By Robert E. Macdonald
Mayor of Lewiston
As a child, did you dream and fantasize your life upon reaching adulthood? Did you visualize being a doctor? A lawyer? A teacher? An auto mechanic? A hoodlum?
Later in life, if you fulfilled your childhood aspirations, was it all you expected it to be?
Let us suppose that after many years of continued study and many professional conferences, you reached the height of your profession. The skills you developed elevated your status among your colleagues and the public at large. Then one day, from out of nowhere you are presented with a problem that your training had not prepared you for: clients with whom you could not communicate. This is one of the many problems facing Lewiston teachers and staff today.
When they first come into the country, non-English speakers should be immersed in our language and culture before they are allowed into our public schools. Our current policies are dictated by alleged experts in Washington D.C. and Augusta, Maine who have a better understanding of the maintenance needs of their offices than the problems facing today’s schools.
The resulting products of their policies are schools unable to properly teach refugees, who actually want to learn, as compared to their hardcore inner-city domestic counterparts who view school as a social club. The dwindling base of Lewiston’s property taxpayers are forced to support these failed policies.
Refugees aside, I believe that a bigger problem facing Lewiston’s schools is a public perception that schools have not changed since the 1940s and ’50s. Well, guess again!
Where there was once respect for teachers, many students curse and swear at them. They refuse to follow instructions. They refuse to take tests. They sleep in class. They disrupt lessons, causing a decrease in instructions to those who want to learn. They fight.
Many of the parents, when called to school, choose to denigrate the teachers in front of their kids for the teacher’s audacity of inconveniencing them because of their punk child. They’ll feign concern for the child’s poor academic performance, promising to oversee his/her studies at home. This concern lasts until they turn the ignition of their car.
The greater majority of this behavior is found in many of our inner-city kids who are realistically described in the song “Gee, Officer Krupke” from “West Side Story:”
“Dear Kindly Sergeant Krupke
You’ve gotta understand,
It’s just our bringin’ up-ke
That’s gets us outta hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks!”
Many years of a sustained tsunami of federal money designed to end poverty has only made it worse. Teachers are forced to comply with mandates that run contrary to their training and common sense. Students are instilled with an attitude: Why work when the government will take care of me?
Are there bad teachers? Sure there are. Can you judge the quality of teachers in a school system? In many cases, yes. In affluent communities, such as Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth where education is valued, a 10-percent failure rate might indicate the community has a problem.
In service-center communities like Lewiston, where a portion of the population does not value education, failure rates don’t necessary reflect a broken system. If 60 percent of Lewiston school students come from households free of welfare, then I would argue that school test scores showing a student population near or exceeding that number shows a healthy educational system.
Recently an article ran in the Sun Journal in which two sisters, graduates from Lewiston High, were maintaining high grade point averages at Cornell University and Boston University.
In summation, the primary reason that Lewiston has such a high failure rate is not due to the teachers, the school superintendent or the school committee. It is due to the policies of our federal government. You can’t compete with a welfare check.
In closing, I’ll leave you with another stanza from “Gee, Officer Krupke:”
“Dear kindly social worker,
They say go earn a buck.
Like be a soda jerker,
Which means like be a schmuck.
It’s not I’m anti-social,
I’m only anti-work.
Gloryosky! That’s why I’m a jerk!”