Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Fix It, Don’t Junk It

Thirty-nine years ago this month, the teachers of Port Clinton City Schools went on strike. They wanted better pay--shocking, I know--and more say in curriculum and class scheduling. After two weeks, the school board negotiated a settlement which gave them some of what they wanted. At the time, teachers in rural school districts like Port Clinton rarely went on strike like their urban counterparts. Their relative success in the strike of 1980 paved the way for teachers in other small districts across the state, for better or worse. Although the strike lasted only a handful of days, I recall vividly the weird, often absurd, lengths the school administration went through to keep the schools open through it.

Unions were still strong in Ohio in those days, and probably half the students were kept home by their parent on principle. Since my friend Carl’s father was the superintendent of schools and my mother was a non-union cafeteria worker, I felt a responsibility to show up. Plus, I was a senior in high school, on cruise control until graduation and wanted to see how this was all going to work out.

The "substitute" curriculum the high school rolled out was based on short courses taught by decidedly non-educator "subject matter experts." To a large extent, this involved glorified book reports on popular tomes of the day. Some of these were valuable, a discussion of Bob Woodward's book, The Brethren, which was about the Supreme Court, taught by a local attorney, for instance. But it also included some laughable attempts. One that sticks out in my mind was called "Fix It, Don’t Junk It,” and consisted largely of students bringing in non-operational small appliances and watching as a guy who ran a handyman business in town fixed them. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for more STEM classes and a respect for the trades, but this wasn’t really a class. The handyman didn’t teach us how to repair the items (which would have been useful) or even explain what he was doing (which would have been interesting, at least), he simply repaired them in front of us with an occasional off-hand remark like, “that’s really on there tight.” I'm sure some parents were grateful to get the old vacuum cleaner up and running again, but from an educational standpoint, it was pretty iffy.

A few days into the strike, Carl and I had had enough and decided it would be a good time to make some college visits, so off we went on a whirlwind tour of tiny, expensive private schools that Carl was considering and I certainly couldn’t afford. I was however, happy to eat free in their cafeterias and stay free in their dorms while being talked up by the recruiting staff. By the time we got back in town the strike had ended and normal school started back up a few days later.

It was a minor distraction that I suspect most town folk have largely forgotten. In fact, when I went out on Google to check facts for this post, I was surprised to find that there is virtually no record of it other than a brief mention an article about one of the union leaders, Nancy Dunham. Ah, Mrs. Dunham, now that's a whole 'nuther story.

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