saternow, lynn 2010

Lynn Saternow

As I watched my granddaughter Julia and her classmates put on their second-grade play Friday morning at Greenville’s Hempfield Elementary School, I couldn’t help but wonder: What does the future in education hold for them?

It seems like a great group of kids. But by the time high school graduation comes around, how many of them will still be together? As jobs in the area decrease and families move, schools will drop in enrollment.

As the state talks consolidation of school districts, in 10 years will there even be a separate Greenville High School?

But in reality, those aren’t the kind of things that bother me. What bothers me is the level of education every kid in this country is receiving.

For many years — before George W. Bush got us into the Iraq war and the economy collapsed thanks to pathetic leadership in Washington from both parties — the No. 1 concern of the majority of Americans in almost every survey was education.

An article in Friday’s Herald detailed how academic standards vary from state to state. Why is that? While it’s nice that not everything is monitored at the national level — look at Bush’s ridiculous “No Child Left Behind” program — some states obviously do better than others.

I can remember back in the 1960s when I was going to Kent State, one of my housemates was from New York. They had graduation testing then. If you didn’t pass the tests, you didn’t get a diploma. You just received a certificate showing you completed 12 years of schooling.

We are still debating the merits of graduation tests in Pa.

Why isn’t there a national organization of educators, that looks at the policies and standards of every state and then comes up with the best recommendation for teaching our children?

Obviously, there are too many kids being left behind in our schools today. And I’m talking about the best and the brightest as well. When I went to Hickory, the kids were divided into groups pretty much by intelligence levels. That way, most of the kids in each group could learn at the same speed.

I still think that’s the best way to teach. However, I may be wrong. Herald Editor Jim Raykie received an unsigned letter recently about me that stated: “I graduated with that idiot. He was the dumbest kid in our class.” (Yikes, I hope that wasn’t my prom date!)

Since I was the dumbest kid in the class, I think I’m safe in saying we had the smartest class in the history of the world (although that letter writer also might drag us down a bit).

At one time we were ranked No. 1 in education, but many other countries in the world have passed us by. And we continue to slip farther and farther down the ladder, especially in math and science. Obviously we are still near the top in English since not that many countries actually speak English as their No. 1 language. Then again, not too many high school grads in the U.S. speak it very well today either.

I think that sometimes we cater too much about the kids who are marginal students and don’t do a very good job in inspiring and developing the more intelligent students to be all they can be. Our gifted programs need just as much work as our special education programs for the mentally challenged.

People complain about athletics sometimes, but in sports you develop kids at different levels and the great athletes excel even more thanks to coaching. It should be the same for academics.

The Herald’s Lynn Saternow writes this weekly column for The Opinion Page.

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