Let’s begin by noting this problem does not originate in our local public schools. This issue does not lie at the feet of our local teachers, principals, school boards or superintendents. But while the problem does not trace its roots to our local schools, it is our students and future generations who suffer as a result.
In a recent visit with Alabama Superintendent of Education Dr. Eric Mackey, I noted my concerns with this issue. And while I personally like the superintendent, I stressed the problem begins at his office and flows upward to the federal government level. My problem: Our public schools no longer instill the patriotism so many of us knew and took for granted as children.
In my elementary school years--and I am sure the same can be said for most reading this column--I was blessed to have an outstanding music teacher. Not only is Barbara Miller a fine Christian woman, she is also patriotic to the core. In her class were elementary-aged children who were still easily molded. Like little sponges, we soaked up every musical note she played so beautifully on the piano.
Her enthusiasm and dedication to our country was evident. With the assistance of our classroom teachers, Barbara directed our school plays. And much more often than not, there was a patriotic foundation to each. We learned more songs singing the praises of this country than I could count. From “My Country ‘Tis of Thee’’ and “Grand Ole Flag’’ to “America the Beautiful’’ and “God Bless America,’’ we learned them all. And Barbara, or as I called her at the time, Mrs. Miller, gently pounded those words, notes and cadence into our receiving little spirits.
Coming through high school, our teachers had more than ample time to cover American history from the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War. None of the important dates, names or facts were missed, as our nation at the time believed it was critical for the next generation of children to be taught our illustrious history.
Certainly, there were a few periods in our nation’s past from which we held shame. Slavery was a difficult subject to address, as were the Civil Rights era and the Suffrage Movement. But in the end, Americans held close the importance of our students learning their history and heritage.
The problem our children now face is that there are many schools which can no longer afford to offer the arts, such as elementary music classes. And our poor teachers are so burdened with multiple required testing periods and other demands our educators did not face in the 1970s when I was in elementary school.
In short, those important lessons of patriotism are now rarely being taught in our lower grade levels and much of our history is no longer being offered in our high schools due to the lack of time to offer the instruction.
How can we expect our students to know what they are not taught? How can we expect our students to take the pride most of us do in our country when they know so little about it? I guess the most direct way to voice my concerns is we are failing our children and in return, we are and will continue to pay the price.
We see teenagers and now even a generation of young adults who know so little about our history. We hear the ignorance of our land being spewed from the mouth of babes.
I take pride in the fact we have the freedom to discuss our nation’s ills and frailties, but I prefer those debates be held by those who have some knowledge on the subject.
We are now working on our second generation of students who often know so little about the foundational principles of this land and the sacrifices its people have made to make it the greatest nation this world has ever known. Yes, we are flawed. Yes, we have made mistakes, but our country stands head and shoulders above all others which have come before.
This writing does not even include my concerns over removing God from the classroom, as this is one of the most notable reasons our nation faces the problems we do today. But it is the lack of patriotism within our student body and even young adults which should also be cause for concern.
I feel confident a return to our traditional classroom agendas would serve this purpose while addressing a number of other problems. Too much mandated testing and the expansion of a college-focused curriculum need to be reviewed.
Even the state superintendent admitted the curriculum expansion adopted by the state in 1995 known as the “Four by Four’’ can accept some of the blame. This earmarked such a substantial amount of time for college-bound learning that it almost suffocated career tech education.
Allow me to note my appreciation to Dr. Mackey for his willingness to discuss this issue. We have agreed to continue our discussion in his Montgomery office soon. He sees the same problems I do, but even his office does not have the authority to remedy every concern. The federal guidelines known as “No Child Left Behind’’ have caused many of these problems. While the idea behind the program is valid, there have been unintended consequences.
This program focuses elementary school testing on mathematics and reading. As a result, less time may be set aside to teach the language arts and the sciences. Such rigorous testing schedules linked to the federal program have also served to limit the time needed for music classes and the arts. In short, we have become so focused on “skill and drill’’ that we have lost our way in terms of the basic fundamental academic teachings so many of us remember from our childhood.
We must find ways to bring the arts back to the classroom for many reasons. And we must find a way to design our history courses to fully study our nation’s history--both the good and bad. Our students need this instruction to instill pride and patriotism while also learning from mistakes made in the past.
Again, how can we expect our children to love and appreciate this country when they have never been given the full and proper instruction to lay the proper foundation?
(Tracy Estes is House District 17’s freshman state representative from Winfield.)