To the editor:
In his June 22 oped column "New school buildings should be last option," David Pill made many well-considered points, including one about neglected maintenance on existing buildings. My wife and I live in a house that is over 100 years old. There is no one to whom we can say, "Give us money to build a new house." We have to keep it up as well as we can with the money we have. As I write, there are holes in my walls where an electrician is working to eliminate the last of our knob and tube.
I teach in a school building that was constructed in the early 1970s. It is a private school, so the funding is different, but we are not awash in money. We have had a deficit for the last couple of years. We will never build a new building. We fixed the roof. We got new doors. We put in a new heating system. We even, to my dismay, put air conditioners in some of the classrooms. Electricians have come in to upgrade the wiring. The building is good enough.
In Monday's Eagle, Jamie Gass's oped column, "Make room for Pushkin, literary greats in schools," makes a case for quality literature in schools. As an English teacher and school librarian for 35 years, I am aware of the minefield that is any discussion of "quality literature." Nonetheless, the author's lamentation about "American public education's tedious commitment to empty, ineffective curricular fads" is worth considering. I know that we are, to use a phrase that has itself become tedious, "educating students for jobs that don't yet exist."
Dr. Jordan Peterson has suggested that rather than trying to hit this invisible target, we should strive to help people be morally and emotionally stronger. This is most likely what Mr. Gass has in mind, whether it be through Pushkin, Shakespeare or whatever author we want to argue about. Dave Pill would probably say that for this we do not need a "perfect" school building.
A few days ago, I was at a neighborhood gathering and was pleased to be drawn into a discussion of "The Boys in the Boat," an account of the American men's eight-oared shell that won at the 1936 Olympics. Much of the book focuses on Joe Rantz, who was abandoned by his parents when he was around 10. He fended for himself in very difficult circumstances and eventually went to college and was part of this winning crew. Of course, I don't advocate abandoning children, but his story illustrates that there is merit in not giving children everything. Sometimes they should learn to get by with what they have.
In his column, Pill pointed out that the state's school funding structure makes "the perfect the enemy of the good" by insisting on new structures rather than allowing districts to keep their buildings that could be good enough. With some planning and flexibility, we could get by with what we already have.
When I started teaching, to make copies I first typed a stencil, then attached it to a machine with a drum filled with a chemical. I turned a crank by hand that made copies. I now post PDFs for my students and have done all essay grading by computer for almost 20 years. I haven't picked up a piece of chalk in more than 15 years because the interactive white board is one of the greatest things ever to happen in education. Every classroom should have one. But we don't have to build new buildings to make that happen.