June 24, 2018

Perfect Tolerance for Problems

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Age and experience have taught me that I have a perfect tolerance for problems–those belonging to other people–and I have an entire collection of solutions that I stand ready to advance when opportunity presents itself. Not for nothing have I practiced the counseling techniques “I hear you saying. . .”, or “Go with that . . .” or “I feel your pain .. .” But little of this mattered much during a recent visit I had with Paul Murchison, Principal of the Doodlebug High School.

Paul is normally the picture of affability; so when I ran into him at the barber shop and became aware of a despondency that was so unlike the man it aroused a genuine concern.

“Hello, Bill,” he said rather disconsolately and in response to my cheery greeting. “What, the scholarly Paul Murchison down? He of the knightly order of Shakespeare, Milton, and the Venerable Bede? He of the Master’s Degree in Belle Lettres’? Nay, never. Never, I say. Surely these eyes and ears deceive me!”

He smiled wanly, momentarily lifted by the jocularity in my voice.  “There’s nothing wrong with your eyesight or your hearing. You always said that education is a fatal disease, and that if God wanted us to be educated, He’d have created us with a dictionary in one hand and a thesaurus in the other.”

“Ah, and you’ve finally come to the altar whereupon all illusion and pretense is shed,” I replied, rather deliberately goading him.

“It’s interesting that you’d mention “illusion” and “pretense.” That just about sums up my feelings at the moment.”

“What is it, my friend, that’s illusory and pretentious and that has you behaving like an inept Director of Homeland Insecurity before a congressional review committee?”

“Well, if you must know, I just came from a meeting of bright eighth-grade students. They were pressing me why they had to take algebra and geometry, four years of English, a foreign language, two years of science and two of social studies when, in fact they want to become lawyers, accountants, and dance instructors? They thought the idea of Carnegie Units and Interscholastic accreditation were old fashioned hold-overs that might have been suitable at one time but in an Internet age quite passe.”

“And are they, Paul?” I asked.

“That’s the nub of it, Bill. I’m not sure they’re not. I’ve tried to convince myself and a thousand students that algebra is a valid mind expander. But these kids today were computer literate without ever taking a computer class and could type like pros and have never taken typing classes. And the things they knew or could discover with nothing more than a computer mouse absolutely blows the mind. Algebra pales in comparison. And, Bill, they live in an ocean of spoken and written words; surely, that should affect the four-year English requirement.”

He paused to collect his thoughts, then continued. “One of the girls said she intends to skip public high school altogether. Says she can satisfy graduation requirements in just one year on the Internet. Then it’s on to college where she can focus on her writing career. The devil of it is, Bill, I know she can do it, and I can’t find fault in it.”

“But, Paul, it’s the same curriculum. She’ll be taking the same classes only accelerated,” I responded.

“True, but it really puts public education in the spotlight. We deal with Carnegie Units, SAT scores, and four years. That’s got to change. These kids today were challenging the relevancy of current practice in light of present technology and a world awash in information only a click away. Can you appreciate the dilemma?”

“It sounds like you just found a substitute mind expander for algebra,” I suggested, facetiously. “Paul, have you ever noticed how much time we spend on things that can’t be defined-things like ‘education,’ ‘religion,’ ‘justice’?” Perhaps there’s no way to ever get these things ‘right’ because each is merely a fancy analogy that breaks down at the individual level.

“Oh, thanks!” he said, smiling. “You couldn’t just say, ‘I feel your pain’ and let it pass. No, you had to add another layer of stress!”
“No thanks necessary, Paul, I’m glad to do it. After all, what are friends for?”

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