Saturday, April 30, 2011

Teaching High School

Luann Johnson once wrote a book entitled My Posse Don’t Do Homework about her experiences teaching at an inner-city high school. She knew her subject and showed a great deal of dedication to her students. She was also quite lucky to be a former US Marine officer. Once early in her teaching stint, it looked like things might get physical between her and one of her students, which is a very bad thing. She assumed a martial arts defensive stance and then caught a major break: one of her would-be attackers’ friends happened to be a sometime-viewer of the history channel, so he yelled out, “Back off man! She was a marine! They can kill you with their bare hands!”

Hollywood later made a movie about Ms. Johnson’s experiences starring Michelle Pfeiffer (although they succumbed to political correctness and renamed it Dangerous Minds). If anyone asked me what I find the most serious problem in American education, I would have no hesitation in saying the title of Ms J’s book was spot-on. In some communities there is considerable social pressure not to succeed academically, and the consequences of that pressure are long-lasting and ghastly.

Believe it or not, in 2000 I spent most of a semester teaching 11th grade English at Simon Sanchez high school Hagatna, Guam. It is an institution that admits 600 ninth graders and graduates 240 twelfth graders .A dear friend of mine form law school predicted, “Kent, those kids will eat you alive.” I am happy to report I did not succumb to cannibalism. However there were times I was grateful that I’m over 6 feet tall and clock in at over 200 lbs. It didn’t help that the high school had a policy of no detentions.

There are many things that make me pessimistic about the future of American education and its implications for our society as a whole. However, I can report one bright spot. A dear friend of mine who’s a retired Marine First Sergeant has informed me that after he finishes putting his own children through college he intends to finish up his degree and get certified to teach history. I would dearly love to be a fly on the wall watching one of his classes. I seriously doubt he will ever have any discipline problems.

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