Linda Downing

It's time for a school makeover

Our schools need a "What Not To Do" list akin to fashion's "What Not To Wear" show on the TLC network. TLC once stood for "The Learning Channel" and its slogan, "a place for learning minds." Then, it abbreviated to the mindless "TLC," bowing to cultural fluff. Similarly, schools became the mindless FCAT, slaves to the bullying of a far-from-proven test. Education is filling the biblical prescription for disaster: "Every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6). What not to do: Ignore the number one problem - lack of discipline. The last six months generated angst-ridden articles focusing on test measurements. Allowing parents to transfer their kids out of a "D" or "F" school to one with a higher letter fulfills the letter of state law but does nothing to touch the heart of the problem. The schools are rotten at the core - their students. And for too many of those students, their core, i.e. a stable home life with stable parents, is nonexistent. The schools cannot fix the environment where the students live. They can establish an educational environment by developing discipline codes that work - when enforced.
Two newsworthy episodes occurred in June, illustrating what teachers face every day in classrooms. In the first, an Air-Tran flight from New York to Atlanta stayed grounded until the captain kicked about 100 high school seniors and their chaperons off the plane. They refused to comply with safety orders to put away their cell phones and other mobile devices and sit down. Some adults onboard said "the students weren't behaving that badly." In the second episode, a St. Petersburg, Florida, middle school boy refused to remove his lipstick, black eyeliner and eye shadow, and change his shirt. Listen to these words from the sympathetic newspaper account: "The 14-year-old never expected to miss his last day at Meadowlawn Middle School for a dress code violation." Why not? Could it be because this "quiet boy" has never learned that "No" means "No"? The boy's mother said: "I didn't think it would be a problem. I just thought it would be a great opportunity for him to express himself." What not to do: Allow adults like the passengers on the Pan-Air flight and this mother to run the schools. They are "expressing themselves" badly. What not to do: Blame the teachers. Mid-June results of The National Council on Teacher Quality review gave a negative assessment of the nation's colleges that are given the task of training teachers. Ignorance of subject matter is inexcusable and easily corrected. Classroom discipline demands a system makeover - superintendent, board, administration, and teachers. All need to enforce rules as simple as: school uniforms; seating charts; hallway, grounds, lunchroom, and bus conduct. If the most basic human standards cannot be required of our children, no amount of money or knowledge of subjects can help. Adults who know how to teach know that strict discipline sets the stage for learning. Adults who don't, don't. Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at