Public education hasn't always tried to be everything to everybody

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comFebruary 20, 2014 

20130123 Broken schools


When Beaufort County School District superintendent Jeff Moss came to visit our editorial board this week, I spared him this story.

But all I could think about as we touched on the educational issues du jour was something my mother said the day before.

Mama had just lived through an extended power outage in freezing weather, an ice storm with thunder and lightning, and an earthquake. Other than that, she was doing fine when I reported in balmy weather to hack and whack at the downed branches in the yard.

We talked for a few minutes about her education in the public schools of Atlanta.

Mama went to Girls High, graduating in its next-to-final class in the mid-1940s. I guess all the white girls in the city went there, if you can imagine. They rode the trolley, and sang as it clicked and clanged up and down the hills of the Dogwood City, going and coming from the big, red brick school by Grant Park.

They wore saddle oxfords and bobby socks, while their predecessors at Girls High had to wear hose.

We grew up with the understanding that Girls High, like Boys High and its hated rival Tech High, produced generations of well-educated Atlantans.

Mama certainly has always been a smart and creative lifelong learner. She's a good teacher, public speaker, storyteller, business woman, biblical scholar, artist, singer, cook, gardener, writer, genealogist, mother, wife, sister, grandmother and now great-grandmother.

So imagine my surprise when she allowed that Girls High didn't have sports teams. They had intramurals, but competition was downplayed, she said.

And they had no testing. They had no SAT, AP or IB. They had no PASS, BSAP or MAP tests.

They won awards, like recognition from Quill and Scroll for scholastic journalism excellence.

But how could those poor girls possibly "turn out" with no school athletic teams?

I dared not ask our new superintendent why our schools spend so much time, money and effort on sports, when that is not their "bottom line."

The schools could save enough on fuel to send a woman to the moon if they went to intramurals. They could get back more time in one scholastic year than it took to write the Encyclopedia Britannica.

I'm a sports nut, and I believe playing sports helped my son at Hilton Head Island High School.

But it does illustrate the real question we tried to ask the superintendent: Aren't schools today trying to do too much? Aren't they trying to be everything to everybody? Isn't that impossible?

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I missed my trolley ride back to the future.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at

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