Find a new system instead of principal
I was saddened and angered to read about Helen Kennedy and how she was forced out of her position as principal of Waubun High because, despite (from what I've read) being everything a school could want in a leader, her students didn't meet the No Child Left Behind standards set by a bunch of stuff-shirts in Washington who have probably haven't been in a classroom in 50 years.
If the people at No Child Left Behind knew what my education has been like, they would have had me committed long ago. K-4th grade I went to public school, the highlight of which was reading my original piece -- "The Adventures of Charlie Lindbergher" -- to my class, the whole class!
Then, starting in 5th grade, I homeschooled for several years. I mostly spent my time during those years doing math, writing reports and spending hours in the oak tree reading classics, before I transferred to Christian school in 7th grade.
There, under the guidance of Mrs. Lund -- easily among the top influential people of my life -- I finally discovered something I was good at: writing. I would do a little math in the morning, maybe help clean the Koi tank, and after lunch announce to Mrs. Lund that I'd be taking a study hall and spend the rest of the day on the computer, writing uninterrupted.
I wrote melodramatic short stories about things that interested or inspired me -- with some anguished poetry thrown in for good measure -- and that was that. No guidelines, no stupid checklist by which to measure the quality of my work -- just me, the keyboard and my crazy imagination.
If any work from that era survives, Mrs. Lund has serious blackmail leverage over me, but I'm glad for the experience anyway.
And guess what? I may have some underlying psychological issues because of this messed-up patched-together education, but that's just fine by me. At least I'm a unique person -- not everyone can say that about themselves. Perhaps the instability screwed me up, maybe Mrs. Lund was negligent not to recognize creativity for the ADHD that it really was, maybe I didn't fill in enough worksheets or take enough standardized tests to rightfully call myself educated at all.
But strangely, I feel smart enough.
Back in the day, every school produced a slightly different set of students -- the kids who would grow up and become the Greatest Generation. Schools were run by teachers, not politicians -- people like Mrs. Lund who loved to teach and could reasonably expect to do so, as they wished, without government agents from thousands of miles away breathing down their necks, controlling their every action like power-tripping puppeteers.
Perhaps that system was less reliable on a nationwide basis, harder to track and measure with, even less "fair" in a world where standardization equates to equality. But it worked.
How many Civil War letters have you read by backwoods soldiers, hicks and dropouts, and been overwhelmed by their vocabulary, flow and poetic grace? How many folks have you chatted with who grew up in the depression, and been totally surprised to find that they never went to college -- or even high school?
The basic urge to teach hasn't left the DNA. There are still thousands whose sole passion and purpose in life is giving kids the tools to unlock their nascent minds, who were born to teach. I'm not one of them, but I've known many in my life. The best ones change your life in ways even parents can't.
It is saddening to see them so limited by guidelines set by people with no regard for instilling a love of learning or genuinely fostering mental growth, who take joy in reducing education to a geometric formula so it can fit snugly into their square heads.
The last time I checked, Washington had enough problems of its own.
Maybe the people who pick on brave women like Helen Kennedy, doing the best they can in some of the poorest counties in Minnesota and under the worst of circumstances because they're not running their schools enough like an assembly line, should make themselves useful and pick up tar balls on the coast of Louisiana. Maybe then they'd feel what it's like to have the cards dealt against them, to know that sometimes, you're never going to fix all the problems around you and that the best you can do is do what you can.
Maybe then they'd realize that there are some things that can't fit in boxes and some jobs that are best left to the experts.
Nathan Kitzmann is a senior at Detroit Lakes High School.