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Because it’s in the latter part of the Americas

March 18th, 2010

For the purposes of this blog post, we will call him Mr. Smith.
Mr. Smith was a history professor at my high school back in the mid-1980s. Really, he was a nice enough guy, never seemed to have any ill-will toward anyone that I know of. But he was the worst teacher I ever had.
Someone once asked him, “Mr. Smith, why do they call Latin America, Latin America?”
“Because,” Mr. Smith responded as serious as he could be, “It’s in the latter part of the Americas.”
And the stories about Mr. Smith are endless. At a high school reunion, a group of us sat around for hours telling Mr. Smith stories.
I gave a current events report in which I made up a country in eastern Europe that was embroiled in a civil war. I went on forever, it seemed. But the gist of it was that the poor people of this country were storming the capital city with tractors and crop dusters.
Mr. Smith asked me my source for the story.
“The NBC Evening News with Tom Brokaw,” I responded.
“Hmm,” Mr. Smith said. “Must of missed that one.”
I received an ‘A’.
It all seemed pretty funny at the time, and when I’m around old high school friends, it’s still pretty funny.
But the sad part is by the time I went to college, I had very little base of history to prepare me for what I needed at the next level.
More increasingly, we are learning that teachers are the key to our country having a better and more important educational system.
There are great teachers in the world. I wouldn’t have made it through high school without folks like Mary Dalton and Jimmy Warren.
And we must reward those who are pulling their weight.
But those that aren’t, like Mr. Smith, need to be held accountable.
In a survey given by the Mississippi Economic Council, 70-plus percent of business leaders believe the the No.1 business issue in Mississippi is education.
If, indeed, that is the case, we have got to have better teachers to lead our children.
Teachers have a great job, maybe the most important job in the world, and there should be a system of checks and balances that regulates them.
If they are good or great, like my former shop teacher Arthur Holbrook, they should be rewarded with pay raises and job advancement.
But we don’t like to admit that there are too many Mr. Smiths in the world, and without accountability they are going to continue to hold us back as a state and a country.

Contact Mississippi Business Journal editor Ross Reily at ross.reily@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

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