On Feb. 12, 2013, the members of the Griffin-Spalding County Board of Education held a retreat and one of the primary topics of discussion was “character education.” In my capacity as a board member, I receive many complaints from teachers, bus drivers, other staff members, parents and students about the conduct of many of our fellow citizens. I particularly receive complaints about some of our students being unwilling or unable to exhibit the minimum level of respect for others that most of us were taught as children. It seems that many of our parents are unwilling or unable to provide their children with what we formerly referred to as “home training.” While the members of the board cannot make parents give their children “home training,” we can and must establish the parameters of acceptable behavior for children and adults within the Griffin-Spalding County School System.
The first thing that we as board members need to do is to establish the principle that the adults are in charge. While there is not much of the past that I advocate going back to, putting children in their place is one of them. In my humble opinion, far too many parents allow their children to run things at home. These children then show up at school with the understanding that they can tell grown folks what to do. Rule No. 1 at the Griffin-Spalding County School System: The grown folks are running this operation and the children are going to follow instructions. Parents, if they so desire, can allow their children to set the rules at home. However, when they get on the bus, when they get dropped off at school, or when they are participating in any school function, they are going to follow the rules as established by the grown folks running the schools. Period.
The second thing that we as board members need to do is to establish clear, systemwide rules that everyone is enforcing on a consistent basis. In order to get the parents and students to respect the rules, we have to first respect them ourselves. When people see rules and laws being enforced in an inconsistent manner, they do not have respect for the people in charge. This has been one of the great challenges of the school board members over the years. When a policy is established, it needs to be enforced even when relatives, friends and neighbors are adversely impacted. I witnessed the same problem when I served on the County Commission. When friends show up, elected officials go soft. Until we exhibit the necessary courage to follow the rules ourselves, we will never get the general public to respect us nor the rules. This is going to cause a lot of discomfort for people, but we have to make a choice. Which is worse? Consistent or inconsistent enforcement of the rules.
The third thing that we as board members need to do is to send a loud, clear and unequivocal message that the primary purpose of the public school system is to educate children. Training children to become professional athletes is not a part of the mission statement of the public schools. We are not going to sacrifice the education of a single child in the pursuit of the Holy Grail, the elusive state championship. Poor academic performance and bad behavior is not going to be tolerated because a child has exceptional athletic abilities. I realize that there will be tremendous blowback from the sports fans but I think that I have a defensible position.
In the last two weeks, I have heard four people within the school system make the same exact statement that our system is in need of a “paradigm shift.” A “paradigm” is broadly defined as a philosophical or theoretical framework of some kind. I gather from these comments that people feel that we need to shift or change the philosophies or theories by which we have been operating. Those who truly believe that a “paradigm shift” is necessary might take a second and pull up Michael Jackson on YouTube singing “Man in the Mirror.” The lyrics in part go something like this: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways. And no message could have been any clearer. If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.”
As for me, I am perfectly prepared to change my usual theory of straight talk or other operational theories if it will facilitate a meaningful paradigm shift. Likewise, I trust that the rest of us are prepared to face off with the mirror.
Thank you for this opportunity to share my concerns.
M. MICHAEL KENDALL
Griffin-Spalding County Board of Education