Running out of time at home

Published 11:16 am Saturday, September 1, 2012

by Howie Soucek

Our own state Board of Education has recently adopted new standards for pass rates for the Standards of Learning testing program in Virginia.

Instead of the current requirement that 85 percent of all students pass the math tests, for example, now there will be several different levels at which students can pass, depending on race: 82 percent for Asian Americans, 68 percent for whites, 52 percent for Hispanics and 45 percent for blacks.

Bad enough to further lower what was originally intended to be minimum academic standards — now we are unabashedly lowering such standards along racial lines, which can only hurt all of society in the future, socially as well as economically.

Frederick Douglass knew there was a correlation between education and the ability to control other people; simply, that to deny slaves an education was to continue the ability to control them. Indeed, in his time it was against the law to teach a slave to read.

Certainly this is not to say that differentiated standardized test standards based on demographics are intended to suppress minorities in modern society. Rather, such measures have the effect of perpetuating a disadvantage among minorities in competing to succeed in a global culture increasingly demanding of an education more expansive than the reading, writing and arithmetic of Douglass’ day.

Regarding the No Child Left Behind reauthorization in 2007, President George W. Bush said, “We are challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations… If you have low expectations, you’re going to get lousy results.”

These were lofty words spoken at a high level of government, lost in an abyss of incompetence as with so many others by the time they reached practical application in the field. The fact remains that our youths are capable of much more than our systems permit them to achieve, regardless of demographics and socioeconomics.

Thus, while politicians at the federal and state levels espouse protections and support for the disadvantaged and for the demographic minorities, they have taken actions that look good on the surface, but which lack substance for genuine improvement in the long haul — while instituting a nightmare of peripheral problems in the front lines where good people are trying to get good work done. The real victims are the youths that were ostensibly to benefit from all this.

So the lowering of standards has been occurring for years — at the federal, state and local levels — as an insidious plague upon all of society.

As “the problem is us,” so also “the solution is us” — us being the everyday folk within our communities. Rather than help coming from the federal or state levels, we are receiving the opposite, so unless we as a nation rise up with reformist actions at the community level, our nation will continue to deteriorate at all levels.

It is past time for our local leadership to stand up in numbers in a significant push for improvements in public education — leaders in our clubs, churches, businesses, city and county governments, agencies, PTAs, teacher associations, police and sheriff’s departments …

And then everyday citizens must get involved in sufficient numbers to form a critical mass for action. Great leadership will be to no avail in the face of too many of the rest of us saying “but that’s what I pay my taxes for” and “but my children are grown and gone, so I don’t need to be involved anymore.”

I assure you that if the decline of our systems of public education (or even the status quo) continues, we will all be hurt in the future, our children most of all.

Call it an education barn raising. There will be something for everyone to do. Large or small, every contribution will be important. Without everyone’s involvement and cooperation, things that need to be done will not be done.

Don’t know what you can do? A flood of ideas will be generated if our community leadership does its initial work well.

Remember that there will be no deus ex machina from the state, and we are running out of time here at home.

“Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.”—Thomas Jefferson to James Madison. Sound familiar?

In our time, it must start here at home with each of us accepting a share of the responsibility for change.

HOWIE SOUCEK of Franklin is a human resources professional and former schoolteacher. His email address is