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Schools Advocate Takes Aim at 'Nostesia'

Public schools supporter says educators need to do a better job of making their case to an aging taxpaying public.

It was early in from education critic to public schools advocate that a superintendent invited him to spend a day in her district.

She had Vollmer, then a business executive, do bus duty and work as an aide to a third-grade teacher in the morning. After a 20-minute lunch break, the superintendent took off the kid gloves.

“She put me in an eighth-grade classroom on a warm afternoon,” Vollmer recalls. “I’ve since referred to that as the nuclear option.”

Trying to engage, control and teach a class of adolescents gave him a new respect for what teachers face every day. 

“Many of these kids are victims of a culture that has assaulted their physiology [from medications they take], fractured their attention span and given them and their parents a dangerously over-developed sense of entitlement,” Vollmer said.

Many of the people who are critical of public schools haven’t spent time in a classroom since graduating and have a serious case of what Vollmer calls “nostesia” -- a cross between "nostalgia" and "amnesia." They think they got a good education but that schools since have gone to the dogs.

On his website, Vollmer offers a Los Angeles Times quote from a Professor Theodore M. Greene of Princeton University: “I know of no college or university in the country that doesn’t have to offer most or all of its freshmen courses in remedial English, beginning mathematics, beginning science and beginning foreign languages. Consequently, we give two or three years of college [courses] and the rest is high school work.”

Before you start nodding your head, you should know that Greene made his statement in March 1946.  Complaining about the caliber of students is one of our national pastimes, but as our population ages fewer Americans have any direct involvement with schools. 

“The most troubling statistic in my head is less than 25 percent of the American taxpayers have children in school; in Pennsylvania it’s less than 20 percent,” Vollmer said. “Many of [those who don’t] are highly susceptible to people on the radio telling them really wrong stuff” about what’s going on in schools.

Vollmer said educators have to do a better job of making their case to the community about the challenges schools face.  

I’ve seen how it can work. Several years ago I sat in an auditorium listening to school administrators talk about the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. They passed out math problems that appeared on the eighth- and 11th- grade Pennsylvania System of School Assessment and asked those in the audience to take a crack at them. There were a lot of stumped faces – mine included – and a new respect for the math standards schools were being asked to meet.  

Students “need to know everything you and I learned and then everything that’s happened since, and we have not added a minute to the school calendar in six decades,” Vollmer said.

When I complained that too few people making education policy have skin in the game, he agreed that many of the decision makers were too far removed from the day-to-day workings of schools.

But he added that everyone has a stake in good public schools because communities around such schools see property values rise and crime rates and teen pregnancy rates decline.  When a teenager drops out or graduates unprepared for life and work, that teen becomes everyone’s problem.

“They will either take care of that kid for the rest of his life or they will live in fear of that kid for the rest of their lives,” Vollmer said. “Everybody’s got skin in the game.”

Kyle Clauss June 29, 2012 at 01:53 PM
“Many of these kids are victims of a culture that has assaulted their physiology [from medications they take], fractured their attention span and given them and their parents a dangerously over-developed sense of entitlement." Couldn't have said it better myself.
John July 02, 2012 at 07:59 PM
Why is our educational system broken? Is it really the massive amounts of information kids need to know? I completely disagree. Two items missing in most educational systems today. 1. the parent unit as it pertains to expectations of children today. 2. the basics. I have children in the school system, and I can say between the multitude of various courses one can take and still graduate is ridiculous! Learning the basics as a k-5, reading, basic math, history and a flavor of science, built upon a pedagogy of steps of growth, based upon previous year's learning. Thes principles have been completely removed as it appears there is little transference of material between one year and the next. Add to that the responsibility of both teacher and student attendance, and you have much of your problem solved. Today's student and parent needs to have a plan, where they can recognize a system laid out before them as early as 3rd grade. This will provide a route where all involved, student, parent and faculty. I am not in favor of "no child left behind". Its assinine to expect a teacher to teach where a few choose not to have any interest. We spend inordinate amount of time pulling up the child not because they are slow, but because they dont want to be there. Remove those truants from the system so a system can operate! I know, too business-like. I would not want to be in today's educational environment, where there is a weak home, and weaker administration of rules.
Stew July 04, 2012 at 04:05 PM
@ Jonathan Gerard: I agree with everything that you wrote...would you like to run for school board? Year round schooling will work in select communities that the general population isn't transient, such as Southern Lehigh.
Lori Delorenzo Boucher July 05, 2012 at 05:04 PM
School have such an extracurricular focus that sometimes supersedes the academic focus. HOW many articles in newspapers and sections focus on the "SPORTS" teams of a school? Do newspapers spend entire pages on school academic successes? I think that sports teams are important, but they have overtaken the school. We often try and compare ourselves to other countries in terms of academics. But, I think we are comparing apples to oranges. Our school system is too tied up in activities that are NOT part of the ACADEMIC focus of other countries. The students in other countries do not have HIGH SCHOOL football, soccer, or rugby teams. These team sports exist, but they are not part of a taxpayer duty. Many of these sports teams are "CLUBS" that are after academic classes at school, on weekends and at their own expense. Budgets need to be examined, yes, and shouldn't the expense to educate "academically" be in the main focus??? I'm not saying eliminate school sports teams or extracurricular activities, just find a balance for having them and who is financially paying for them. More participation fees from participants would help with the budgets. Then, maybe we could compare ourselves to our competition. Most other countries are IN SCHOOL until the end of June and have longer during the school year breaks, and LONGER school days. I'd encourage others to check out our competition (other countries) and see how we compare.
Bernardo July 05, 2012 at 05:13 PM
Don't forget about the kids who suffer from poor nutrition due to parent's lack of knowledge. Many children don't eat a substatial breakfast which prepares them for learning. Then there's the lunch menu issue!

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