Paul Greenberg

The words are those of the late John A. Pidgeon, the legendary headmaster of the Kiski School in Saltsburg, Pa. At the time, he was reflecting on his 45 years at the school, but what he said could apply to so many other things:

"I could not believe my ears when I heard 'an educational expert' say recently that a head master should serve only five to seven years, do what he can for the school, and then leave. This is without question the most idiotic statement I have heard, especially from educational experts who are probably the most idiotic group I know anyway."

Jack Pidgeon's low opinion of educational experts may be an exaggeration; I have come across one or two professors of education who actually made sense. But, if pressed, I would probably cite the generality of the country's schools of education as the most corrosive influence on American education in my time. With the possible exception of teachers' unions, of course.

Is there a fad that the educantists have not embraced over the years, much to the detriment of education? They seem to switch shibboleths -- sight-reading! self-esteem! emotional intelligence! -- as often as Mr. Pidgeon's idiotic expert would have them switch locales.

Jack Pidgeon spelled "head master" as two words -- as if to emphasize the primacy of teaching at his school. To him, administration was just a necessary evil. It is an order of priorities the rest of American education would do well to adopt.

To quote Laura Bush the other day, who was explaining why the new George W. Bush Institute was going to concentrate on training school principals: "A well-trained, energetic teacher can be stifled under lackluster or discouraging administrators." Here's hoping the first thing the Bush Institute teaches administrators is just to get out of the way of the talented. It's a lesson administrators could learn in many a field besides education.

But what's wrong with a school's switching headmasters on a regular basis? Why keep the same old leader, and stick to the same old dreary principles? Mr. Pidgeon explained why:

"Like people, schools must have an identity. If they do not, they drift along trying to be all things to all people. A school is not unlike a person in that it must have a set of values from which it does not waver. I have known many people who do not have this set of values and they bounce about the world standing for one thing one day and another thing another day and become feckless and pitiful people who do not command the respect of their peers and are unable to make any lasting impression on life. I hope that we can remember the same applies to schools."

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.