'Yeah, why do they teach us all this crap
Sound like anyone you knew?
You may not remember, but that's the call
of the 'speckled-face whining student'. I knew
lot's of 'em. They go to every school, and even
my dad had many of their dads as classmates.
They haven't changed. These unfortunate,
creatures wander the halls and playgrounds,
from the elementaries to the the high schools,
dazed, disoriented, lost in the echoes of their
one bootless cry.
Indeed, why. (Why what? Oh,sorry)
Think back. That subject you hated. You
bitched because you HAD to take the class. They
never gave a good reason, so you never dug it.
Even if you loved a class, somebody in it felt that
way about it. Like, say, 'I'll never use geometry
in my life'.
(Honey, will you help me pack the car.)
Still, the kids ask.
'Why are you teaching me this?'
We still don't say bupkis. Hell, how many of
us don't know, either? Lots, it would seem.
And thereby hangs a tale.
Boomers grew up watching some awful
things. The oldest of us, WWII and the Korean
War- to the youngest, Vietnam. McCarthyism to
Woodstock. John Kennedy to Kent State.
Martin Luther King to Robert Kennedy.
And, of course, Watergate. Possibly the
(And what the hell has that to do with
OK, OK, I'm getting to it. Honest!
Anyone who was REEEEEAAALLLLY part
of the sixties, knows that it was not about sex,
drugs and rock and roll.
Go ahead, man, say it. I'll wait............
(Man, if you can remember the sixties, then
you weren't really there.)
OK, got that out of our system? Goooooood.
Well, I was that impressionable youngster
while all you old hippies 'was a-stirrin' up the
dirt'. Serious comment on the evening news or
total send-up in Mad- the real story was being
told. The sixties, originally, was about freedom.
At issue was the government controlling
people through antiquated policies to hide
personal gain. It was about a small number of
men deciding the fate of a large number of men
at random- a war. Civil rights. Women's rights.
Even gay rights. (to the extent the media would
tolerate the mere mention of it.) The common
thread was 'these decisions are not made
democratically, yet they affect the whole or a
minority unfairly'. Ours was the first generation
to question authority and what we called 'the
establishment' on our own constitutional
Unfortunately, the 'sound bite' was also
invented. A stoned-out freak in a day-glo T shirt
screaming Rock and Rooooollllll' and passing out
got much higher ratings than "that dull Abbie
Hoffman guy rambling about some constitution
or founding fathers crap- we got enough for the
six o'clock report, we're out of here".
"BUT WHAT'S THAT GOT TO DO WITH
EDUCATION, FOR PETE'S SAKE!"
More than you could imagine if I gave you
Which, by the way, I'm not.
There was a death in the seventies.
Un-noticed at first, but eventually recognized and
analyzed and re-analyzed by everyone from
every side- the fateful passing of our trust.
With it, our pride in America, our feeling of
unity- things the original protests and sit-ins
sought to restore.
But don't fret, there was also a birth.
Don't rush me. Here, have a sandwich.
OK. Have you guessed yet? Ballots in.....,
and if you said 'national cynicism', you're a
lucky winner!!!!. And here's Don Pardo to tell
you what you've won-
"Well, folks, hold on to your hats, you've just
won the moral right to throw everything the
establishment says out the window, because you
can't trust them and they're probably lying anyway.'
And of course, a copy of the home game".
'So, folks, where you gonna go and trash
(EDUCATION! YOU KNOW, SCHOOLS,
KIDS, CLASSROOMS, BOOKS?!?! )
Exactly. We threw out a great deal of the old
school to make room for our better, healthier,
'progressive educational techniques'.
From Huck Finn, out of social sensitivity, to
'phonics', out of sheer creative license, we've
dumped a great deal of the old curriculum, and
therefore, the basic structure of the old system.
It seems that we boomers decided we could do
everything better just by doing it totally
different. I can't count how many 'avant garde'
teaching methods I've seen, heard or read about.
Some work out. Many don't.
Now we have grandkids and we still have
illiteracy and we still have serious problems with
the system and we still bitch and accuse and
legislate and protest and ban and barr and decry
and detest and we still have not answered the
first damm question.
Why?!?!? (Now?) Yes, now. (Finally.)
If you got it then, you've known the
answer all along. The old school had that
curriculum so everybody would get a wide
enough general knowledge that, if they pass,
they will have a good shot at understanding the
I had to take two years of foriegn language
in high school, choosing from french, spanish
and latin. Now, with every ATM boasting
'espanol' as a menu option, were they really
wasting my time making me learn their
'academic requirements' out of some menial
Actually, every subject had a real-life value
to it. And at each new grade, a different, new,
and therefore somewhat exclusive, set of secret
codes and inside jokes.
I remember (at 15) the first time my
spanish class paid off by surprise. It was Speedy
Gonzales. He asks the cat- (the one with
Speedy's little mouse buddy in his mouth)- "El
Senor pussy-gato, que esta lump in your face?" I
rolled. I'm still laughing right now. A whole new
level of humor had opened up to me, and because
latin (from church) and spanish are two thirds of
the romance language triangle, I found that I
also understood some french jokes as well.
Cartoons, comics, movies, British sit-coms,-
everywhere foriegn languages were being used,
there was a new joke to listen or look for.
Obviously, the most trivial aspect of
multi-lingual knowledge. Or is it?
We express valid social concerns through
every kind of humor. The more exposure, the
deeper the joke. History, language, science,
math, physics, chemistry, technology - which
hasn't been used humorously? Or dramatically?
Or as just plain reality on the evening
Maybe it's worth knowing where the hell in
the world a war is going on, and understanding
why. Maybe it's worth it to be able to do things
on your job that make you more efficient. Maybe
a historical movie reaches you because you
understand the details that foreshadow and craft
Cynically, maybe you learn how to teach
yourself to tell the difference between real facts
and political or emotional lies.
Maybe you learn enough about the U.S.
Constitution and the Bill Of Rights that you
understand how the system works and that
things can change.
Or you learn enough about life that you
realize you don't have to change anything 'just
because you can'.
There are serious problems in our
education system. Our new-fangled ideas and
progressive techniques have not done away with
the problems inherent in teaching a diverse
range, of kids- forget about dealing with the
horrible realities of the world and the
ever-quickening pace of technology.
When we argue about which information
we're going to include and what method we're
going to use in the classroom, we forget
something crucial, much to our shame.
This battlefield we're on is our children's
future. The ground is blood-soaked with the
deaths of brilliant dreams.
When we choose to hide something, we
take great risk. Anyone clever, cynical, fearful
or savvy enough to notice an omission is likely to
bust us. The mere act of hiding often causes
enough curiosity to make someone notice, so it
never pays to withhold relevant information. It
pays less to make up an explanation that
justifies your side.
The truth, as they say, shall set you free. Really.
The true power of knowledge is perspective.
The ability to see different sides, and maybe
make a decision based on a wider perception.
(How about this one- billions of dollars or a fully
intact ozone layer. 'Couldn't affect us, could it?
I'll take the cash.')
How we justify something determines if it
is going to spark curiosity or satisfaction. That
means the modern teacher must use every level
of analogy and relevant fact available to explain
the reason for everything they teach.
No pressure, though.
The basic system will work and the
teacher, after a healthy raise and a few weeks at
the spa, will be OK, and will teach our little
darlings even better if parents learn to answer
that one nagging question that begins at home.