Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi School Daze

By Captain Opinion

FEBRUARY 7, 2000:  They were nights of pure hell for me. I would fold the cream-colored, machine-made lace table cloth back over the dining room table and sit there for hours in a dim, yellowish light trying desperately to do homework. There were long division problems that gave me headaches, word problems that made me want to cry and spelling and word association lessons that made me sick to my stomach.

For whatever reason, the world of school work and of knowledge so overwhelmed me that I thought I would never master it. It made me feel sick, nervous and like an idiot. When it came time to do homework I wanted to hide behind a couch and cry. I wanted to quit.

I couldn't quit, though. My ma and dad wouldn't let me. Because almost every night in those early years they were at that table with me. When my printing and penmanship was sloppy, they made me redo it. When words were spelled wrong they drilled me until I got them right. And when the numbers of complex subtraction and long division problems spun around on a page like a merry-go-round out of control, and when a scared, bewildered kid couldn't grasp the most basic fundamentals of arithmetic, they were there to explain them over and over. However long it took me to finally figure things out, that's how long they explained it. I wasn't the only one they helped. There were four kids in the family.

My parents weren't Ph.Ds. or lab scientists or business executives. They were high school dropouts -- Depression-era people who had to quit school and go to work in order to help support families.

I mention this because of the ass-backward ideas about education that are floating around these days. Albuquerque teachers are screaming for pay raises and smaller class sizes. Albuquerque Public Schools Superintendent Brad Allison and others are wringing their hands and setting up committees to study this state's high dropout rate. A recent series of stories about how Hispanic boys are almost nowhere to be seen in APS honors classes prompted Allison to talk about how APS might not be fulfilling its "moral obligation" to Hispanic boys. There is talk about the inherent disadvantages that kids from poor families have in school. Allison has expressed a fear that APS could face lawsuits over the lack of Hispanic boys in honors classes. Politicians and teachers unions scream that more money will solve the educational problem in this state and country.

They're all full of it. All of the money, lawsuits, smaller classes and court orders in the world won't make kids do well in school. We've tried that for the past 30 years and things have only gotten worse.

Things will change when parents realize that they have a moral obligation to sit down with their kids and help them with their school work. Kids will start staying in school, getting better grades, enrolling in honors classes and getting good jobs when their parents place a high value on education, demand that their kids meet high standards and refuse to let them quit. A thousand good teachers can't replace the work of one decent parent who instills in a kid a respect for learning. But one dipshit, disinterested parent who thinks education is meaningless can thwart the work of a thousand good teachers.

Apologists moan that poor families don't have time or the educational skills to give their kids a respect for education and knowledge. That's an excuse. Most of the parents in our neighborhood were high school dropouts. By every standard we were considered lower class. The men were machinists, janitors, garbage men, printers and bus drivers. Our dad got up at four every morning to deliver newspapers before going to his factory job. For most of his adult life he held a third job at night, usually cleaning a laundromat. But despite the long hours he found time to help us and to demand that we do well in school.

When we got bad grades, the parents didn't blame it on teachers, schools or rigged tests. They dumped on us for not studying harder. When teachers sent home notes saying we were screwing off in class, the parents didn't race off to the courthouse to file a lawsuit against the school. They whipped us with a belt and ordered us to change our ways. It worked. Most of the kids in the neighborhood have been successful. We own businesses, write, work in the medical field, and, in a true testament to our parents, not one of us ever became a cop, politician or food critic.

I don't know how we instill in parents the idea that education is important and that they have an obligation to help and to push their kids.

All I know is I'm glad my parents had it.


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