School revisited

Peeling back layers of public education

Editor’s note: Anthony Peyton Porter is taking a week off. In light of this issue’s cover story, here’s a column from April 2007 on public education.

My youngest son hasn’t been doing well in school lately. Last year, honor roll; this year, not even close. He’s never been much enamored of school anyway, and adolescence hasn’t changed his disposition.

I liked school. I was a good student, and school was a way to win approval and avoid unwanted attention, which for me in those days was pretty much any attention at all. My mother had great faith in school, which she thought of as education, and was pleased that I did well. If I stumbled, like when I got that F in arithmetic in fifth grade, she was upset and my life was less pleasant. I didn’t stumble much.

I’ve heard that the single biggest factor in a child’s school performance is the parents’ attitude, which explains a lot. My problem with dealing with my son’s lack of concern is that I’m not concerned either, and he knows it.

Public schools are designed to turn out cheap labor for businesses, and since I can’t imagine any of my sons in a cubicle, I don’t care how they do in school. Their not excelling at something chosen for them by people who neither know nor care about them doesn’t distress them or me.

I try to persuade my son to do better because doing well will make things easier for him. He has no notion of that, though. He knows I’ll love him forever no matter how he does in school, so there’s at least no reason for him to do well to get my approval.

I was a substitute teacher for a couple of years in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, and a lot of teachers are good people, although that’s not a requirement.

I was the long-term building sub in two schools and got to know people a little. It’s a tough job. A school takes a lot of resources and constant effort because it’s a crime against nature to force children to sit at desks and learn the same damn thing, whether they care about it or not. That’s where the professionalism comes in.

For several months I was the building floater at what I used to refer to as the Jordan Park School of Elongated Learning. One of the teachers there likened public school teachers to sheep, mindlessly following orders to transmit the approved texts. Not just anybody can do it. You have to be certified.

Politicians decide the range of subjects taught and tested in schools that get government money—which is damned near all—and then presumably students can specialize in whatever they want. Here’s a relevant quotation: “If you give me the power to nominate, you can vote for whomever you please.” Benito Mussolini said that. If you know who Mussolini was, I bet you went to public school a long time ago.

I’ve read that when Albert Einstein finally accepted a teaching position he said, “So, now I, too, am an official member of the guild of whores.” You remember Einstein.