Private comments create public furor

Friday, May 14, 2004

A St. Louis teacher found herself in hot water Thursday for a private comment overheard by a school board member. The teacher was speaking with another teacher when she said her dog "is smarter and cleaner than most of the children we teach." That comment was overheard by a school board member and the teacher was suspended.

For starters, the school board member shouldn't be listening to a private conversation. Though the comments were uttered in a public setting, private thoughts and feelings are just that, private.

But regardless of that argument, the teacher may well be right. When the public school system is often forced to improve the hygiene of a student, then perhaps that dog is indeed cleaner. Smarter is another subject.

Why in our society do we shy away from the fact that some kids come tragically ill-equipped in our public school system? We want some cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all attitude toward children when, in fact, that's simply not true.

Some kids come into the school system highly prepared, motivated, eager to learn and schooled at home in manners, character and attitude. Others come without one ounce of preparation at home. The schools are asked to do much more than teach the basics of education. Teachers and administrators are forced to teach issues that should have come from the home environment. But absent that appropriate home environment, teachers must first resort to issues that should not be their responsibility.

The teacher in St. Louis was politically incorrect. She was overheard saying what many, many others feel. And though it's an extreme case, her views are not totally off-base.

School officials said the teacher had an inappropriate attitude. "Any teacher who has that attitude is totally unacceptable," so said the school board.

Well folks, if we reject all educators who recognize that some students come to school in need of a cleaning and totally unprepared to learn, then I suspect our teaching ranks would be diminished substantially. That doesn't mean these educators don't strive daily to improve the learning of all students, it just means they accept the reality about the lack of preparation that some kids bring to school.

And in some extreme cases, she might have been insulting the dog.

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