Larry Buford

Author’s note: This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Sentinel in 2010. After viewing a segment on CNN called Ungodly Discipline where host Anderson Cooper interviewed Train Up A Child author Michael Pearl, I thought it worth publishing again. It echoes the frustration of school teachers as I learned firsthand from my sister Debra Williams who retired from the Detroit Public School system after 33 years of outstanding service.

California gets more than its share of firestorms. Each year thousands of acres of land are burned. There is usually loss of life as homes and other structures are completely destroyed. State leaders and fire officials pull out all stops time after time to meet the challenge of extinguishing the hellish blazes that are bent on destroying any and everything in their paths. So much strategy, muscle, energy, might, and determination goes into each fire event, and the media covers it down to the last flicker of flame.

What if the same interest and momentum were geared towards our failing educational system? What if educators like firefighters were given the license to do their jobs with the same whatever-it-takes (WIT) mindset to get their job done? Most teachers are just as passionate about extinguishing under-education, as firefighters are about extinguishing fires. What’s the problem?

For starters, society has an unfair attitude towards teachers, and it manifests in ways like underpay, poor working conditions, over-bearing workloads, over-crowded classrooms and adverse relationships with students, and parents. Compound that with all the administrative red tape and bureaucracy, it’s a wonder why many teachers continue to hang on, and no wonder why many give up. As a result, students are receiving a mediocre education. Can you imagine what the landscape would look like if firefighters had an expectation of mediocrity? We’d have fires sweeping across the nation! My point is that the firestorm of under-education has been sweeping across the nation for years!

Firefighters use a backfire technique to combat an oncoming fire. It’s called fighting fire with fire. What do teachers have to combat the onslaught of undisciplined children and disengaged parents who look at school as a daycare center to baby-sit their wayward kids whom they have no control over in their own homes? It’s a sad day when misinformed parents listen to the media hype and refuse to have their children listen to a back-to-school address by the President of the United States. If there is no respect for the Office of the President, there is very little a teacher can expect these days. Parents tend to not get involved in school activity until their child fabricates a story of being picked on by a teacher who may have merely addressed the students’ insubordinate behavior. The parents react by going to the school up in arms to confront the teacher, but rarely do they show up in a proactive posture to see what’s really going on with their child.

Larry Buford High School Graduation

In my time we did pranks and misbehaved as kids do, but teachers then were empowered to mete out discipline if necessary by applying the “board of education” to the “seat of knowledge” – that paddle that they would take to your backside when you acted up. Just the threat of it definitely took the focus immediately back to the lesson at hand, and I can proudly say that I’m the better for it. Nowadays it’s hands off for teachers and parents, and the children know it, so they run amuck. If our children never feel the heat of the fire, they’ll never learn that it can burn. Without the ability to discipline, without WIT, there can be no effective learning, and what a crime it is for those who really want to teach and for those who really want to learn.

Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub) Available at Smiley’s Bookstore in Carson CA, and Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara CA. Visit the author at (213) 220-8101