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Public school education has changed

Public school, for better and worse, is not what it once was. The times they are a changin’.

I know this not because my children are in the public school system, but because I hear from parents who are stressed about how much things have changed.

I will not pretend to be an expert on state testing, but I’m confident there’s more of it now than there was 25 years ago. We had end-of-year testing for some grades. We also took “nine-weeks” tests, but their goal was only to gauge our progress. We weren’t taught the previous eight weeks specifically to prepare us for those tests — or at least it didn’t feel that way.

I don’t ever remember my parents, or anyone’s parents, talking about testing. It wasn’t the priority of the public school system then. 

We had homework, but it was not something that we spent three hours on each day or something that robbed us of quality time with our families. Teachers understood that a child who spends eight hours at school doesn’t need to spend another three at home on schoolwork.

Many of you will disagree with me on that point, but that much time spent on schoolwork leaves little time for the rest of life — playing sports, exploring nature, sitting around a dinner table with family, church.

Some teachers had a “no homework” policy and as much I loved it as a student, I can look back as an adult and see the real value of it. Children need time to be children, and homework can often rob them of that.

Sure, we can point to other countries whose students spend far more time in the classroom than ours do in America. And yes, those countries’ students might score higher on tests. But does that make them “better”? It might indeed make them “smarter” as children, but scoring higher on tests is not the ultimate goal of education.

Testing and homework are not the only differences. A quick spin on Facebook shows teachers and administrators jumping through all sorts of hoops to get students engaged and interested.

When I was a student, there was no “pajama” day, no Dr. Seuss birthday celebrations, no camping on the roof and no pies in the face. Teachers expected, sometimes unrealistically, students to pay attention in class and complete their assignments without being entertained.

If we did not, we were paddled. If we did poorly on tests and assignments, we failed. It was that simple. 

I’m not suggesting my teachers did it right all those years ago, just differently. It required less entertainment to hold our attention back then. I blame iPhones and iPads for the change today.

Parents, generally speaking, respected teachers and trusted their assessment of children. If a teacher of mine called my mother and told her I was acting up in class, my mom would have readied a belt for my backside. She would not have criticized the teacher for pointing out my misbehavior.

Today, some parents are too quick to take their child’s side. I’m not suggesting parents should blindly trust teachers, but the vast majority of public school teachers are in the profession because they care about children. Their words should carry some weight and if they say little Billy is acting a fool, he probably is.

Though some of you will find this hard to believe since I’m only 35, my elementary school had no air conditioning. We sat in class and sweated. Profusely. The comfort of students was not the priority of schools then. I remember bringing a towel to class to place on my desk chair so I didn’t get a heat rash behind my knees. I also remember bringing box fans to class to help cool the room. We opened windows and cranked up a dozen fans to cool off. The noise of those fans was so loud, we couldn’t hear the teacher.

I also remember that public schools back then recognized gender for what it is. I won’t wade into the transgender debate here, but as a boy, I knew there would be hell to pay if I even got close to the girls bathroom. The idea of “choosing” your gender wasn’t even a spark of an idea then.

And while most states have banned corporal punishment (Mississippi has not), it was the go-to deterrent for misbehaving students two decades ago. Late for class? Two licks. Talking during class? Paddle time. It was a painful and demoralizing method of discipline that was quite effective in my case. I understand why parents are no longer thrilled with the idea of a teacher or principal hitting their child, but back then it was normal — even welcomed by most parents.

So much has changed when it comes to schools, but for the most part teachers have remained the same. They are still caring, kind and loving. They show up each day because they care about students. As long as that remains the case, our education system will be just fine.

Publisher Luke Horton can be reached at luke.horton@dailyleader.com.