I happened to be watching television the other night and I noticed a familiar face as I scanned the channels. (I am a constant channel surfer. I just can't seem to control myself). The face was that of Father Leahy of Saint Benedict's Prep. I knew him from the days when I was coaching at Nutley and we wrestled against Saint Benedict's. He was most often there to root his team on (although they really didn't need his encourage since I rarely, if ever remember beating them).
He and several others were featured in a film about Saint Benedict's, about its history, its mission and its operation. The film was called "The Rule" and was played on PBS.
You can see more about it at http://www.bongiornoproductions.com/THE_RULE/THE_RULE.html
The things that fascinated me were the dedication, compassion and results of the efforts by the monks (and lay people) at the school.
After seeing the kinds of things that had to be done in order ensure the success of the young men at Saint Benedict's I began to think about public education in New Jersey and the attempts by the State to improve it.
There is no public school in the land (and few if any private ones) that has the wherewithal to do the kinds of things that are done there at Benedict's. It was made obvious in the film that without the procedures and programs that are used at Benedict's, the odds of saving children are slim at best. By the way, the religious aspect of the program was not even discussed and I got the strong impression that religion was far from the main factor in achieving their success.
As I watched the film (for an hour and a half) I began to think - Every legislator, State Department of Education honcho and even "The Governor" should be required to view this film. I am sure it would make them fully aware that their name calling and degradation tactics against public education has little to do with creating any successful school. Simply calling a school "failing" because it cannot provide the environment and use the techniques that have made Benedict's a premier school is certainly not the answer.
To point fingers at "poor teachers", to shower them with busy work and forms, to renege on their pension benefits, to call them greedy and uncaring and to continually demean them to the status of field hands is definitely not the answer. The educational hierarchy must begin to appreciate the enormity of the task and encourage teachers to do the best they possibly can under the circumstances which exist and stop casting blame and dictating dozens of cockamamie schemes from on high which are most certainly doomed to failure.
It appears that the only proven answer (or the only one of which I am aware) to failing schools is to do as is being done at Benedict's. The results speak for themselves. But how realistic is this in the public school environment with hundreds of thousands of children?
Unfortunately, in order to achieve the Saint Benedict's results in a public school setting we would need thousands of teachers that would be willing to take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; live at the school; being willing to take in children from a harsh environment and show them love and affection (and doing the latter in today's public schools will most certainly put you in prison - the days of hugging children of any age no matter your intent, are long since gone). What are the chances?
For me, the film didn't as much describe what should be done in public education but moreover emphasized the difficulty of the task and the unlikelihood that the current attempts to "reform education" via teacher bashing, testing, scheming and name calling will ever succeed.
Look at the film trailer, see if you can find a replay on a PBS or maybe at “On Demand” and then write back and tell me what you think?