Government should stay out of

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 26, 2000

classroom courtesy issue

There are few times when I take the side of government as it seeks to seize more control of our daily lives, and Gov. Don Siegelman’s proposed courtesy law is no exception to my belief.

As state and federal mandates come down increasingly more often – typically with the subtlety of a baseball bat in the eyebrows – it becomes more and more difficult for teachers and administrators in schools to do their jobs of teaching and administrating.

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I am the son of a former school superintendent. My mother, father and brother have a combined 55 years of experience in public schools, and I have watched them for my entire life as they all seek to cope with rules, laws and regulations designed to make schools better and their lives easier.

What has really happened? Do you believe that children today are smarter and more well-educated than children were when you went to school. Do your kids know how to tell time using a clock without digital numbers? Do they know how a checking account works? How to use a card catalogue in the library? How to solve advanced algebraic equations? How to write term papers and essays?

In some cases yes, and in others no – just as it was when we all went to school. The irony of the case, though, is this: Children have access to audio-visual-based learning. They have Internet access. They have computerized car catalogues that make research a snap. They have calculators. They have computers.

With all of these tools they have access to, the fact remains that they aren’t performing at a higher level in most cases than students in years past.

Why? There may be no good answer, but I believe a few simple things are at work that make life hard on teachers and school administrators. These things are called laws. Laws that mandate curriculum. Laws that prohibit the separation of students based on levels of ability. Laws that regulate how many students of which race can be punished. Laws that govern virtually every aspect of a school environment.

What has our governor done to help rectify the problem of poor performance among students and their general lack of regard for authority? Pass more laws, by gosh.

That’s what government does. It seizes control – virtually wresting it away from the community because after all, how could a bunch of rednecks know what’s best for their own schools? Government officials want us to leave it to legislators from other places to let us know what’s best for us. It’s an abomination.

Schools need more autonomy on the local level. If the Troy City School System or the Pike County School System want to require students to use courtesy and respect when addressing school faculty, fine. But wasting the state’s time, manpower and resources to formulate a plan to make them do something this ridiculous is a poor allocation of Alabama tax dollars.

Kids probably do need some lessons in manners and in being polite and respectful. But it shouldn’t be up to the state to force it down our throats – or the throats of our kids. I want our state to spend some money to figure out what laws we need to rid ourselves of, and not which ones we need to invent so more bureaucrats can have something to do.

I had to say "yes sir" and "yes ma’am" when I was in school because my principal said so. I don’t recall the governor being involved.

And frankly, I don’t want Don Siegelman telling my child what she can and can’t say.

Brian Blackley is the managing editor of The Messenger. He may be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 670-6314.

Jan. 25, 2000 11 PM