That’s not the way he told it, Tarwater said. He said that when the schoolteacher was seven years old, he had good sense but later it dried up.
—“The Violent Bear It Away,” by Flannery O’Connor
I sure do like the notion of dumping the United States Department of Education and asking the fifty states to run their schools on their own. The thought of fifty American states—sovereign in educating their kids, maybe even in competition with each other—thrills my teacher’s heart and soul, and the coach in me, too. Like our American football games, college and pro, the drive to avoid embarrassment is local.
I think I’ve figured out how we become educated. A teacher gathers his students in a classroom, shuts the door, and starts informing his students in the way he thinks the students will retain the information. The teacher’s ultimate hope is that the students will use the information, too. As the teacher teaches, he also demands that the students use their manners with him and each other.
The teacher’s principal, from time to time, pats the teacher on the back and tells him he’s doing a great job and how much we value your work here. From time to time, the principal tells the teacher where he could improve an area or a technique or something else he might try that worked for her when she was a teacher for so many years. The principal knows how a teacher is performing because she walks into his classroom from time to time and sits in a desk and watches him do his job. Principals are constantly asking their teachers in conversations here and there … Tell me what’s happening in your classroom these days. They get pacing guides and curriculum schedules, but the great principals love to see your face light up when you explain what great things are happening in your classroom these days.
The parents of the students constantly stress the value of education and good manners, sometimes not in that order, because a great parent knows that people notice if you have good manners long before they can tell if you’re educated. Great parents are not afraid to say the right thing and they are not afraid of the reactions of their kids. Great parents, when it comes to school issues and feelings and attitudes and desires, hand out tough love when needed. Great parents do not distract great teachers by pestering them with unreasonable and idiotic e-mailed requests, or conversations, or by sneaking around the teacher and going to the principal with their unreasonable and idiotic requests.
Students have to be tested in some way to see if they retained the important information. There’s no other way. It’s going to be some kind of test … some kind of quantification. A number that’s produced, or a letter: F, D, C, B, or an A. Plus or minus or right there in the middle. After that, it’s really up to the student to keep that information in their brain, not the teacher’s, although we sort of never forget because we love the information and it makes us happy to think about it every waking moment.
Becoming educated is a state of mind: the student’s. Becoming educated is always and ultimately up to the student and always will be. And then there’s what a teacher learns in the process, too …