March 10, 2017 - Volume 37 Issue 6










“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” - Anne Louise Germaine de Stael (1766-1817), a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad who influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century.

By Diane W. Mufson

Another weekend of cleaning out old files dislodged a yellowed 1970 column by Mike Royko. Old newspaper people and Chicagoans recall that Mike Royko was a sharp and forthright columnist for three Chicago newspapers starting in the 1950s. He wrote over 7,500 daily columns and received the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1972.

His column, "How to build better pupils," is as meaningful today in the age of Betsy DeVos, the new federal secretary of education, as it was when printed.

I became a life-long fan of Mike Royko in the 1960s after he wrote a scathing column about Chicago's political establishment refusing to spend money to air-condition Cook County Hospital's operating rooms. This mammoth hospital, serving mainly the poor, finally was able to close the operating windows and keep the bugs out during surgery because of one of Royko's blistering opinion columns.

Royko covered a variety of topics, and his thoughts on what leads to student success is still on target a half-century later. He wrote, "Every year the city's school officials give us the scores of reading tests. And every year the results are basically the same. You would think that by now they would understand the problem and get going on a solution. But instead they jabber about new testing methods, new reading methods, trying this and trying that.”

Royko compared four Chicago schools, two predominately white and two essentially black. Two of these schools, one black and one white, had scores that would give any school bragging rights. The other two had dismal results.

The difference, he insisted, was parent involvement. He states, "The children who learn are those who have been taught even before they began school, that they are expected to go to school and learn and somebody at home will want to see the results." Things were tough in Chicago's 1970s, but today they are worse in many places. Too many families are being torn apart by the drug epidemic where parents are often more intent on getting a fix than fixing dinner or helping fix homework assignments.

No politicians impressed Royko; he knew they didn't have the answers. Regarding education, he said, "Liberals thought a flood of money and new programs was the answer. They were well meaning, but it didn't work. The conservatives offered benign neglect, which was cheaper, but not more effective. The fact is, no lightning-like solution exists."

So it's 2017 in West Virginia and not 1970 in Chicago, but our kids' education is still not what our nation needs. Charter schools are not the panacea as shown by recent scandals in Ohio. For our nation's sake, it is vital that all American children be well educated. Now, Betsy DeVos, a woman who has never worked in or sent her children to a public school, wants to privatize or "charterize" American schools. She doesn't have a clue how to improve our educational system, and in her congressional hearing, had no understanding of education for special needs children.

We still seek educational solutions with better teachers, programs and buildings, but we are missing that all-important link, the child's home. Today's reality is that too many West Virginia kids do not have a home where education is deemed really important. Changing that is an unbelievably difficult task, but if we expect to improve the economics of this state, it has to be done. Mike Royko's thoughts on the value of the home in school success still holds true.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist.  This column first appeared in  March 9, 2017, edition of the Huntington  Herald-Dispatch. It is used by permission of  Mufson and the Herald-Dispatch. Mufson served as member of a suburban Illinois school board in the early 1970s prior to moving to West Virginia.