With the Supreme Court's recent decision on corporal punishment, the long-standing debate has resurfaced between those who favor striking a blow for discipline and those who do not. While the debate rages on, the cruelest blow of all continues - that which is being struck to our children's minds.
We are graduating student's without the basic fundamental skills, we are employing some teachers and others who are academically deficient, we are so busy using our students as guinea pigs in the educational experiments of the day that their education is getting lost in the process. For too long we have been following the belief that education must be reduced to the lowest common denominator instead of trying to give our young people the ability to rise above the average - to give them the hope, drive and skills to succeed. We continue to commit "corporal punishment" on their minds.
This is not a phenomenon that is unique to the District of Columbia. It is happening all over the country. Between school years 1962-63 and 1974-75 the average nationwide verbal and mathematics scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test fell from 478 to 434 and 501 to 472 respectively (out of a possible 800). This step decline can be seen in all parts of the nation and in private as well as public schools.
At the University of California, the number of courses needing remedial English courses to aid in overcoming their lack of composition skill is over 50 per cent. Examples are endless. The problem has become a national crisis with which we must deal.
Parents and students are beginning to rebel and justifiably so. In a 1972 case, the parents of a San Francisco high-school graduate sued the school district because after 13 years of public school their son could not read. More recently, the parents of a Long Island high school graduate served notice of intent to sue the school district for failing in its obligation to educate their son.
One hopes that school systems will solve this problem themselves before the courts do and before more children are made to suffer.
We in the District are trying with our new competency-based curriculum, testing policy, recertification requirements and improved personnel evaluations. We are also working on programs designed to examine teachers for competence and to require acquisition of certain skills for graduation.
How can we expect our teachers to teach the basic skills if they themselves do not posses them? We have to find the ones who do not and replace them.
Recently I took part in interviews for a second-level school board staff position. I saw and heard 14 high-caliber individuals who were seeking the job. Approximately half were currently unemployed. I saw first-hand that it is truly a buyer's market. Competent personnel need not feel threatened, but those who are just collecting a paycheck had best beware.
A common cry is that testing, of both teachers and students, is culturally and thus racially biased. I say 1/3 plus 1/4 equals 7/12 in any language, any culture. My main concern is the 95 per cent black and 15 per cent other students who are being cheated scholastically while we debate the relevancy of tests.
I do not mean to put the entire onus on teachers and administrators. Parents must take some responsibility by sending their children to school, knowing where they are and creating a strong physical and moral foundation on which formal education can build. Students must have a responsibility to conform to acceptable standards of conduct. School board members must also take responsibility, and they will also should be evaluated - at-the polls or by those who appoint them. Taxpayers and holders of the purse strings have the responsibility of providing us with adequate resources (both authoritative and financial) to do our job. Even the media have a responsibility: They should encourage us by highlighting our successes as well as exposing our failure.
Time after time I hear cab drivers and laborers and speakers at community meetings say: "I was short-changed: I thought I was okay anf then I had to compete and found I was ill prepared to compete adequately."
To those who suffer the consequences of our past ineptness, we apologize for depriving them of a quality education. I hope they will continue to seek it themselves and be diligent in their efforts to make sure the system does a better job with their children. Let's all work together. Mental "corporal punishment" must be stopped - and the sooner the better.