Let’s Take the Bubble Gum Out of the Schools by Harry Golden

A clear and present danger to our society lurks in the corridors of our new ranch-type schools.

Bubble gum comes with the terrazzo tile.

The magnificent buildings and elaborate facilities have far outstripped the actual processes of education.

It’s like moving into a fifty-thousand-dollar home with holes in your shoes and no desire or resources to get them half-soled.

In the end, the beautiful new high school building stands as a mockery to the boys and girls who can barely read and write.

In this elaborate construction we are, of course, trying to keep abreast of our business community—bigger and better facilities all the time. This works very well in private enterprise, but in education it is something else. For one thing, we do not “follow” it to its logical conclusion. When a large corporation puts up a magnificent building, it does not turn the edifice over to executives making thirty-two hundred dollars a year. The janitor gets that. For another thing, there is a direct connection between “bigger and better facilities” and expanded production and distribution of goods and services.

There is no connection in education. In education all you need is a few benches, a desk, a pointer, a blackboard, some chalk, and A TEACHER; everything else is “the fixins.”

The big problem which faces us today in education is fairly simple. No one reads books any more.

This may sound like oversimplification, but I don’t think so. The high school boys and girls no longer read any books. It is appalling. Today you can stand before a group of high school seniors and tell them the basic tales of our literature: the stories out of Dickens, Verne, Hardy, Conrad, Hugo, Dumas, and Bulwer-Lytton, and they stare at you as if you had just dropped down from the planet Mars.

The students (sic) are required to read one book a semester, but they can usually catch something on TV, and that’s that. They are also required to read one thousand lines of poetry—which wraps up their lil ole credits—and away they go; bubble gum and all.

This is not the fault of the teachers. The teachers are not permitted to do their job. Our entire system of education needs an overhauling. A magnificent building is all right, but it will never produce educated men and women. Only teachers can do that, and they can do it (and they have done it) by candlelight if need be.

Once the parents were afraid of teachers. Now, alas, the teachers are afraid of parents.

Every few months the teachers around the country are annoyed with organized visits by all sorts of groups of “parents” and “civic leaders.” On such occasions teachers are brought together and told what to wear and how to conduct themselves in front of the guests. This is part of the story of our present-day education—the four-year high school course which qualifies the kid to enter the State college where he promptly starts on a new two-year course of what they call “remedial English”—learning to read and write. It is part of the system of “letting them do what they want.” . . .

I think it would be better if we went back to the old system when the teacher sent for a parent and he stood in the hallway with his hat in his hand waiting to be interviewed, and maybe a little scared about the whole thing, too.

This is all of one piece with the fact that the teachers are so badly underpaid. The people of the commercial society are no fools. They understand perfectly well that there are a few people who, because of their careers, have no frontiers in the social structure. These are the teachers, of course, and the creative people.

The first thing our commercial friend does when he makes a lot of money is to sponsor something which has in its title the word “Education,” “Institute,” or “Cultural.” He feels that no matter how little the teacher gets, the teacher has acquired a special status. Why give him financial security, too? Since the teacher is paid out of tax funds, there is no way this can be resisted, except to be on good behavior when the groups come a-visiting. Luckily we still have Free Enterprise so that many creative people can remain privately employed or self-employed, and keep the doors closed to intruders. If all creative people were paid out of taxes you would have a “Parents-Writers Association,” a “Parents-Composers Association,” and a “Parents-Artists Association.”

It is not only that teachers are underpaid, but also that they are interfered with by the “outside,” that forces them to become quasi politicians. The academy is gone, even though the British remain encouraging. We had it once, but lost it.

And so at long last we have run smack into something (education) that we just cannot buy—or phony up in any way—frustrating isn’t it?

Is it presumptuous of me to challenge the entire idea of progressive education? I believe that some day the educational system will wake up to this danger of letting them do what they want. What nonsense! Did they really believe that they can replace the school-teacher with the authority to tell them what to do? Today it is a huge joke. You watch them running from classroom to classroom, and it’s all a fake. They know nothing. Nothing at all. If you doubt my word, I dare you to go into a classroom of high school seniors in your own town and ask them five questions:

    1. Who was the Marquis de Lafayette?
    2. Who was Jean Valjean?
    3. Name four members of the United States Supreme Court.
    4. Who was the first man to circumnavigate the globe?
    5. What do we call the series of letters by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison which helped bring about these United States of America?

If you get more than three percent correct answers, let me know, and I promise to push a peanut with my nose from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Atlanta, Georgia.

They know nothing. No one reads books any more, and the teachers are helpless. The teachers are paid twice as much as they are worth as baby sitters, which they are; and they are paid half as much as they are worth as teachers, which the system does not allow them to be.

There are no short cuts! In economics you start with the land. In education you start with the books. Nothing else can do it for you -not even TV, movies, Hopalong Cassidy, ninety million comic books a year, slopping around with paintbrushes, or letting them do what they want. Letting them do what they want belongs in the insane asylum. Half of them can’t even tell you the name of the governor of their State, let alone letting them do what they want!

It is a great tragedy. A tragedy for the students, a tragedy for the teachers, and a tragedy for those of us who have read a book. It is most certainly part and parcel of the current drive against intellec-tualism. When all of these uneducated boys and girls come out of school, they somehow carry with them a vague suspicion of all those who have read a book. That’s how simple it is. It is part of our state of affairs today, and you cannot separate one from the other. It is part of the current fear of “learning.” Among the uneducated, “book learning” breeds resentment, fear, suspicion, and hatred; and soon, as it has happened so often, they’ll join the first demagogue who comes along and says, “Let’s go get them as has read a book.” It is difficult for uneducated and unread people to adjust themselves to a tolerant viewpoint. It cannot be done.

This is a grave danger. An uneducated man gets indigestion and has a bad dream. In the dream someone is chasing him around the edge of a mountain with a long spear. He gets up in the morning, puts a revolver in his pocket, and goes out looking for the guy who has been chasing him around the edge of a mountain with a long spear; and pretty soon he recognizes his “tormentor”—by an amazing coincidence it is usually someone who is not a member of his own clan, race, or church. Sometimes the fellow with the spear even turns out to be a’ business competitor. Then the uneducated “dream boy” lets him have it; or more often, he just bides his time in anger, fear, suspicion, and hatred. A man’s creed, a man’s whole life, is in harmony with his intellect.

The crying need at this moment in our history is, first, to qualify our teachers; second, to give them a living wage; third, to divest the little darlings of their bubble gum, comic books, and zip guns; and, fourth, to turn them over to teachers without any interference. Never mind the beautiful buildings—leave those to Du Pont. What we need in the classroom is a revival of the art of reading books, a revival of homework, and a revival of the complete authority of the teacher.

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