The Odessa Record -

In defense of small, neighborhood schools of no more than 100 per grade

 


As an educator, I have decried the loss of small town and village schools as well as small neighborhood schools in larger town and urban settings.

As an anthropologist and cultural ecologist, I have decried the loss of the quality of life caused by hundreds of thousands of children being forced to spend hours per day, sometimes from before sunrise to after sunset, being hauled long distances in school buses to huge warehouses, oftentimes without windows or any visible signs of our natural world, that are fraudulently called “schools.”

Huge consolidated schools, that I call “pre-prisons,” are dehumanizing to both teachers and students. It is impossible for teachers to bond with the hordes of nameless students in their classes and those wandering around in the halls, oftentimes being bullied and sometimes falling through the cracks and returning to wreak havoc, too frequently resulting in mass murder.

Every child on the planet should have the right to be able to, except in rare cases of geographic isolation, to safely walk or ride a bike to their neighborhood school, and no school in America should have more than 100 students per grade. Thus no high school should have more than 400 students and perhaps in rare cases, up to 500 students in a four-grade high school.

Neighborhoods are communities, consisting of parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren as well as teachers, ministers, policemen and women, small merchants, neighborhood libraries and other human factors that provide a support structure for even children with disabilities or mental health issues that go unnoticed in large consolidated schools located far from the more human and tightly knit social structure of the neighborhood.

Back in 1959, when I was a freshman in high school, my classmates that had pickup trucks invariably left one or more rifles or shotguns in gun racks visible through the back windows. We took pocket knives and sometimes Bowie knives into the classrooms and never once did any student misuse or abuse a weapon to harm another student or teacher.

Now here’s the answer: Every teacher knew every student by name and every teacher knew every parent and if a child needed extra attention then the teacher would collaborate with the parents who, of course, lived in the same neighborhood as the neighborhood school.

There should be a national effort to build small schools in every small town and neighborhood in America, and if the population is rural and scattered, the “consolidated” school should be centered on the surrounding population whereby it should take no more than 10 minutes by bus or van to arrive at the school.

Even the one-room schoolhouse played a leading role in public education in the 19th and early 20th centuries and returning to the concept of one-room schoolhouses in isolated rural areas could once again provide high quality educations to thousands of students. One of the beauties of the one-room schoolhouse was the role of the older students in mentoring the younger students.

There is one specter hiding in the woodpile however. As a theologian, I also decry that fact that there is a “god” at least in Texas, that is an element of religious fervor among a high percentage of parents: The “god of foolball.”

Even, back in the 1950s the football “god” seemed to be more important than the Christian God. At the beginning of each football game, the Huntsville High School football team would huddle and pray that their “football god” would “whup” the “god” of the other team and by the same token the Conroe or Madisonville or Livingston team would pray that their “football god” would “whup” the Huntsville Hornet team.

So moving forward to the year 2000, our family had purchased over 2,000 acres of wildlife habitat and botanical preserves on the shores of Lake Livingston. We set aside 10 acres for a charter school and our state representative offered to obtain a charter for the Waterwood community to be able to have a neighborhood school whereby children would not be forced to be bused all the way to Coldspring’s consolidated schools and then bused back home late in the afternoon.

(Our concept for the perfect neighborhood school and learning environment can be found at http://www.scholasticvillage.org )

I polled the parents of each of the resident children in Waterwood and without exception I was told that they didn’t want a small neighborhood school because it would never be large enough to have a 4A football team.

Unfortunately, as long as the “football god” is more important than the quality of life of our nation’s children, then there will be stiff resistance to de-consolidating massive dehumanizing schools, that incubate the culture that has resulted in the majority of high school shootings taking place in schools with enrollments of over 600 students, with Stoneman Douglass having over 3,000 students and Columbine having almost 2,000 students in 1999.

However, it is far past time to begin the process of returning to a system of neighborhood schools, and it should be illegal to build any new school in America that could house more than 100 students per grade.

George H. Russell has been involved in the production of educational materials since 1953 and as CEO of Educational Video Network since 1989. He is also President of The Ethician Foundation and Bishop: The Universal Ethician Church.

 

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