about anyone and accepting everyone no matter who or what their behavior because there are no differences and never ever to mention religion or personal beliefs and that it’s OK to tell anyone anything, except their parents of course — and on and on.

That’s a lot to learn but none of it is reading, writing, arithmetic, the arts, science, history, citizenship and logic. None of it prepares them for real life. All it does is prepare them for a life empty of real humanity and meaning.

Two school shootings near San Diego in less than a month brought out the sob-sisters lamenting what “we” are doing wrong. It’s society. It’s guns. It’s the media. It’s the parents. Attorney General John Ashcroft blamed an “ethic of violence” and urged the media to steer kids to a safe path. I agree that violence in the entertainment media is pervasive, but the problem is deeper than that.

If you look at the kids who have wielded the guns in all the school shootings of the last few years one common thread is that they were some kind of “outcast.” They were different and many reveled in those differences. Some were angered by them. Many were loners.

Maybe we should look further than the surface. Perhaps these kids were loners because the school environment was simply too big. A kid in a school with two to four thousand students can slip through the cracks very easily. Teachers have too many students; the administration barely knows their names; counselors are lucky if they see each one a couple of times a year. Kids form cliques (gangs) for a feeling of safety and to shut out those they deem “different.” Kids are cruel.

It is possible to be lonely in a crowd; in fact, it’s easier to be lonely in a crowd. It’s also easier to hide in a crowd even though you may be in full view of everyone. The two kids near San Diego — one young, short and skinny; the other older, tall and overweight — were both loners in full view. Everyone knew them and steered clear. What a tragedy.

Parents and politicians have bought the educators’ party-line that smaller class size is what we need. I disagree. What we need are smaller schools — neighborhood schools with a sense of home, where the faculty knows all the kids and can spot problems before they become dangerous.

Our children are too precious to send them to education factories.

As the schools have gotten bigger they are more and more resembling prisons with barred windows and doors, alarm systems, locker searches, drug dogs, armed guards and metal detectors. It all sounds like a good incentive for vouchers or home schooling to me! That might even solve some of the problems.

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