By Jimmie Hollis
Today’s public schools are the subject of a lot of debate and controversy all across America. There is a great deal that does need fixing, but the problems are not, as some may proclaim, solely due to a lack of funding.
I am a product of a 1950s and 1960s public school system, and I believe that I received a very good education. The public school system in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s received a lot less funding than today relative to the times. Yet it seemed to turn out a higher percentage of well-educated students. And many of these success stories, as I see it, came out of very poor school districts.
Our teachers expected — no, they demanded — that my classmates and I learn stuff that equipped us for life.
In my case, I went to school in a poor school district in southern Illinois. It was a lot poorer than most of the counties in southern New Jersey where I now live. We often used hand-me-down books and materials that came to us from the ”White schools.” And, yet, from personal recollection, I think that more than 90 percent of my class went on to college and more than half of us became what people would consider successful in their pursuits. And this happened during an era of overt and intense racism!
During my school years, discipline on the part of the teacher in the classroom was not politically incorrect. Teachers had a lot of power that was given to them by the parents that they simply don’t have today. Talking back, running in the halls, being discourteous and other sins of the classroom often brought swift and righteous correction. And an offender usually got some more of that same swift and righteous correction again when he got home to his parents.
Teachers back then were interested in teaching us reading, math, biology, history, science and civics. They were not trying to brainwash us with political views as seems to be the case in so many modern schools.
Our teachers refused to give up or fail. Our success was a personal goal for them. They sought to ensure that every student received the same dedication and educational opportunity.
Back then, teachers obviously saw their roles as providing the launching pad for the next great American president and the next astronaut as well as accomplished members of the military (like me), lawyers and future teachers. For them, their vocation was an investment in the future — theirs and ours.
Some say the old educational system is passé. Maybe, but I still defend its effectiveness. I am not saying we should go back to those days altogether, but I do believe we could sure use some of the unselfish attitudes that I remember being so prevalent at that time.
Furthermore, I reject the premise that you can’t get a good education unless you live in a rich school district. Many of the kids I went to school with and I are living proof that dedicated teachers, backed by dedicated parents, can successfully educate students in the poorest of communities.
If they could do it back then, why can’t we do it right now?
Jimmie Hollis is a member of the Project 21 Black leadership network and Tea Party organizer in southern New Jersey.