Schools in crisis must relearn the ABCs

(U-WIRE) GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Reading, riting and rithmetic. This catchy alliteration makes education and learning sound simple and almost fun.
Easier said than done.
Results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study of students in 21 countries were released last week, and U.S. students ranked 14th in math and 11th in science.
The United States has long prided itself as being one of the best and brightest nations. Well, the self-congratulating celebration appears to be winding down as the nation begins to realize that our public education system is in a state of emergency.
Politicians soon began the blame game, pointing to specific areas as the root of our educational breakdown. If only it were that simple. The decay of education in America is a multi-dimensional problem with a complex root system.
In his radio address Saturday, Clinton called the test results a “wake-up call on education,” urging a renewed effort to boost classroom performance and asking parents to join by participating in the first “Read America Day.”
Spouting a wealth of platitudes, Clinton declared, “We need smaller classes, better teaching, higher standards, more discipline and greater accountability.”
Thanks, Bill. The rest of the nation has been struggling to unearth the mysterious troubles plaguing our schools. Thank you for enlightening us.
Republicans, of course, were quick to throw political punches, blaming Clinton administration policies and the money-grubbing “hungry bureaucracy in Washington.” They want to give more financial control to the states.
Apparently, none of them is familiar with the state of Florida and our government’s mismanagement of our schools. Not that the politicians are the problem, but they certainly are not part of the solution.
Obviously, money is a critical issue. Teachers’ salaries are hardly respectable. Schools throughout the nation lack enough funding to provide every student with textbooks. Elbow room in classrooms is shrinking by the minute. Portable classrooms are sprouting like wild mushrooms.
We owe it to our children to get in the face of our representatives and demand more money for education. We cannot blame them for this. We allow it.
But the difficulty arises when we attempt to face the more subtle diseases infecting our schools. Apathy, poor parent participation, family problems, drugs and a glut of specialized instructors are turning our schools into community centers.
Our distorted situation-comedy zeitgeist favors a good time over a good experience. Teachers are mistreated, underpaid, poorly respected civil servants. Being intellectual about anything is frowned upon by the majority throughout the secondary system (and into higher education, as well). Being intelligent is often misconstrued as being “too serious.” And we do not like to get too serious.
Well, we have a serious problem now. It is our problem. We cannot afford to remain spectators of the three-ring circus our national education system has become.
We need to pay teachers a salary that will attract graduates with master’s degrees. We need to put money into a fund now to build more schools for the expanding student population.
More importantly, we need an attitude adjustment, a shift in our perception a shock to our systems that finally does wake us up to the immeasurable significance of education.
We just need to get back to basics and appreciate the arts of teaching and learning. Yes, spending millions on computer equipment so students can learn to surf the Web is relevant, but it is useless if they cannot read, write and add or subtract. Save our schools.

This staff editorial originally appeared in Tuesday’s edition of the University of Florida’s Independent Florida Alligator.