The superintendent’s priorities

Special to The TelegraphFebruary 19, 2012 

I’m surprised that Chinese language instruction is high up on Superintendent Romain Dallemand’s agenda for Macon school kids. Though I’m skeptical, don’t get me wrong. My daughter, a Springdale Elementary public school student in Macon, is already studying Mandarin Chinese at a local class put together by Chinese-Americans who want their kids to maintain a linguistic link with their ethnic roots.

My daughter is studying Chinese this year after she joined my wife, my son and me this past year in China, where I studied, spoke and taught about denationalizing economic sectors -- something that China is struggling with, and that the U.S. should be struggling with. We discovered that China has a lot in common with the U.S., and we’re delighted to have our American daughter build on her growing appreciation for the East.

Foreign language instruction is a great intellectual exercise, and Americans who have benefited from the melting pot should have no problem with Chinese as a foreign language focus for our kids. But the idea that every Macon kid should study Chinese seems odd. Among other things, Chinese is a tonal language and hard to learn without a large group of local speakers. Even assuming China outstrips the U.S. economically, learning Chinese probably won’t affect that dynamic, which is based on the Chinese working harder and cheaper, than Americans.

For those and other reasons, I doubt learning Chinese should be high on the list of things that you’d want to do for Macon’s young people in the public schools.

So what should be the first step?

As a public school parent, let me make a politically incorrect suggestion that doesn’t appear to be on the superintendent’s agenda:

Employ more men as teachers of our kids. The gender imbalance is extreme. At my daughter’s school with more than 600 kids, there’s only one male teacher. Just one. And he’s the physical education teacher, not a teacher in a regular classroom. Where are the men?

Women do a great service as teachers, but if we limit our teachers to females, we do a disservice to all our young people. Young men and boys especially need male role models who can make it clear every day, in more than token circumstances, about what being a responsible man is all about.

It should go without saying, but apparently needs saying, that being a responsible man does not involve disrespecting authority in general, disrespecting women in particular, having group sex with a girl in the boy’s room, dropping out of school, relying on welfare to pay for one’s children, joining gangs, avoiding work, committing crimes, or going to prison.

It’s not that women teachers and administrators condone poor values, of course. But the schools’ gender imbalance cries out for attention much more than any need for Macon’s kids to learn Chinese.

Superintendent Dallemand is talking about cutting more than 300 teachers. What we more likely need is 300 more male teachers, and all teachers teaching at salaries that can support families. We also need more authority for all our teachers to control the school environment more firmly, while blazing clearer, straighter paths for our boys and young men to reach more successful futures as responsible adult men.

Confucius was the most revered Chinese teacher. He was a man. Perhaps our first lesson in the ways of the Chinese should be to note that men, too, can be great teachers.

David Oedel Macon teaches at Mercer University School of Law.

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