Education expert says students aren’t blueberries

Published 7:25 pm Friday, May 24, 2013

Dear Public School Teachers in Georgia:
It looks as if you have survived another year of underwhelming support from state legislators, many of whom would kiss a tree toad if so instructed by the anti-public education crowd. I know it is frustrating but, as my daddy used to say, consider the source.
One reader harrumphed recently that I should make my bias about public school teachers more evident and let it be known that I have four in my family. I can only surmise that he has just returned from Mars and hasn’t perused my previous screeds on the subject. I know first-hand what teachers have to put up with, things I suspect said reader has never experienced.
Well, I’ve finally found someone else who appreciates you: Jamie Vollmer. Vollmer is an Iowa businessman who had the same prejudices against public education as do many of our knee-jerk politicians. No more.
His is a famous story of lecturing a crowd of educators when he was affiliated with a small ice cream company in Iowa. He says in retrospect his talk was “perfectly balanced — equal parts ignorance and arrogance.”
He was asked by an educator what his company would do if they found an inferior batch of blueberries intended for their ice cream. Vollmer said the company would send them back. The educator nailed him, saying in part, “We can never send back our blueberries. We take them big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, abused, frightened, confident, homeless, rude, and brilliant. We take them with ADHD, junior rheumatoid arthritis, and English as their second language. We take them all! And that, Mr. Vollmer, is why it’s not a business. It’s school!”
Vollmer says that is when the light came on and he realized that “a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw materials, they are dependent upon the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are constantly mauled by a howling horde of disparate, competing customer groups that would send the best CEO screaming into the night.”
He told me that the blueberries with whom you are dealing in the classroom these days are the most diverse, demanding, distracted students ever seen and with an enormous sense of entitlement. Somehow, I don’t think that’s your fault.
Mr. Vollmer has spent the last 25 years trying to get politicians and anti-public education automatons to understand teachers aren’t the problem. It is our current education system which is designed for an industrial society that no longer exists.
In the old days, it didn’t matter if kids dropped out. There were good paying jobs awaiting them in the industrial world. Not true today. This is a high-tech society we are living in and a good education is mandatory.
What does Mr. Vollmer suggest we do to fix our public schools to deal with this new environment?
“You cannot touch a school without touching the culture of the area where the school sits,” he says.
The local community is the answer, not top-down government mandates.
“We need to push back against the insanity coming out of government. (Can anyone say ‘Common Core’ and ‘Race to the Top?’?) School districts need to gather allies,” Vollmer believes. “Get five or 10 allies — business people, non-profits, parents, ministers — and look for things that work.”
He maintains legislators will be loath to meddle if their constituents are working together to solve the local problems themselves.
I urge, beseech, plead and implore all the education groups in the state to toss their PowerPoint presentations and corny acronyms in the trash can and take Jamie Vollmer’s advice. Start getting local allies in the school districts focused on reforming our public education system to adapt to the new world before the ideologues destroy it. Do it for the teachers.
Vollmer quotes the late and legendary U.S. Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, who said, “Any jackass can kick down a barn. It takes a carpenter to build one.”
We’ve got enough jackasses already. Let’s find some carpenters.
Jamie Vollmer will be speaking at a meeting of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators in Atlanta on June 7. Every legislator in the state of Georgia should be required to attend his talk.
In the meantime, teachers, thank you for your good works this school year, despite the plethora of jackasses running around who think they know more than you. May they gag on their blueberries.
Your friend,
Dick Yarbrough
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139.

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