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Darrell Huckaby - 04/01/09

They say politics makes strange bedfellows. I guess, for once, "they say" is right. You'd better sit down for this one. I know I had to.

When the call came from the White House, I thought it was a hoax, although I didn't know how the prankster got "US Government" and a Washington D.C. area code to show up on my caller ID. I was determined not to be pranked though and actually said, "Thanks for calling and have a nice day," and hung up the first time they called. The government is nothing, however, if not persistent, and they called right back. The second time I actually listened to what they had to say.

Quite frankly, I was floored. I guess the Barack Obama administration believes in the old adage "keep your friends close and your enemies closer," not that I consider myself an enemy of the administration, understand - just a couple of its policies.

At any rate, the lady on the phone was calling on behalf of the president of the United States who has asked me to serve my country as a member of a blue ribbon panel that will work in the respective states of the members on a daily basis over the next two years - I'm pretty sure we get weekends and federal holidays off - to completely overhaul what many see as our failing education system in this country.

What an honor to be chosen for such a task! There will be a downside of course. For one, I will have to drive downtown every day, to the Richard B. Russell Building. Now my daily commute is nine-tenths of a mile, each way. I could walk to work if the traffic on 138 wasn't so heavy.

Secondly, I really like teaching, but they have promised me that if I choose to serve on the committee I can go back to teaching afterward - and the federal government does pay better than the state of Georgia.

Of course the Department of Education people assured me that I could still write my newspaper columns - as long as I was not critical of the policies of the administration. You have to show loyalty to the people you work for, after all. That's not a deal breaker for me. I like writing about sweet iced tea and growing up in a mill village more than I like writing about the socialization of the American economy anyway.

And finally, after 36 years in education, I will actually have people listening to my opinions about education. How could I pass up an opportunity like that?

Of course I am fairly certain the powers that be on the national level won't like what I have to say about education. For instance, the first thing I will suggest is scrapping the whole Bush No Child Left Behind deal. Not that I want to leave anyone behind, understand - but the thing about not leaving anyone behind is that, by definition, if no child is left behind they all finish at the same time and place - which means that no one is allowed to get ahead. We hold some students back while waiting on others to catch up.

I believe that children - and adults, too, for that matter - learn different things at different times in different ways - and since NCLB was passed we have been moving toward teaching every child the same things at the same times in the same way. I think that's a mistake. I think the focus on education should be in teaching children how to learn and on motivating them to want to learn.

I think we should teach children how to obtain information and how to use that information in critical thinking and problem solving skills. I think we should do all we can to prepare students for college who have an aptitude and desire to go to college, but I think there are a lot of worthwhile jobs left in this country that don't require a college education, and I don't think there is anything wrong with helping students get a head start on those careers if their interests and abilities lie in those endeavors.

And I will suggest that we quit testing our students to death. We spend so much time testing that we don't have time to teach them what we are supposed to be testing them on. It's like weighing pigs. It doesn't do any good to weigh a pig every day if you aren't feeding him in between weighings.

And I will tell those federal people that we need to put more responsibility for learning and developing academically on the students themselves. I'll also try my best to convince them that while technology is a wonderful tool and should be utilized to the nth degree, that nothing will ever take the place of a dedicated and engaging teacher in the classroom.

If only today weren't April 1 - and if only that bogus phone call I described had been real, and not an April Fool's prank. Oh well. There's always next year.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.