Roy Exum: Teach With Muscle

Sunday, January 14, 2018 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The next time you are talking about the quality of public education in Hamilton County, throw in this amazing fact: When the state’s Report Card was revealed this week, we learned that two-thirds of our children cannot read at grade level and well over half are unable to do math. But our high schools are so good we graduate 85 percent of our students.

Oh, I know that makes no sense at all and truth be known it borders on public fraud. But in a day where “No Child Left Behind” is actually where everybody in the second grade automatically goes to the third, let’s accept the fact students in Chattanooga are getting short-changed and, for some, the entire education process would be better described as ‘day care.’

Insanity has been described as doing the same thing year after year and expecting different results. When we know our Department of Education is broken, how in the world our leaders can claim “slow but steady growth” is beyond the realm of imagination. Hamilton County taxpayers are putting two-thirds of the yearly budget into public education and not a soul is standing up and admitting it still isn’t working.

The new superintendent can put together any team he wants, worry about his “C-Suite” and PowerTeachers, but until children can read and spell he’s perpetuating 20 years of failure. This week Bryan Jonson announced a second round of “listening,” where school officials will venture out to talk to the community. Talk. Talk, Talk. Please.

Why not show muscle instead? Decree that no child can advance a grade until he or she earn the right to advance. Years ago there was a boy who went to McCallie for nine years while others only went for six. When the kid finally was allowed to graduate, Professor McCallie presented him a diploma on the condition he must never use it. (The guy turned out to be one of the greatest men in the city’s history.)

If you believe not allowing a “social advance” from one grade to the next is cruel, try swallowing the guilt of allowing a human being to live a life of stupid. Hamilton County has gained an estimated 22,000 since the last census but far more jobs have been created since 2010. If two people apply for one of those jobs, it will be the dumbo who suffers. Employers don’t give “social advances.”

The only way out of poverty is education and our worst schools are in poverty areas. There is no law nor rule that says we can’t have 12-month school years. Day care is a huge problem for all of America today – parents would love it -- and when the teacher’s union balks, let a teacher decide if a 30 percent increase is an inducement to work 50 weeks a year like their spouse, their neighbor or the huge percentage of Americans do.

Every poverty school should have a wood-working shop, a Cub Scouts troop, not to mention Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts. Look at the huge successes that have been born by the Boy Scouts manual. Search for “outside the box” techniques easily found by studying the history of education. Do some trials using the McGuffey Reader books … worked for me.

Hamilton County needs to get out of the book business; we would save millions. Wait … I would fill schools with books from Amazon and I would let the teachers decide which ones to use, not the legislature after they are wined and dined by some lobbyist. Get away from any test that was designed to grade cows.

The school board should ban any and all “fees.” Collecting fees turns teachers into bullies. Some parents should rightfully file a lawsuit against double taxation. That’s clearly what it is. No child in Hamilton County should be asked for as much as a dime because it is flat-out wrong. Curiously, every person on the school board agrees yet lacks the courage to stop it.

I would also do away with any type of suspensions, this coming from one who carefully planned and plotted a one-week suspension for cutting classes. It just happened to fall on the exact week my private school buddies were out for spring vacation and, if memory serves me right, we got back from Key West about two hours before school started that next week.

Suspensions are a laugher. Instead, make the lot of them from all over the county show up at Juvenile Court every day at 8 a.m. and do manual labor until 6 p.m. that night. If they don’t show, send a cop car and double the time. If they misbehave, lock ‘em up until they change their mind. Quit babying badness.

As I ponder education, I hear all manner of great ideas. When Superintendent Johnson goes on his second listening tour in the weeks ahead, suggest he and his staff quit sugar-coating our stagnant edition model – as evidenced by the new State Report Card – and give us less talk and more action. What Hamilton County wants are well-educated children. It’s that simple.

Two weeks ago the Department of Education leaders, the Signal Mountain Town Council and the School Board talked for nearly two hours and absolutely nothing happened. It was such a fiasco that somebody suggested when the change is made from “Department of Education” to “The Schools of Hamilton County,” the motto should read, “Politics Instead of Pupils.”

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