Struggles of American Public Schools

Struggles of American Public Schools

As a retired public school science teacher with a family involved in public education, I have been interested in the struggles of American public schools. The recent issue of the “Nation’s Report Card” shows reading scores at their lowest point in 50 years. The same report shows math scores among 13-year-olds at the lowest average level since 1990.

The public school concept was advanced in 1635 with the Boston Latin School. The first tax-supported public school in America was the Mather School, which opened in Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1639. These schools taught the rudiments of literacy and arithmetic with the purpose that all men could read the Scriptures. In 1642, “proper education” was made compulsory.

Here we are in 2023, with one in four children growing up without learning to read. Students in our prison courses struggle because many Bible study students cannot read above a 4th-grade level. Statistics show that two out of three students who can’t read properly by the 4th grade end up on welfare or in jail. In 2013, 66% of the average 4th-grade children in the United States could not read proficiently, according to the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.

Because of my experience in public school teaching, I don’t have any problem understanding the struggles of American public schools. During my teaching years, I saw two significant influences that inhibited learning. First, I was not given enough class time with the kids to teach them what I knew they needed to understand. I taught math and science and had the kids an hour a day for 186 days. I couldn’t cover everything I wanted the kids to know in 186 hours.

The second problem was attendance. I had an earth science class with 32 students. Most days, I would have about 20 kids present, but it was never the same 20. Kids would show up three times a week, but then they were often taken out of my class for fire drills, storm drills, pep assemblies, counselor sessions, testing, parent conferences, etc. Nobody ever explained how I could teach a kid I didn’t see.

Those problems were present 50 years ago and are much more true today. In addition, today, public school teachers are asked to teach and deal with social issues during class time. They have to worry about pronouns while teaching about racial issues, LGBTQ tolerance, sexual orientation, and political matters. Special interest groups and modern psychological theories dictate most of these topics. At the same time, the teacher has to avoid any reference to morality or biblical teaching about good and evil. No wonder we have a teacher shortage and low student educational levels.

When you throw out God and the Bible, how can you expect kids to understand today’s issues when even adults have no consensus on them? What do you expect to happen when kids cannot read and think for themselves? The struggles of American public schools only add to our society’s ignorance and misery. Meanwhile, the government persecutes Christian schools that try to offer an alternative to the defunct public education system. Christians can promote change, and it begins at the ballot box. What we need is thinking politicians who aren’t just promoting themselves.

— John N. Clayton © 2023

References: Nation’s Report Card and Wikipedia

Role Modeling Your Pronouns

Role Modeling Your Pronouns

The National Education Association’s October 2022 issue of NEA Today carries an article titled “Pronouns and Why they Matter for LGBTQ+ Students.” As a science teacher, I always found English teachers could do things I never had time for. The article encourages teachers to “try role modeling your pronouns before inviting everyone to introduce theirs.” It gives a pattern to follow: “Hi, my name is Meg, and I use she/her/hers pronouns. Could everyone please go around and share their name and pronouns.”

Reading this article reminded me of education courses I took at Indiana University many years ago. The professors who taught them had never taught in a public high school. They never dealt with gangs, had a gun or a knife pulled on them, or been threatened by a girl who spent her weekends as a neighborhood prostitute. Those of us teachers who had experienced all those things in the classroom just rolled our eyes and read their books so we could pass the course. 

The last LGBTQ+ student I had in class changed her name four times in the school year. She would tell me when entering my classroom what name to use when I called on her. When she found out I was a Christian, she came in to talk on numerous occasions. She knew that she was safe in my classroom, that I cared about her, and that I understood some of her struggles. Late in the year, she told me, “You know I don’t care what you call me, you have shown me that you care about me, and that is all I need.” 

I spent 41 years in the trenches, and while I never pushed my religion on my students, they knew where I came from. I have often said that if you have to tell someone that you are a Christian, there is a problem. Atheism, naturalism, and secular humanism have taken over the American educational system and destroyed public schools

I don’t have all the answers, but I know that role modeling your pronouns is not as important as letting the students know you care about them. I understand why parents and educators are fleeing public schools and turning to charter and private schools. As they do, that leaves the public schools in many places as preparatory prison systems collapsing under their own weight. 

— John N. Clayton © 2022

Reference: “Pronouns and Why they Matter for LGBTQ+ Students” by Brenda Alvarez, NEA Today, October 2022 (pages 46-48).

Problems in American Public Education

Stable Family and Public Education

Sometimes I have the opportunity to speak to groups of teachers or community groups interested in public education. One of my comments in those presentations is that I know what the basic problem is in American public education. I can give it to you in a very simple personal statistic. In 1959 when I began teaching at James Whitcomb Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, I had a freshman homeroom with 32 kids. Four of those kids did not have the same last name as the person who was listed as their parent or guardian. When I retired from Riley 41 years later, I had a freshman homeroom with 32 kids in it. Only four of those kids did have the same last name as their parent or guardian. Kids who grow up in a stable nuclear family have a distinct advantage over kids who grow up in a climate of change and insecurity.

I was reminded of that fact when our local paper came out on Mother’s Day with a list of the 12 valedictorians of Mishawaka High School—a large public high school in our area. All 12 of them had the same last name as their parent or guardian. Please do not misunderstand these comments. We are not saying that kids who come from homes where there has been divorce or death are doomed to failure. Many of our children turn out well in spite of us, not because of us.

The fact is that God’s plan for the family provides the ideal environment for kids to grow up with the drive and motivation to be productive adults. Ephesians 5:15-6:4 instructs Christians in these matters. As a public school teacher, I have seen the wisdom of that teaching over and over. No politician will ever be able to solve the problems of public education until the problems of the American family are resolved, and I would suggest that only Jesus Christ has the power to do that.
–John N. Clayton © 2017