My family is pro-education. It has been for a long time. Generations, in fact. Now, that doesn’t mean that everyone in my family has a PhD–far from it. But what it does mean is that from our origins in the Appalachians, from some people who had been wealthy and become poor and others who had never had any resources to speak of, a healthy respect for education and learning was instilled. My dad has been known to quote his grandfather, a bootlegger, as saying, in an earthy way “Son, they can take your money, they can take your house, they can even take your woman. But nobody can ever take your education.”
From my mother’s side, amongst other family items, I’ve found a letter written by a young teacher just out of normal school to my great grandfather, thanking him for his support of the new school (a one room school house) that had just been completed in the community. It was the first school in that community, and the enthusiasm of the young teacher is still infectious just shy of a century later. My great grandfather was a veteran on the Spanish American war who returned home to live the remainder of his days farming, raising tobacco and pushing for the building of roads and other elements of progress in the community.
On both sides of my family I see evidence of the great tradition of Southern Populism that gave rise to and supported education in North Carolina in the University of North Carolina system and in many smaller local institutions, from the founding of one room school houses to community colleges. As an heir of even a small part of this tradition, you’d be hard pressed to get me to say anything negative about the idea of education in general, and the importance of the liberal arts in particular.
But as true as all of this is, it doesn’t make me less of a critic of some of the negative trends in education which are especially prevalent in public schools–perhaps because they are the push-me-pull-me of education. I say this not to be critical of public school teachers–my sister is a talented and committed high school history teacher at a public school in North Carolina–but because I believe the institution we have constructed to educate our children is systemically flawed, in some cases tragically. I’m sure my sister or any number of other gifted teachers could write pages about the specifics of this claim, and they are in many ways as much victims of the system as the children they strive to educate.
I bring this topic up today because of a pair of articles I just finished reading by Gordan Atkinson, aka Real Live Preacher. In Our Life With Shelby, pts. 1 & 2, Atkinson recounts the experience of his middle daughter, Shelby, in the education system. It is a powerful story and I pray that the positive note that the articles end on will only continue and that Shelby will flourish.