Schools getting too much of the blame

By Steve Boggs

Last year was my 30th high school reunion. I was not able to attend because of work, but about half of my graduating class of 22 showed up. A friend sent a photo of my classmates, and it was the first time I had seen most of them since graduation night in 1982.
Leflore, Okla. is a small place. The school is one of the smallest in Oklahoma and its resources are scarce. The district represents the combination of several rural schools – the last annexation coming in the 1970s. It draws students from a large, rural area in western LeFlore and eastern Latimer counties. Our class 30 years ago was average for the time, and I believe the class sizes have become smaller since then.
In our high school, the curriculum reflected the population. There were no advance placement classes or a large selection of electives. A good portion of students left campus before lunch to attend vocational classes in Poteau, where they learned trades. We valued FFA, metal shop and homemaking more than calculus, creative writing, business or theater. The computer hadn’t made its way into our part of the world by 1982.
Such is the case with most schools. They reflect the district’s populace in many ways.
In spite of my high school’s limited resources, the opportunity existed to get a fundamentally sound education. Our teachers presented the material, and we had textbooks. Time was allocated for study, and for homework. If we had questions, the teachers did their best to answer them or explain.
The only thing lacking in my high school educational experience was me.
George Bernard Shaw once said youth is wasted on the young. Well, I certainly wasted a good portion of mine. At a time when my brain was still open to new ideas, knowledge and expansion, my focus was everywhere else. Learning was the last thing on my mind in high school, a situation I’m quite sure hasn’t changed that much in 30 years.
The debate, however, has changed a great deal. We spend way too much time these days being critical of teachers and school systems, even parents, and not near enough time emphasizing consequences to students. In all the noise about education, we’re overlooking the role of the student. Teachers cannot surgically implant knowledge into students. Students have to meet them halfway, and unfortunately too few of them do.
There are consequences to apathy in high school. Certainly not all students learn at the same pace, and some carry a lot of baggage with them to class. Educational opportunities are not the same for everyone, but they are available. Even for a country kid like me, there was more opportunity to learn than what was consumed.
We too frequently focus our frustration on the American education system and ignore the students themselves. They’ve got skin in this game, too. If they can make it to school, the opportunity to learn exists. Education will always be underfunded, and we will always have a few bad teachers. But we can’t simply ignore the fact that high school students bear as much responsibility to learn as we do to teach them.
You get one shot, and in today’s economy, the bare minimum doesn’t cut it anymore.

Steve Boggs is publisher of The Saline Courier. He can be reached at