Friday Follies – Special Saturday Back to School Edition

August 23, 2014

Yes, Virginia, there was a time in this country when summer vacation meant summer vacation. Out of school by Memorial Day, back to school AFTER Labor Day.

There’s still a full week of August left and yet school districts across the country have already been at it for a week now and the rest are following this Monday. Tens of thousands of students having half a month chopped off that once sacred summer vacation.

In the dark days of the 60’s and 70’s I endured my K – 12 education years in three different school buildings, each and every one non-air conditioned. Yes, there were a few “heat days” (school start a half hour earlier, end at 1 instead of 3:30) but never was the school year extended into the next summer to “make up” for heat days in the past August.

Two a day football practices were curtailed to the one in the morning, the town heard the marching band practicing at 9 instead of after school, and classes went on. The only real detriment to the learning process falling upon the teachers who had to talk a little louder to be heard over the hum of the fans in the room. And while the girls were allowed dresses and moderate shorts, we guys endured it all in Sears heavy denim blues.

Ah yes, those were the days. Schools had character, schools adapted, schools (and the teachers and students and parents that made them), just got it done.

Schools today may have their architectural design awards and green building recognitions but the character has been sucked out of each and every one of em. Sealed buildings kept at constant temperatures with never a jolt of crisp winter air to counter the overworking steam heater in the back of the room, or the sweet after scent of a sudden morning rain in May.

And lest you think this opening is just a “well, when I was your age” walk down memory lane, there’s actually a point coming. And that point revolves around the administrative offices and the teachers’ lounge of those schools. Because you see, while the hallways and the classrooms weren’t air conditioned, the principal’s office, the school secretary’s (that was the title back then so get off your feminist horse) office and the teachers’ lounge each had a window unit that could freeze out an Eskimo in full fur.

So just what IS your stupid point Caldwell? We going to see it any time this century?

My point is, that back then we the students didn’t think anything about it. Sure, it would have been nice to have each classroom a constant 72 degrees but we didn’t waste our time worrying about whether the adults got A/C and we didn’t. We were there to learn, (and behave) and so we did (with a few minor misdeeds along the way).

Every time the “heat schedule” was activated there was talk of getting the schools air conditioned for next year, and every time the cost outweighed the benefit. The initial purchase, installation, maintenance, and then the inevitable extra money needed to pay the huge increase in electric bill that would follow.

The money in the current budget certainly wasn’t there and being a small, farming community raising taxes for a convenience that was really only needed a total of maybe a week to 10 days each school year was an idea so devoid of logic and common sense that it just never became more than a “if its and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas” dream.

School money was meant for teachers to teach, books to learn, and the every few years band and sports uniforms and equipment.

The school schedule revolved around a school year that maximized fall, winter and spring time. No fall break, extended Thanksgiving break, Spring break, and this break and that break. Two days at Thanksgiving, the week between Christmas and New Year, Good Friday and a teacher in-service day each semester.

And amazingly I don’t know of one college at the time having to offer remedial math and English classes to high school graduates of the time.

Compare that time not really that long ago with the educational administrative complexes we have today. Hermetically sealed buildings more resembling prisons than a place of learning, filled with more administrators, regulations and methods manuals than could ever have been dreamed of just a half century past.

A far cry from the days when a #2 pencil, graph paper, compass and slide rule were the tools of math class, the classics, handwriting, and essays were expanding minds in the English classes, and civics and American history classes were actually classes on government, civics and American history.

While the politicians and union heads scream about school funding, we would all do well to remember that there was a time not very long ago, that education actually meant teaching, and school actually meant learning.

More money is thrown at “education” today than at any time in our history and yet test scores continue to drop and lives continue to be dumped out the door with less skills than I had already learned by the 7th grade.

We can build all the shiny new buildings we want, cram them full of all the latest and greatest technology we can get our hands on, and in the end we will still be failing our children.

A shinny microbial free classroom with a constant 72 degrees helps no one if the lessons taught are just chapters from standardized, collective approved textbooks.

There are still pockets of excellence scattered across the country where schools like mine still exist, still teach, still do more than just pass along. It is they who should be emulated. It is they who should be studied. It is they and their staffs that should be listened to.

Children all across the globe are learning every day in physical conditions far worse than we allow here, yet they will graduate with skills and knowledge above millions of graduates here.

It’s not the frills of a school that matters, it’s its character. And until the American educational establishment remembers that one fundamental truth, no amount of money will help.


And for you who are now rolling your eyes at my little reminiscing lecture, here’s a few examples of the current state of this oh so technical, yet oh so soulless educational system we’ve trapped our kids in.

From Kyle Olson and his Education Acton Group website:

Teachers lounge vending machines exempt from new federal snack rules

Newspapers rip Michelle O’s ‘cupcake cops’

(Is there NO end to the control this woman desires?)


From ABC News:

Iowa Students to Wear Heart Rate Monitors

(Big Brother isn’t just watching you, he’s now monitoring you.)


From the New York Daily News:

Alabama teacher accused of telling students to reenact Michael Brown shooting

(This is an ELEMENTARY school teacher no less.)


From the Huffington Post:

5 Ways to Teach About Michael Brown and Ferguson in the New School Year

(Numbers 4 & 5 are especially insightful, recommending to “create a classroom memorial” and to “carry the theme for the rest of the year”.)


From the Tennessean:

Tennessee teen suspended for saying “bless you” after sneeze

(The “teacher” in this story isn’t a teacher, she’s a prison matron.)


 And we close out this special back to school Follies edition from

Teen Arrested, Suspended for Shooting a Dinosaur (In a Story He Wrote)

(In Summerville, South Carolina, a 16 year old was arrested and suspended for writing a story in which he used a gun to kill a dinosaur.)


Welcome back to class kiddies, hope you enjoyed your summer vacations because school this year is going to be pure hell.






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2 Responses to Friday Follies – Special Saturday Back to School Edition

  1. Steve Roark on August 23, 2014 at 10:43 am

    Jeff, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head. You left out one thing, we, the over taxed citizens, must get the federal government out of our schools (think Common Core). Once we get that done we will work on getting state controls removed. Our schools can be incredible assets to our community or they can be a tangled web of bureaucracy/bureaucrats. It’s not enough that we have the Military Industrial Complex, we now live with the Educational Industrial Complex. Let the money, all of the money, stay in local communities who are much better equipped to judge how and where it should be spent.

    • Geoff Caldwell on August 24, 2014 at 6:39 am

      Absolutely.The more the feds get involved the worse anything gets and public education is far too important to both present and future to continue to let it get worse.
      Common core in general is a good idea, higher standards creates better graduates but the only thing the current common core has in common with anything is that it’s first four letters also are found throughout the communist manifesto. Especially the education section.


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