Most of us had lousy teachers at some point. I had a physics teacher who absolutely didn’t understand the subject she was teaching, but she was politically active, so she ended up as president of the state teacher union. I had a chemistry teacher who couldn’t speak louder than a mouse and couldn’t control his class, so I learned nothing. But none of them compare to the basketball coach I had for math in the seventh grade.
I lived on the beach in Pensacola, Fla., that year. (It sounds nicer than it is. All the sand gets really tiresome.) The beach is in the Pensacola city limits, so the beach kids were bused into the city. Every day, our bus drove us through a suburb with good schools and deposited us at terrible schools — filled with bad teachers and unmotivated students from poor homes. It was my only experience in a majority-black inner-city school. It felt strange being one of only two white boys in the seventh grade.
My math teacher was a really likable guy, but he was a basketball coach — and he didn’t care that much about math. Even though we were in the seventh grade, they were just starting long division. Since I’d been in pretty good schools until them — and had already been taught basic algebra at home — the class seemed like a joke. I was bored.
When the coach found out that I knew more about math than he did — and I admitted how bored I was — we made a deal. For a six-week grading period, he turned the class over to me. It was at the beginning of basketball season, so he used the time to prepare for basketball and he handed me the teacher edition of the textbook. For six weeks, I taught the class. I was much tougher than he was, but grades went up. Since we didn’t get caught, it was actually a very fun experience.
What do you do when your local government — with the collusion of teacher unions — gives your kids this kind of teacher? Even worse, what do you do if you realize that the entire government school system is giving your kids an education that’s radically different from what you want them to have? What are your options?
I’ve happened to write about schools a couple of times this week, and that prompted a conversation with a friend about the issue. He has a daughter who’s about to start kindergarten. She’s already come home from her Pre-K classes having been taught things that my friend sees as pure political propaganda. But how does he explain this to a 5-year-old without destroying all of the authority and credibility of her teachers? (And what she was taught is accepted as mainstream gospel anyway, although he knows better, since he’s a historian.)
My friend would like to keep his daughter out of the school. He’d like her to be in a curriculum more in line with his own beliefs, but home-schooling isn’t an option for him. He and his wife both work and they don’t feel competent to teach their daughter without a lot of support and help anyway. They live in a town of only about 3,500 in a very conservative area. In his town, the only home-schoolers he’s ever even heard of are a few ultra-conservative families at a small “backwoods” church nearby.
I know that there are excellent teachers out there. I had some who were incredibly good along the way. Lois Dutton — who was my high school teacher for all of my algebra, trigonometry and pre-calculus classes — was an eccentric genius who I loved dearly. And I just discovered a small Facebook group dedicated to the late Dr. Dan Pound, a brilliant political science professor at the University of Alabama, who was the most difficult teacher I ever had, but one who forced me to think. I’ve personally known teachers who have very high academic standards and love their students and make a difference in their lives. I know they exist. The problem isn’t that there aren’t any good teachers. The problem is that we have a lousy, monopolistic system that’s controlled by poor management.
So my friend pays for his local government schools whether he uses them or not, but they don’t supply the kind of educational or social environment he’d like for his daughter. So what can he do?
I don’t have any good answers, but I told him that I have smart, creative and educated readers who might have ideas that I’ve never thought of. So I’m asking for your help. What options do you see for someone who wants his child to have a good education in a tiny conservative town, but who doesn’t trust the schools the government provides?
What advice should we give my friend about his daughter? Please respond in the comments if you have any thoughts about it.