According to Me: Waiting for Batman

The system is broken. Make no mistake about it. Many will argue with it, fight it, deny it and do everything short of tell you to ignore the man behind the curtain. But the system is broken.

It is a system that, at its core, is the perpetuation of civilization. It is the ideal of American society. It is – at least in theory – designed to mold young people into a well-rounded, productive citizenry.

As with most things in our society, the instruction manual for the American education system should have read, “For worst results, just add government.”

Between federal standards, state standards, bureaucratic back scratching and a slew of state legislators who know nothing about education, the system has been distorted to unrecognizable ends. To say “the system is broken” may well be an understatement.

Verification of the premise does not require discipleship under Glenn Beck or strict adherence to the Chicken Little-esque principles of Waiting for Superman. That verification can be found simply by talking to a teacher. Pretty much any teacher will do.

So I, like many of my parental peers, have been scoping the educational landscape. Public schools. Charter schools. Private schools. It is all so very daunting.

And, as my son readies for his third birthday, I recognize that a decision about his education must be made rather quickly.

I’ve spent much of the last several months disgruntled regarding what has become of the education system and largely certain that I want my son nowhere near it. My wife is a teacher. Some of our best friends are teachers. And, yet, I am so reluctant to put my children anywhere near the red tape wrapped menagerie that is the American education system.

Three days ago, however, I was reminded that there is still hope. There is still hope because there are still so many quality men and women dedicated – not to the system – but to the young people who populate it.

I was stirred by a Facebook video Thursday in which my mother-in-law and one of the best people I know, Lynne Martin, gave an incredible 30-minute speech to her fellow faculty members at Walton High School in Florida. She was funny. She was real. She was poignant. Most of all, she was right.

Her speech was designed to empower, encourage and uplift her fellow teachers; a task she can do as well as anyone who has ever set foot in a classroom. She is a major part of the reason my wife became a teacher. And she is a considerable reason why my sister-in-law is on her way to becoming a teacher.

Lynne Martin gives me hope. She gives me hope because she is proof that the best of us have not gone into the private sector in search of more money, 401Ks and more stable work environments.

As I watched her one-woman show that moved her audience across the emotional spectrum, I found hope. There is only one Lynne Martin, but there are great people in schools throughout America.

There are men like Jay Russell and Joey Browder. There are women like Leslie Gibbs, Ashley Brock, Amelia Mackey, Coty Geohagan, Rebecca Pipkins, Tracy Stewart, Julie Massey and Meggin Mayben. And those are just a modicum of the tremendous people in our community and others that choose every single morning to put the students ahead of the unbounded success each of them could likely have in some other professional venue.

Even 15 years after my graduation, my school memories are predominantly filled with Mrs. Reed and Mrs. Harrison and Mrs. Powell and all those educators who made the mundane matter.

Yes. The system is absolutely broken. No. There is no Superman coming to save us. But the education problem in our country does not need Superman. It needs men and women with know-how, compassion, unparalleled patience and a willingness to keep coming back even on the bad days (because goodness knows there are plenty of those).

So, while much of the American education system is waiting for Superman, what we really need is Batman; the normal, everyday people without super powers who show up and make a difference in whichever way they are allowed. Lucky for our young people, we’ve still got a lot of those.

Jeremy D. Smith is managing partner of The West Alabama Watchman. He has covered news and sports in Demopolis since 2008. His column, According to Me, appears weekly on