School starts Monday in Beaufort County.
If two weeks before Labor Day seems early to start a school year, look on the bright side. At least the school calendar is no longer set by the needs of sharecroppers.
People love to pick on the schools. It seems to be a national sport. In South Carolina, the schools are always said to rank 49th. In what, it's never real clear, but people have by and large determined that our schools are failing.
I see it differently.
Beaufort County students go to school in buildings that are good to excellent. Voters approved several large bond referenda, quite a tribute in a county with so many retirees.
The high schools have multiple ball fields, perhaps multiple gyms, and a performing arts center. They have laboratories, libraries and many computers.
The schools offer enough courses and extracurricular activities to keep a child busy until retirement.
The schools have nurses, social workers, counselors and police officers.
Children are offered breakfast and lunch, and a ride to and from school.
The schools have air conditioning, shiny hallways, well-equipped playgrounds and room for children to run.
Students are given books and computers. They are offered tutoring after school and during school, and chances to earn extra credit.
Students with special needs are, by law, given special attention.
Teachers sacrifice endlessly to get inside the heads of energetic elementary schoolers, pre-pubescent middle-schoolers and distracted teenagers. At best, that's a difficult place to be.
Yet, no one is satisfied.
We should call a moratorium on new ideas from outside the classroom.
Educators feel that they must be "change agents," always introducing something sexy that they claim to be new. These new initiatives, programs and mandates rain down on teachers who are already struggling to tread water.
Congress and the state legislature feel they must tinker with the classrooms they left long ago. They tell teachers what to teach in science class. They decree the absurd: that every single child in America will test above-average by 2014.
Our legislature this year forced schools to teach cursive writing. By fifth grade, the politicians ordered, every child must memorize the multiplication tables. Never mind that this was already being done in most cases.
The legislature determined the state must write all new academic standards in just a few months. We've had standards for at least a decade. Doesn't anyone remember the Education Accountability Act of 1998?
The schools are plenty accountable.
But what nobody wants to admit is that it's easier to blame the schools than it is to blame ourselves.
Public schools are the catch-all and whipping boy for society. But test scores and student behavior reflect society as much as they do the classroom.
The schools aren't leaving children behind. Our children are leaving themselves behind.
Back in the Dark Ages, so long ago that corporal punishment was still used in the schools, my high school principal summed it up nicely. He said that three decades in the profession taught him that the students who do two to three hours of homework each night succeed.
That opportunity is still there for every child.
Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.