Cali school blues

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Peter Boyer, Contributing Writer

My First Alma Mater

T he two previous writers in this series have praised their education, claiming that their high-school experiences more than helped them for the trails that lay ahead of them at the University of Dallas. I hate to sober up this series on education, but to be completely blunt, my high school education was not good.

I went to a Catholic high school until my senior year, when I switched back to the public-school system I had grown up in. While the private school had some higher standards, I have to say that those standards were still so low, one would be able to stub his toe on them.

The main problem was the teachers. At least half of them (in either school) lacked any motivation to lecture more than once or twice a week. Every once in a while a new, fresh-faced, bushy-tailed recent grad would appear, ready to change these youngsters’ minds. Soon he would be beaten down by the students and would give in to the very simple formula that all high-school teachers follow: Hand out a worksheet, then sit down for some high-quality Facebooking. It’s a win-win; the students can socialize after having done a five-minute worksheet, and the teacher gets to sit behind his computer screen for the rest of the period. One of my favorite stories to regale people with is of how my calculus teacher was so driven to have us all get As (with as little work as possible), that he gave us all the answers to the final in the order they would appear on the test.

Perhaps I am being too harsh. Admittedly, there was actual education involved. Once or twice a week the teacher would stand up and read the textbook aloud to us, thus confirming his usefulness and establishing himself as knowledgeable. This new, modern philosophy of education has become well-established throughout public as well as private schools, in my experience. I cannot speak for schools outside of my lonely, desolate section of California, but this manner of educating teenagers was prevalent in both types of school.

Do not let me give you the wrong idea, though; there were a few teachers who actually understood education to be an important part of the school experience. These educators were few and far between, but they stood out. We had actual lectures, and they engaged us in dialogues about the themes in such books as Heart of Darkness and Crime and Punishment. It was universally agreed upon that these teachers were our favorites (although most of us didn’t realize that this was because we actually learned in their classes). During breaks throughout the day, one would more than likely find five or six students discussing the material with these beacons of light in an otherwise uninspired institute of teaching.

I have not answered the question of whether my public/private education prepared me for college. The answer is yes, but barely. It was because of those few, extraordinary teachers who actually wanted to teach. If it had not been for them, I would have been very surprised when I came to my first day of class in college and was not handed a five-minute worksheet.

 

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