Education reform

The state of Minnesota is once again revamping its education requirements--those mandates and orders from on high they hope will filter down to the classroom. After struggling for years with the ambiguous, bureaucracy-laden "Profile of Learning," a morass of fluffy ideas which confused more than it clarified, now the governor has put a traditionalist in charge who is going to require that kids memorize state capitals and know the Monroe Doctrine.

My question is, what kid in his or her right mind would care about the Monroe Doctrine? I look at what kids have to learn and I say to myself, if I were forced to learn all of that irrelevant boring stuff, I would rebel.

Reading, writing, rithmatic. Those are the main thing. But above those basics, it should be the foremost job of every teacher (they should be called teachers, not educators) to develop the character of the kids to their utmost ability. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Treat your fellow human beings well. Help others. Don't expect anything for nothing. Ever. These basics should be on a teacher's mind every morning, even the mind of the wood shop teacher.

Character matters. I have long forgotten the minutia of the various subjects taught me in high school and college, but I do remember the character of my teachers and professors. I remember the lessons they taught me, mostly by their example, but also through their advice and wise counsel at times when I needed it.

And what about teaching basic manners? I don't mean napkins and forks, either. I mean respect for elders, respect for the opinions of others, kindness towards the less fortunate, consideration of others in public spaces, and, above all, civility.

Of course, none of these things can be taught by boors who are handed orders to make kids mind their manners from the state department of education department. Character can only be taught by people of character.

I was lucky. I had many teachers with sterling character, golden-hearted people from the old school. They weren't buddy-buddy with the students. They were sometimes cranky. But you knew they cared, and not just about being liked.

My question is, how do we find these people? How do we get them into teaching? How do we prevent them from getting disillusioned by the inane requirements and bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo pouring down from the fuzz-minded Phds of educational theory perched in their ivory towers in St. Paul?