The new school year opens this week. We have not even reached the dog days of August, for crying out loud, but from July 27 through next May 23, our local public schools will be in session. There are still watermelons to ice down and slice open on picnic tables across the South. There are still tomato sandwiches to be made. Holy cow, baseball's All Star Game was played just last week, marking the halfway point of the major league season.
Woe, I say. Woe. Not to mention - whoa !
This school thing is off the chain, unplugged, off the wall - whatever catchy idiom you wish to apply. And everybody knows it. But it's politically incorrect to say anything about it, much less actually do anything about it.
I don't even know if anything can ever be done to return some measure of sanity to what we once called public education. For years, I've termed the way our nation currently runs public schools as "taxpayer subsidized advanced daycare."
Recently, regarding my opinion on the matter, one of our school board members told me I was full of the smelly substance which issues from the southbound end of a northbound horse.
But until something changes, and someone can show me that what we're doing by extending the school year is more than just trying to keep kids off the street and out of jail and to provide a place for latchkey kids to hang out, I'll continue to lament the passing of what was once a fabulous engine for progress - the American public education system.
Several decades ago a small school system in West Virginia rejected all Federal funding in order to run their schools their way. Folks hotly debated the matter on nightly national news networks in the 1980s. At issue: did local school systems have the right to turn down Federal funds, and thereby not have to comply with Federal educational guidelines?
Well, the system was able to turn them down back then. By refusing Federal funding, the little system did not have to comply with the volumes of requirements the United States government saddled folks with who did accept the funds.
Folks who have lived in these parts long enough to remember when a new high school was built out on Brown Bridge Road in the early 1970s recall that it had to be titled Newton County Comprehensive High School because it was built with Federal funds, and the word "comprehensive" was required by the Feds in the nomenclature.
I'm laboring here. And you know why, too. It's because I need to tell it the way it is, but being politically incorrect has invaded so much of America's consciousness - not necessarily America's conscience - that it makes it tough to be honest without offending someone.
Well, too bad. Here are some of my politically incorrect views pertaining to public schools in my Georgia of 2007.
It's ridiculous - and wrong - to allow thugs and criminals to attend public schools along with decent, innocent, God-fearing, well-behaved children who want to learn. There ought not to be any drain on taxpayer dollars called an "alternative" school. If a kid can't behave, kick his tail out of school. He can learn from the "school of hard knocks" the way generations before have done. Our society needs manual laborers as much as it ever has, and there's nothing wrong or dishonorable with manual labor.
Oh, no, cry those who disagree with me. We have to save those who are social misfits, psychological deviants, economically disadvantaged, or come from minority backgrounds which don't speak English or teach mainstream values.
Now that's the stuff which issues from the southbound end of a northbound horse, friend.
And this Federal notion of "No Child Left Behind" has got to be scrapped - yesterday. The very idea that all children will achieve the same academic success across the board, across all academic disciplines, is absolute hogwash.
It's time to remember that our society is not homogeneous. It's heterogeneous. We're not like the island nation of Japan, nor the Scandinavian nations.
We're not all one race or ethnicity here. We're a nation of immigrants, with different backgrounds, customs, values and very different abilities.
The one thing we're all supposed to have in common is a love for freedom, but sadly, that's not true, either.
Some folks don't value freedom. They break the rules, break the law, hurt other folks, beat up other kids, cheat, sell and use drugs, rape, pillage, steal and kill.
Those folks do not deserve to be among the rest of us. Those sorts of kids certainly have no right to be among decent children in our public schools, ruining not only the golden learning years of youth for good kids, but destroying the very fabric of our American society in the process.
And don't tell me there's nothing we can do about it.
There's a law enforcement official out near Phoenix who four years ago got disgusted with the whole notion that criminals have rights. The man is Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who runs the Maricopa County Jail in Arizona. He has been splashed all over the news, and the internet, so much so that the www.snopes.com site which researches and discerns truth from fiction in contemporary urban legends has gotten involved and substantiates the truth of what this man has accomplished.
Sheriff Arpaio houses inmates in tents out in the desert. When temperatures exceed 100 degrees, he allows inmates to strip to their government-issued pink underwear to deal with the heat. He serves no coffee to inmates, saving some $98,000 annually, and has cut the cost of inmate meals to 40 cents. The sheriff allows no smoking, no weights, no pornographic magazines, and has formed male and female chain gangs to accomplish manual labor for county and city projects.
Sheriff Arpaio's jail experiences a very low repeat offender rate. For some reason, inmates do not want to go back there.
Now, if a law enforcement official can conduct business the old-fashioned way prisons used to do it in this day and age when everyone screams about their rights, there's no reason why schools can't be conducted the way they used to be run.
One of the first things we need to do is give teachers back the right to spank kids who misbehave. That's right. Bring back the paddle in the classroom. One well-placed paddle on display hanging by the door, with just the right amount of coaching tape and a few well-drilled holes in it, does wonders for discipline in the classroom.
And don't start whining to me about abuse. If you put the right people in the classroom to start with, you don't have to worry about abuse.
Next, put an end to social promotion. Retain the kids who don't pass. You know all those trailers out there behind or beside each of our schools? Put the kids who fail in those trailers and save the nice school building classrooms for the kids who do their work and behave as they should.
One or two years in a trailer with dummies and miscreants will do wonders for motivating a kid to get his priorities squared away. The lesson is simple: if you do your work, behave and pass, you'll be treated like you're special.
If you don't, you'll be treated like the stuff which issues from the southbound end of a northbound horse.
It's time to stop treating our good kids like prisoners. Have you visited an elementary or middle school anytime in the last 10 years? Kids have to be marched to class, to the lunchroom, to the media center, to the restroom - everywhere. They have to use the restroom at specified times only, regardless of their individual needs.
Because that small percentage, that criminal element which comprises about four percent of our population across the board, cannot be trusted to go to class, the restroom or to do anything at all by themselves. So instead of penalizing the criminal element, the system penalizes the good kids.
That's like putting locks on doors. All it does is to keep honest people out. You cannot legislate morality, nor can you mandate intelligence and academic performance by Federal fiat.
So here we are at the start of another school year. Music and art programs are being eliminated, nationally, from lack of funding. Yet at enormous costs we fund alternative schools for criminals and provide shuttle busses to take kids from one school to another if some Federal guideline has not been met.
Our police departments practice SWAT team procedures in the event of terrorist attacks on our schools, though none have ever been perpetrated by an outside entity.
Only the criminal element and misfits within our own society have ever attacked a school, and there can be no training to protect the innocent from that kind of monstrous event.
After all, despite Sheriff Arpaio's take on it, criminals have rights, don't they? Certainly they have the right to attend our public schools in Georgia.
Or do they? Is anyone listening?
Nat Harwell is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.