Saturday, September 24, 2005

Priorities in education coverage are wrong

The Joplin Globe kept area readers fully informed as Joplin R-8 officials sought a head football coach to replace Jesse Wall.
When Doug Buckmaster, Carthage's head coach, was hired, the Globe had wall-to-wall coverage (or more accurately Wall to Buckmaster coverage). Readers knew everything about Joplin's new coach, down to the fact that he, like Wall, had made the jump from Carthage to Joplin.
The Globe offered sports enthusiasts, particularly Joplin and Carthage football fans, thorough, complete coverage...of something that when you come right down to of little importance in the grand scheme of things.
Obviously, Buckmaster's hiring affected the football programs of two schools, and more than 100 high school football players, few of whom will make the transition from high school to college football, and probably none of whom will go on to make a living at football, unless it is as a coach.
If Buckmaster, or any other coach, does a poor job, it does absolutely nothing to hurt society. If he does a great job, except for the indefinable quality known as school spirit, it really doesn't make that much of a difference, and no doubt coaches can make a difference in steering children in the right direction.
However, every year, the Joplin R-8 School District and the Carthage R-9 School District hire math teachers, science teachers, history teachers and English teachers to man the battlelines against ignorance. If a football coach has an 0-10 record, students can still succeed in life. If these other teachers fail the students, the results can be devastating.
Yet, when new teachers are hired in the Joplin R-8 School District, the Globe, Joplin's paper of record, usually only announces the number hired and not who they are- definitely nothing about their backgrounds- and sometimes does not even write a word about the hirings.
Education coverage tends to be limited to coverage of school boards and test scores. Coverage of what goes on in the classroom is not easy, yet it is that part of education which determines the direction in which our society will go.
I took pride in my newspapers' coverage of education when I was at The Carthage Press and the Lamar Democrat. We featured stories on what was going on in classrooms, we interviewed teachers constantly; we interviewed students constantly. I will be the first to tell you that I, just like the Joplin Globe editors and the editors at just about every other newspaper, emphasized sports far too much. And yes, we had blanket coverage when a coaching change was made...but we made darned sure that the hiring of classroom teachers was also considered important.
Parents deserve to know about the people to whom they have entrusted their children, not just who will be coaching their football teams. The media has a key role in keeping the public informed about education. It should be the number one story in our newspapers, but you have to get into the classroom to do it. You can't cover education solely by printing test scores and going to school board meetings.

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