Last night I attended a program hosted by the Florence County (SC) Republican Party featuring Dr. Richard O’Malley, the Superintendent for Florence School District 1. The topic of the evening was an upcoming referendum on increasing funds for the district, which would go toward improving existing facilities, building new ones, and constructing some additional structures (notably, three football stadiums for the three high schools in the district). Naturally, those funds would come with a 25-year bond issue, which requires hiking property taxes in the district.
Not surprisingly, the place was packed. It was a good talk that highlighted the need for physical plant improvements to the school district. Dr. O’Malley is from New Jersey, and has both raised and lowered taxes as a school district superintendent and two-term mayor for a New Jersey town. He sincerely seemed interested in maintaining a balanced budget for the district, and doing what he believed was best by the students.
I no longer reside in Florence County, so I don’t have a dog in the fight, per se, but it was interesting to hear the complexity of the problems that face the district. Dr. O’Malley was insistent that he “didn’t come here to build new buildings,” although that often seems to be the goal of school districts. The attendees were mixed in their thoughts about the referendum, but they mostly voiced their opinions and concerns respectfully.
It was serendipitous, then, that after I arrived home from this lengthy program, I stumbled upon this piece by a former New York City French teacher, Mary Hudson, entitled “Public Education’s Dirty Secret.” It’s a long piece, but I highly, highly recommend you read it in its entirety. It’s a shocking, though not surprising, look at the state of public education today.
Hudson’s piece details her difficult career as a well-intentioned high school French teacher, one who was extremely dedicated to her students (as public school teachers tend to be) despite overwhelming cultural and administrative resistance. After reading Hudson’s piece, I have a grudging respect for her teachers’ union, UTF, which actually tried to back her up in disciplinary hearings with students (hearings that, despite horrendous student behavior, Hudson always lost).
As I wrote a few weeks ago, a major problem facing teachers is overbearing, micromanaging administrators. Hudson’s piece clearly highlights that, not only are administrative burdens hindering teachers, the laws (at least in New York State) empower students to act like disrespectful asses. There is a persistent fear that punishing students is implicitly racist (sadly, it’s not surprising to read that Hudson’s worst students and schools possess predominantly black student populations, but even the heavily white and Asian technical high school where she teaches is full of behavioral issues, as students adopt an attitude of staunch resistance to “the system”).
Beyond heavy-handed, mediocre administrators—the scourge of all things good and noble—the students themselves are truly deplorable (and not in the good, Trumpian way). At one school, two Snapple vending machines were pushed from an upper mezzanine to the floor below—on two consecutive days. Hudson relates that students were constantly berating and threatening her. She snapped at one school when a large black male told her he was going to “cut yo’ ass.” Hudson says that a black colleague told her that in her “culture,” that expression is not literal. A cold comfort, I suppose.
One particularly insane event occurred at a high school “talent show,” in which students essentially dry-humped each other on-stage while the swarthy, undulating masses in the crowd grew increasingly frenzied. Here is Hudson at length:
The most Dantesque scene I witnessed at Washington Irving was a “talent show” staged one spring afternoon. The darkened auditorium was packed with excited students, jittery guidance counselors, teachers, and guards. Music blasted from the loudspeakers, ear-splitting noise heightened the frenzy. To my surprise and horror, the only talent on display was merely what comes naturally. Each act was a show of increasingly explicit dry humping. As each group of performers vied with the previous act to be more outrageous, chaos was breaking out in the screaming audience. Some bright person in charge finally turned off the sound, shut down the stage lights, and lit up the auditorium, causing great consternation among the kids, but it quelled the growing mass hysteria. The students came to their senses. The guards (and NYC policemen if memory serves) managed to usher them out to safety.
I work with a colleague who once taught at a local area high school. She told me the students flitted erratically between “rage and ecstasy”—constant, persistent anger at themselves, the people around them, the “system,” etc., coupled with an almost-animalistic pursuit of pleasure. That’s in relatively rural South Carolina. In urban New York City, that “rage and ecstasy” is apparent when, at one small school, ten girls end up pregnant—out of a school population of ninety!
There are many more heartbreaking examples. Hudson, to be clear, is a “true believer” in the power of education to save students’ lives, and she is not some kind of racist or supremacist. She is compassionate toward her students, and it kills her inside that she can’t do more. But she’s also clear-eyed about the problems facing schools, and our culture generally. Her account is full of examples of students who have given up completely, and are simply unable to articulate their rage in any other way than to lash out at a “system” that is designed to enable their worst instincts.
One final thought: from reading Hudson’s account, it is apparent that some students are simply beyond help. I imagine it’s an incredibly small minority—maybe 1-3%—but in attempting to educate the uneducateable, we bring down the rest of the students, making it almost impossible for them to learn. Hudson complains throughout her piece about her inability to remove students from the classroom (that’s like Classroom Management 101—put a disruptive kid in the hallway for a few minutes and/or send him to the office in order to defuse his chicanery).
It’s controversial to say so, but there are some students we should probably just cut loose. Again, those are the exception, but it’s clear from Hudson’s account, as well as talking to other public school teachers, that some students will simply refuse to ever learn. It’s tragic, but public schools can’t heal a broken, poisoned culture, and it’s unreasonable to expect them to do so.
A comment that came up several times at last night’s forum was thus: real change in education begins with the family. Everyone agrees with this conclusion. But what do we do about it? The Left has systematically fought a cultural war against the nuclear family and bourgeois values like thrift and respect for institutions and authorities. We’re reaping the bitter harvest their misguided policies have sown.
We should try to teach as many children as possible in healthy, safe environments, and teachers have a huge moral responsibility in the molding of young hearts and minds. That said, teachers, schools, and administrators are not enough to fill the gap left by destroyed families and gutted communities. No tax increase or bond measure can fill that void. At this point, I think only a massive religious revival could aright America’s most toxic subcultures.