There's a lot of dysfunctional nonsense in the world these days, and almost all of it boils down to two things: asinine bureaucracies and the inept, incompetent misfits elected to run said bureaucracies.
If the last year or so is any indication, the Charleston County School District and its board appear to have both of these items down pat. In fact, the follies of the school system are so incredibly vast and so mind-numbingly stupid that I could probably spend an entire column just listing them.
As it turns out, only two weeks into the New Year — and less than one week after the end of winter break — CCSD delivered yet another screaming, crying mess of a child into this world.
First, some backstory. Once upon a time, there was a district policy that granted any high school student earning a 93 average in a class an exemption from taking final exams. Last year, the district launched a pilot program — keep that phrase in mind because it's important later — that would give seniors the option to opt out of an exam if they had an 85 in class. It was supposed to last for the school year (also important).
Now, this pilot program should have raised some hackles. After all, district critics regularly complain that our public school system wastes millions of dollars a year and fails to meet expectations, while others say the district is so large that it should be split into smaller, more easily managed districts. (The latter claim is never actually proven, in part, because it simply isn't true.) Now, it seems that there probably should have been some sort of outrage over this pilot program because it essentially lowered student expectations. However, if there was any, the controversy must have flared up virtually unnoticed and disappeared quickly. So quickly, in fact, that the school board apparently forgot they ever instituted a pilot program in the first place. Which brings us back to last week's staggeringly inept blunder.
Hidden in a dark back office of well-paid school administrators — who largely serve to push papers around and eat up some of those millions of dollars of taxpayer money — someone apparently realized that the pilot program had expired. To further complicate matters, the expired policy had already appeared in some high school handbooks, although not in others. So, some seniors were under the impression they could skate through classes asleep, get that "B," and get some additional down time after their two-week winter break.
At this point, you should be asking this question: Did anyone actually sit down and see if the pilot program worked or if it was a failure? Surely, someone at CCSD was tasked with collecting data about this program and administrators and school board members reviewed this data before canceling the program instead of just forgetting about it altogether and letting it expire.
Upon realizing CCSD had a problem, district officials could have admitted their mistake, extended the policy one more year, and taught students a modicum of responsibility at the same time. After all, if we've given up on asking students to shoot for an "A," shouldn't we at least teach them that they should own up to their mistakes? That seems only rational.
But people tied up in the bureaucratic underpinnings of modern life aren't rational. They can't be because the paperwork and the policies driving the paperwork won't allow them to be. They can only do what is on paper, dammit, and what's on paper says that the pilot program expired and, as one CCSD memo indicates, "Board Policy supersedes the handbook...."
Well, at least, that's the line the school district took for about a day, which is really as long as it takes for administrators to get sick of answering phone calls from angry parents or reading emails with the subject line, "You moronic turds, my precious snowflake isn't prepared for an exam!" And so, the district reversed its position following a closed meeting last Thursday. Oh, good for them.
In the end, Charleston County students didn't learn a lesson about responsibility, but they did learn something far, far more important: They've learned that bureaucracy doesn't care about what you know or what you think you know about what is expected of you in life. Very much like the papers that would have alerted Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to the impending destruction of his home, the key to knowing your future is "on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying, 'Beware of the Leopard.'" Sorry you missed it.