Editorial: Pricing fear from the bottom up

Failure to practice critical thinking and telling the truth institutionalizes a culture of fear

By Frank Schier

Editor & Publisher

Teachers: safely going along to get along in these difficult economic times racks up much higher costs for our children, your students, yourselves.

Why? Because so many supposed adults only pay lip service to protecting education and all that is truly green for our future. When it comes to the moral challenge, too often we fail to practice what we preach. Teaching and educational results inexorably intertwine with our daily bread.

“We have to keep our jobs; we have families to provide for,” many say; actually, they are saying, “I am publicly silent about what is truly right or wrong, as long as the paychecks keep coming. Me and mine first.”

Educators publicly tout the welfare of children and the need for  quality of education. Yet, regarding the riots at East High School and the powder kegs in other schools,  many teachers this paper has approached to speak on or even off the record fearfully declined.

Then, they wonder why their students and parents don’t respect them. Teachers teach, but they lead and truly inspire by example. Largely unconsciously, students and parents beg teachers to stand up for them. Students and parents would love teachers to tell the truth about weapons and gangs in our schools. The teachers would love their union to empower them to speak out, empower them to provide discipline and empower their fine critical thinking to provide real solutions. The teachers are “on the ground”; and political correctness aside, their fear compounds the conundrum. Courage in operation flies as the highest and most effective lesson.

I was taught well, even though I was, and many times remain, a poor student. My mother was a teacher; she was one of the leaders of the teachers’ strike in the early 1960s. My sister thinks there was a picture of her on the front page of the daily with her cane in one hand and picket sign in the other. She fought against the broken projectors and outdated textbooks being shipped from Bloom Elementary and Guilford High School to Lathrop Elementary and West High School, while new technology and textbooks only lived east of the river. By watching her actions, she taught us to fight for people’s rights.

Her last name being Schier (pronounced “sheer”), her students called her “Old Lady Scissors.” As a single mother of four, she could cut it. A brilliant remedial reading teacher, really one of the first special-ed teachers with Dr. Mildred Berry as her mentor, she could bring a student’s reading level up as far as four or five years in one year. While all of her kids bemoaned her strictness, ask me about the “Flyswatter club” sometimes, she never let up, and she followed up with gentle, constant love. As my sister remembers, she never gave up on a kid, and always told them they had value, “You’re worth something!”

To her pride, two of my sibling became union stewards or leaders in the teamsters and suburban schools. Even in the ’60s and ’70s, she spoke of how the union was becoming just like the administration, concerned with its own power, pay and politics. The union was failing to provide for the real interests—the tools for teachers and teacher’s strength for children’s learning. She said essentially the unions were becoming what they fought against, and desegregation was really about the sophisticated maintenance of class structure, and the dumbing down of our population for cheap labor. Teachers, are you learning?

Ever since the school desegregation lawsuit, the administration of District 205 has been bloated, top heavy, and the teachers have paid. That inflation of administrative numbers was supposed to be the solution for equal opportunity education. That inflation has failed, but the inflated number of paychecks cannot admit that politically incorrect truth. Damn critical thinking, especially when it’s not self-serving!

Deceptively, the Pollyanna politicos at the top of this administration try to sell the public that gangs do not exist in our schools. That is a lie. The Rockford Police Department has the guts to admit it, why can’t the supposed true guardians of knowledge admit the truth? The Aryan Brotherhood, Latin Kings and Gangster Disciples may have 30 percent of our high school kids under their lesson plan. The Gangster Disciples are the most powerful adult gang in Rockford with constant imports from Chicago. How soon will it be that we have more teens killing teens, complete with drive-bys, just like Chicago?

Riots and arrests did occur at East High School last week, and to deny that is another lie or unbelievable ignorance of what is happening “on the ground” in the local battle to change the disfunction of the “dropout factories” our schools have become. If someone worked for me and told such lies or displayed such ignorance, I’d be “Old Man Scissors” and cut them loose; yes, I’d fire them, enthusiastically.

We need to enthusiastically reduce this “misleading” administration’s numbers and use that money “on the ground” in our schools.

Here’s the solutions as I see them from what I know of this city’s school history and teachers that have the courage to talk to me, but will not appear, even as unattributed sources in print. Fear is rampant.

1. Reduce class sizes.

2. Hire more teachers, and the unions have to cooperate with lower pay scales at entry-level positions.

3. Aggressively set up an expanded program of parenting skills to educate the kids who have kids, and to help the parents who are at poverty level. Part of this parenting program should dovetail with existing local employment and day-care programs, complete with referrals to existing local drug and alcohol programs. Community organizations and churches must get on board to move at-risk parents into these programs. The solution really begins in the home.

4. Set up more “Roosevelt Academy” schools for dropouts and students with chronic behavior problems.  The striving student must be able to learn and the teacher must be able to teach without chaos in the classroom and hallways. Like Boylan High School, set up a demerit system.  When a student reaches 60 demerits, they’re off to the “Academy.” Set up grade and behavior goals in the “Academy” that allow re-entry into regular schools.

5. Like many courtroom bailiffs who are retired policemen, one policeman should be assigned to each school, and only one. He should become “Officer Friendly” and have the ability  to independently call in for backup.

6. PTOs, or Parent-Teacher Organizations, are essential for moral and to raise funds for extra-circular activities. Set a fund ceiling for each school, with funds above that level going to less successful schools.

7. Institute an arts-based curriculum. Every school on every level should have a literary magazine, a science team, a debate/speech team, a fine art/sculpture team, a modern/classical dance team, spring and fall drama productions, and band and orchestra. These programs define and enhance the basic “four Rs,” and provide the all-important, after-school and weekend activities to keep kids (and some parents) off the street and learning.

The East High School riots and arrests are just the start, unless teachers and their unions have the courage to tell the truth and  operatively display their critical thinking skills. Teachers must lead by example.

This administration is a failure and stifles free and honest speech—a totally unacceptable example. The lesson plan must reduce the administrators by more than half to two-thirds, starting at the top. Bring back the power and funding to the teachers and principals. Teaching the “four-Rs” is an art form, and an arts-based curriculum can conquer any fear from the bottom up.

Wow, the kids might even have fun learnig and feel like they are “worth something!” If we fail to reduce bureaucracy and invest those funds in our kids, we all lose value. Be like Ma, don’t give up on the kids. We really can’t afford to abandon them or ourselves. We’re the supposed adults; let’s act like the adults the kids should like to grow up to be. Shall our kids have courage or fear?

From the November 25-December 1, 2009 issue

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