Morning traffic has slowed considerably. Schools are now in session. Behind the turtle-slow school bus I have been reflecting on modern education--not difficult with each day's newspaper regurgitating a mantra of educational issues: decaying buildings, extravagant promises of the latest educational fad, whole language and phonic battles, drugs and guns, school vouchers, students ignorant of history. . . .
I feel alarm but I also feel awe. Invited to attend the opening night of a high school play, I find the drama teacher sitting in front of me. "This is the students' play" is his response to my open-mouthed surprise. What then appears on stage equals the very best of amateur adult theater. Similar experiences accompany attendance at the performance of orchestras, drill teams and academic bowls. The level of performance far excels what was true of high school in my day. When the time, effort and imagination of youth are captured and then disciplined into a performance, awe springs forth.
I do feel awe but also alarm. A majority of high school students cannot locate the Civil War in time, much less know of the wrenching cost of the war in human life (over 600,000 killed in the four years of fighting between 1861 and 1865 and over a million more wounded or crippled). They are unaware of the widows and orphans scratching out an existence in a land physically and economically devastated.
Awe and alarm give way to the reluctant acknowledgement of my own disinterest in accomplishing much in high school. Manipulating the system to avoid classes (so skillfully that predicting a criminal future would have had some validity), skipping school in the fall and spring to sit and think on the high bluff overlooking the Mississippi, and working three part-time jobs consumed most after school and weekend time. Thus I made it through high school. Not very promising and, to tell the truth, outside of Lincoln, Lee, Grant and Gettysburg, I have little other school remembrance of the Civil War.
To awe, alarm and acknowledgement I decided to add appreciation to the teachers who have to teach students like me. How discouraging for teachers, day-after-day, to know that watching the clock crowds out that past era in which a president was killed, three Constitutional amendments were passed, and the meaning of the word "America" was forever changed. Only long after those teachers had disappeared from view into nursing homes and death did this former student of theirs give some thoughts of appreciation.
To my initial alliterative title of awe and alarm, I now
add acknowledgement and appreciation. Having demonstrated proficiency
in A's, it is now time for me to work on my B's
--Robert H. Tucker
31 August 1998