When I was 18, I guided four canoe trips into the wilderness of Ontario’s Algonquin Park.  I was in charge of several other teenagers for six days, navigating, choosing the campsite, cooking and first aid, 1-2 days travel from the nearest adult.  When the campers swam, I counted heads.  At night, anybody’s crying out made me wake up.  When a camper couldn’t carry his pack, I carried it and the canoe together–140 pounds–a half mile along the slippery shore of the Tim River.  I guided four times that summer, amazed I was given such responsibility at 18.

When I was 61, with far more real-world experience, I was not allowed to teach full-time with the nearest other adult a few yards away.  For 9 years, I was an active volunteer in math at two local high schools.  At least 20 times, I taught when a substitute did not know the material.  I wanted to be busier, and I saw a huge need.   I finally gave up, because I was not busy enough.

My father was a public school teacher, principal and superintendent.  I believe in public education; with liberty and the National Park Service, it is one of the three greatest gifts America has given the world.  If public education fails, and many hope it will, we will destroy the middle class and America.  There are 60 million school age children in this country.  I am open to other solutions, but for profit charter schools in the new pay as you go America do not seem to be workable.

Perhaps it is hopeless, and many of these children will be uneducated, given up on, not voting, and subject to the sharks and those who will take advantage of their money, and talk radio hosts, who will sway their opinions with outright lies.

In elementary school, I wrote a paper about Horace Mann.  His six principles are still valid today:

  1. The public should no longer remain ignorant.
  2. Such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public.
  3. This education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds.
  4. That this education must be non-sectarian.
  5. That this education must be taught by the spirit, methods, and discipline of a free society.
  6. That education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.

I now have a substitute certificate.  But I wanted to create a statistics course at a high school that didn’t have one.  I have a Master’s in statistics; I taught it for many semesters as a graduate student at New Mexico State, Pima Community College and other venues.  For four years, I graded the free response portion of the Advanced Placement Statistics exam; only 3 of 400 graders were from Arizona, which in itself is a statement about how well we are doing.  I know how to develop a statistics syllabus, how to prepare lessons, teach and grade it.  I would have done it for free, too, because I could afford it, and I felt so strongly about the need.

Unfortunately, I was not allowed, because of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), even as children are being left behind in droves.  I encountered them every day I tutored.  I didn’t see the many others who needed help and didn’t get it, the ones who need to be pushed, or those who drop out.  With many teachers also dropping out physically or mentally, we have a major problem. With appallingly inadequate funding, many schools nationwide disenroll problem students, gaming the system to survive.  Our per capita funding is $2500 below the national average.  I told that to a friend, who said, “You can’t fix education with money.”  I replied, “You can’t fix defense with money, either.”  He was silent.

NCLB is like Clear Skies, Healthy Forests and Clean Coal:  all have titles that are purposely the opposite of their intent.  NCLB’s intent was to close schools and have more for profit charter schools,

As a neurologist, I saw many practicing in my field, who could do everything I did without my 9 years of post college training and military service.  But I couldn’t teach full-time unless I obtained 22 credit hours.  I went back to school when I was 50, ending up as a non-paid de facto volunteer in Tucson’s medical community.  I choose to volunteer in the schools, but I will not pay to get more education at age 60.  In emergencies, substitutes can be hired long term, making the rule inane.  Frankly, I consider the current situation an emergency. The America I served once used innovative approaches to solve problems.

Public education–an American invention– is in trouble.  We funded the poorly conceived Iraq war with an off budget emergency authorization.  Public education needs an emergency funding authorization, too, and thousands of volunteers.  Schools need to open their doors to volunteers, and both schools and public libraries need places for tutoring during lunch, evenings and weekends.  Parents need to be involved.  We need money, too, but with a concerted national effort, the money wouldn’t be an outrageous sum.  I don’t want to hear “children are our future,” until we start trying to achieve the six principles articulated by Horace Mann, whose credentials to lead reform were also questioned, 175 years ago.


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