Backstrom: Fixing our school system

The school year is coming to an end.

Over the past nine months, I have written about ways to improve Washington state’s schools, and this article will be no different.

Teach children how to use the cursive style of writing. It is amazing that schools do not teach children how to write. I brought this issue to several administrators, who told me, “That is so yesterday, Walter.” They said that because of increasing use of computers and the Internet, the need to teach children to write becomes less important.

I realize I am what you call “old school.” But the need to learn to write, and then writing, is essential.

Something magical happens when you put pen to paper. I believe what happens is that the writer has to engage all of their senses. Writing allows us to be more human in ways that using a computer will never be able to replicate.

Teach civics in schools. Children do not know about the three branches of government. They don’t know about democracy, freedom or even why this country continues to be the last best hope for mankind.

Have as part of this curriculum: Art, music and language. There’s so much more to life than just math.

We become fully human when we bring together all aspects of who we are and what we want to be. One can’t stand in awe, looking at a rainbow in mathematical terms, or appreciate music that touches our souls and grabs our hearts. As long as we continue to judge our children by a high-stakes test that forces us to teach to the test, we will turn education into a game of trivial pursuit.

People don’t become fully human because they know how to take a math test and pass. The children that we profess to love so much are shortchanged because we said no. We need mandatory national standards, not voluntary standards. We need to have children in Washington state be taught the same curriculum as they are in Florida. We can even do this by taking into consideration regional and cultural differences. We need to rethink how we spend our money on education. We spend more money on education than any other country in the history of the world.

I will assume that spending money is not the answer, but it’s how we spend the money. I have been an observer, a fundraiser and a volunteer at the school district where I reside. I have watched these children come to school each day, filled with hope and a tremendous amount of courage. I have watched teachers come to work, determined to do their best to teach America’s best.

These children that I have worked with have given me more than I could ever ask for. We read in the press about lousy schools, lousy school districts and lousy teachers. Unfortunately, some of that is true. However, there are no lousy kids.

What we have are kids who, in spite of the challenges of broken homes and addicted parents, continue to show adults what true courage is, and what the greatness of America can be.

That is why teachers teach — and I write. No excuses.


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