News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Mike Lunsford

April 3, 2011

MIKE LUNSFORD: A lesson plan for public schools

TERRE HAUTE — I am an advocate of public education; I pull no punches about that. I have taught in public schools for 32 years, and I think it is an inherently American institution. I am proud to call myself a teacher, and I am proud that I am a product of public schools.

That being said, I will also say this: Public school teachers want school reform. Any teacher worth much knows that change is a vital part of the job of helping children learn. But true school reform doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water; it doesn’t suggest that things are so broken that they can’t be fixed either. School vouchers and ending teachers’ rights to negotiate for working conditions, as attractive as they may sound to some, are not going to help public schools be better places to learn, and no one and no data will convince me otherwise. Perhaps you’ve heard Mark Twain’s words: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” All three are at work in painting a picture as to how easy it would be to clean up the “school mess.” Well, it’s not simple, and in many instances, it’s not a mess, either.

Our citizenry doesn’t appreciate the value of education as it once did, and until it does, I’m not sure we will ever see schools be as effective as we’d like them to be. We’re teaching children, not producing drainpipe. I wish more people understood that. If I could suggest a few changes that would help schools be better right now, this is what they would be:

• First, I’d like to see our youngest students go to kindergarten all day. I know that sounds simplistic, but it makes sense to me. Kids who are in school all day learn more, and that certainly has to prove true for 5 and 6-year-olds. It will take money — state money — but it’s a great investment in the future of our children, particularly for those whose first schools — their homes — are not education friendly. Personally, I don’t see how kindergarten teachers survive. I can deal with a classroom of surly, groggy seniors any day, but give me one 5-year-old who’s wet his pants or is crying for his mom or has a death grip on my leg, and I’d be lost.

• Second, if going to school for an entire day helps the youngest of our students, why wouldn’t that be true for the rest of them? Hoosier kids miss too much school, and they are absent too often without consequences. Schools should have rigorous attendance policies in place, and it will take money — again, state money — to see that those policies can be enforced. Teachers and administrators are not responsible for getting children out of bed and ready for school (or in bed the night before at a decent hour either). Every school system in the state should have the funding it needs to employ truancy and attendance officers and extra hours at school for students who need to make up for lost time. Ronald Reagan popularized the phrase, “Trust but verify.” That should apply to student absences, because whether they like it or not, many of these chronically absent kids will actually have to show up to jobs some day.

• Third, we should be expanding the arts in public schools, not hacking away at them with the budget axe. I know, that’ll take money too, but the arts — music and philosophy and painting and cooking and sewing and woodworking — all help make our kids better people, not just better students; they help equip our kids for a future of enlightening and entertaining themselves, and they help them think more creatively, which I believe helps anyone headed to the factory, the boardroom, or into parenthood. The testing mantra has been chanted long enough; take a look at how much time and money is being spent on that agenda. The arts are subjects that can’t be evaluated through ISTEP or End-of-Course Assessments, and that irritates those who advocate for and profit from such things. We are not creating worker drones; we are helping prepare people for a life in which they can think — or guess — in terms past a multiple choice exam.

Our kids need to read more and they need to read better. Reading will help them in every phase of their lives. Reading and comprehending good books and essays and poetry and short stories can, in the long run, help make our children more compassionate, more caring people. That may sound naïve, but it is true. So they can teach to the assessment tests, more and more teachers have to pass on teaching what our children should be reading and discussing. Money is needed right now for more reading specialists, and more teachers in all disciplines need training so they can teach children with reading difficulties how to read and comprehend what they read. And for goodness sake, please keep funding libraries so they’ll have a place to get a book, even an electronic one.

• Fourth, fund alternative schools. That may sound a lot like a charter school proposal, but it isn’t. Every public school corporation, and I mean even the smallest and most rural, should have at least one alternative school program going. They can even be shared between neighboring school systems. The one-size fits-all concept of education has never worked very well. Some students take more time to earn a diploma, more time to pass a standards-based performance test, or they may have one or more of myriad personal issues to deal with. Students should have an option within their own local school corporations. It will take money — state money — but right now there is an inequity in who can offer alternative education, and the state should help fix the problem, not by suggesting that new charter schools will take these students in, because I doubt that most will.

• Fifth, schools should be offering classes in civics and citizenship again. Another idea that has no immediate pay off? Maybe, but we are graduating more and more students who have little idea of what it is to be a citizen, and that puts us all in peril. When I look at old civics texts, which emphasized responsibility and manners and punctuality, I can’t help but think that there’s no less need for those now than 40 years ago. American Government — taught mostly in the senior year — is a fine course, but for most of our kids, that single semester class is all they’ll ever really have that is primarily concerned with how our governments are supposed to work. I hardly think reading accounts about the doings at the Statehouse will help them much.

And, while we’re at it, let’s have our kids take consumer economics before they graduate. Learning about the gross national product and stock portfolios is great, but if they have no understanding as to how to manage a credit card or balance a checkbook, they’re in trouble. As terrible as it sounds, that means we may actually have to hire teachers, and if we did, I sure would hope they hold valid teaching licenses. The idea that we should be sending more and more of our students off to college campuses after their junior year sounds a bit nutty to me too. They should be using their senior years to go to proms and play sports and take extra course work and to grow up.

• Finally — and I mean for now — let kids take trips to places away from their schools, to museums and symphonies and planetariums and places of business, and, yes, even to Indianapolis to watch our General Assembly at work. Field trips have gotten a bad rap for years as being lost days and playtime, and they’re dropping from curriculums like dead flies. I can still remember the trip my fourth grade class took to Vincennes; the bullet holes in William Henry Harrison’s house remain burned into my impressionable little mind even now. I learned more about Indiana history in one day than any book ever taught me, and I had fun learning it. If we’re going to invest money into maintaining historic sites — or, in the case of the Ernie Pyle birthplace, abandoning them — how about canceling one measly standardized test a year to send kids on a trip to one of them? A school trip may be their only exposure to such places.

I have mentioned money — state money — on every one of these points, and I know that the easy thing to say right now is that throwing money at education won’t work.

Throwing it probably won’t work, but putting it where it will do the most good just might.


Mike Lunsford can be reached by e-mail at or by writing to him c/o The Tribune-Star, P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Read more of Mike’s stories at, and visit his website at He is currently working on his third collection of stories.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Mike Lunsford
  • IMG_9352.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: One man’s trash is, well, another man’s trash

    Many people are growing weary of ecological doomsdayers, and if so, they are the folks most likely to tell us that Planet Earth isn’t in that bad of a shape, that it can repair itself, that new technologies just around the corner will solve our carbon emissions and greenhouse gases and oil consumption and the ever-growing pile of plastic in which we are drowning.

    April 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • Inscription 3.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: A book inscribed is surely a book treasured

    I don’t think it’s a secret that I value books as one of life’s great joys; “I am, therefore I read,” could be a T-shirt-worthy motto of mine.

    March 30, 2014 6 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: Something to crow about, as our neighbors return

    It is in the spring, I think, that I notice crows the most. They are noisy neighbors year-round, but they come calling (I resisted saying “cawing”) in early March in earnest, and they do so before the frogs on our pond and the buds on our trees make the new season official.

    March 16, 2014

  • Sworn In.jpg Author visits birthplace of Calvin Coolidge

    Editor’s Note: Today, in this seventh and final installment of Mike Lunsford’s “New England Journal,” the writer visits a small town in south central Vermont, birthplace of the nation’s 30th President, Calvin Coolidge. Be sure to look for Mike’s regular column in Monday’s edition of the Tribune-Star.

    March 16, 2014 12 Photos

  • Waiting for Spring.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The long goodbye to winter

    I have no idea what the weather is to bring to us on the morning this story runs, but on the day I write most of it, the sun is shining, and we have just come off a weekend of pleasant warmth and cloudless skies.

    March 2, 2014 16 Photos

  • The Inlet at Thunder Hole.JPG Heaven on Earth: Writer gets lost — both figuratively and literally — at Acadia National Park

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day hiking the Atlantic shoreline and the trails of Maine’s Acadia National Park.

    February 16, 2014 9 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’

    I’ve been thankful this winter for a full propane tank and ample cold cranking amps and school snow-delay days that have kept me off the roads until the sun is up on the most frigid of these mornings.

    February 3, 2014

  • MET010714 lunsford art.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The night the snow fell

    You would think that the cold winds and deep snows that we endured two weeks ago would be old news by now, but as I stood in the checkout line at a grocery store just a few days back, a gallon of milk in one hand and a quart of orange juice in the other, a customer just ahead of me appeared to be stocking up to make a run for the Donner Pass, and all she could talk about was the storm.

    January 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • MET010414 lunsford 2.jpg THE OFF SEASON: Seeing the miraculousness of the ordinary

    It was just a few nights ago that I announced to my wife that I was headed outside to watch the International Space Station pass overhead.

    January 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Millay at Steepletop.jpg ‘Afternoon on a Hill’: The formal poet who led an informal life — Edna St. Vincent Millay

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of an afternoon exploring the rural gardens and home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay near Austerlitz, N.Y. Join Lunsford in February for the sixth installment of this series as he wanders along the wooded shorelines of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.

    January 5, 2014 6 Photos

  • MET121713 lunsford radio.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Lying by the warm radioside

    I am writing this piece well before Christmas Eve, although you wouldn’t think that it can be far away by the look of things out my windows tonight.

    December 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • MET120713lunsford.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘The mind is a dark forest’

    If you hadn’t noticed by reading this newspaper or hearing me crow about it myself, I have another collection of stories out in print.

    December 8, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beach Roses.JPG Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio

    Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.

    December 1, 2013 8 Photos

  • MET100913 woolybear.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Inching on toward a cold winter?

    I’m not ready for snow and ice and the daggers of a north wind, but I have finally accepted the fact that winter is nearly here.

    November 24, 2013 1 Photo

  • B Plot at Epinal France.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘I’m going simply because I’ve got to … ’

    Late in the year 1944, the great Hoosier war correspondent Ernie Pyle, mentally and physically exhausted from his months reporting from the battlefields of Europe, came home for the last time. He was scrawny and gray.

    November 11, 2013 4 Photos

  • Black Cat.JPG MIKE LUNSFORD: Pumpkins: Good for the fork and the (carving) knife

    My wife and I are fairly frugal; we are budgeters and planners. In the fall, we set aside what we’ll need to heat the house and pay the doctor and buy sensible shoes for school. I think we’re going to have to open an account for pumpkins, too.

    October 28, 2013 3 Photos

  • Stephen Kim 1.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Déjà vu, courtesy of violinist prodigy

    It’s been said that the longer married couples stay together, the more they begin to think alike. I can’t refute that, although, for my wife’s sake, I hope a similar theory — that they begin to look alike, too — is far from true.

    October 14, 2013 2 Photos

  • Harry Evans Bridge II.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge

    It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.

    September 30, 2013 6 Photos

  • MET0909113goldenrod.jpg Mike Lunsford: The golden rods of September

    The sunflowers that are framed in my cabin’s eastside window are soon to become things of the past, for no matter how much I water and weed, the time has come for them to go.

    September 16, 2013 2 Photos

  • MET083013lunsford squirrel2.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: It isn’t the end but it is the beginning of the end …

    I had every intention of writing about Labor Day today; it has become a tradition of sorts for me because it seems as though my column and the holiday have an annual convergence. But as I thumbed through a number of other stories I’d written on the subject, I felt I had nothing new to say.

    September 2, 2013 1 Photo

  • tslunsford MIKE LUNSFORD: A long day’s journey into night

    We arrived at the sprawling hulk of a motel well after dark, the parking lot pitch black except for a few spots illuminated by flickering blue lights that hummed a monotonous tune.

    August 19, 2013 1 Photo

  • Beulah Gravestone.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: Searching for Beulah Jane

    EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s Mike Lunsford column is the second in a two-part story on his search to solve a family mystery. Part 1 was published in Monday’s Tribune-Star. Both are available at

    August 6, 2013 2 Photos 1 Story

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: The girl who wasn’t my grandmother

    EDITOR’S NOTE: We travel this week with Mike Lunsford on a journey across miles and memories, as he seeks answers to a long-ago family mystery. Today’s column is the first of a two-part story. Part II will run Tuesday.

    August 5, 2013 1 Story

  • A Sailboat on the Lake.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Once more to the lake…’

    We are heading home today after spending a few days on Lake Michigan, and I am a bit sad for the leaving. We have made it a habit to come here every year, dragging weary bones and beach towels and enough breakfast food to last us a week. And, as expected, when I turn my back on the cool blueness of the lake for the last time this afternoon, I’ll know that another year has gone by, and there’s no getting it back.

    July 22, 2013 1 Photo

  • Frost Writing C…Near Ripton.jpg Poets at heart, writer, wife walk paths that Frost walked

    A few summers ago, my family traveled to New England to see what we could see. Along the way, we dipped our toes into Walden Pond, holy waters to those who have read Henry David Thoreau. My wife and I returned to the region last month to seek shrines that poets at heart revere: the Vermont homes where Robert Frost wrote magical words.

    July 21, 2013 7 Photos

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: Mice really do play when the cat’s away

    I am rarely away from my place much in the summer. I like the quiet here and don’t yearn to be gone for very long at a time. To me, a vacation often means that I don’t have to start my car for days on end, or put on socks, for that matter. But this year has been different; my wife and I took a two-week driving trip through New England, the longest vacation we’ve ever had without our kids along for the ride. We had a great time, but when we got back, we were surprised to learn that all kinds of things had been going on in our absence.

    July 8, 2013

  • MIKE LUNSFORD: A New England journal begins …

    BAR HARBOR, MAINE — I am beginning this story before I can possibly know how it ends. The view from my window isthat of a green Maine countryside on a Thursday morning, so I felt compelled to get started, knowing a deadline looms. It is difficult work, not because I have so few ideas from which to draw, but because I have so many. …

    June 24, 2013

  • tslunsford MIKE LUNSFORD: We’ve created a honey of a problem

    The Dutch clover is making its appearance in my yard this week. A cooler-than-usual spring has slowed its arrival by a few days, but it is here for now, bringing the honeybees and bumblebees with it.

    June 10, 2013 1 Photo

  • Green Heron3.JPG A walk in the woods

    I went for a walk in the woods one day last week after work. It was a warm and green afternoon, and a fresh blue breeze blew in from the west like a new spring friend.

    April 28, 2013 5 Photos

  • MET041013dowsing.jpg MIKE LUNSFORD: ‘Dowsers’ provide hope more than science

    My grandfather was a man of God. Many times I saw him, his right hand held high in the air at his Wednesday night “prayer meeting,” praising the Lord before weeping at the altar on his knees. And yet, he was a “dowser,” a “diviner,” a “witcher” who, as a favor, would grab a forked sassafras stick and find water for some poor unfortunate whose well had gone dry.

    April 15, 2013 2 Photos

Latest News Poll
AP Video
Ukraine: Military Recaptures Eastern Airport NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse Pistorius Cries During Final Cross-Examination Raw: Storm Topples RVs Near Miss. Gulf Coast Raw: Horse Jumping Inspires 'Bunny Hop' Police: Woman Stored Dead Babies in Garage First Women Move to Army Platoon Artillery Jobs Raw: Kan. Shooting Suspect Faces Judge Sex Offenders Charged in Serial Killings The Boston Marathon Bombing: One Year Later Suspect in Kansas Shootings Faces Murder Charges OC Serial Murder Suspects May Have More Victims Michael Phelps Set to Come Out of Retirement Tributes Mark Boston Bombing Anniversary Scott Brown Announces Run for U.S. Senate in N.H New Tactic Deployed in Search for Plane Police: Blast in Nigerian Capital Kills 71 US Supports Ukraine's Efforts to Calm Tensions Prosecutor Presses Pistorius at Murder Trial Today in History for April 15th
NDN Video
8-year-old Boy Gets His Wish: Fly Like Iron Man Toddler climbs into vending machine Much-Anticipated 'Gone Girl' Trailer Finally Debuts! (VIDEO) Dog and Toddler Wear Matching Outfits in Adorable Photo Series VP Biden: "World witnesses ordinary citizens doing extraordinary things" It's Official! Michael Strahan Joins "GMA" Blood Moon Time-lapse Actress Lake Bell Goes Topless The Five Weirdest Local Taxes in America Applicants Vying for 'World's Toughest Job' Get Heartwarming Surprise Awkward: Crist catches Lt. Gov. insulting him on camera NASA Showcases Lunar Eclipse US Airways Tweets Graphic Photo of Nude Woman Behind the scenes of the Marathon anniversary photo shoot American Airlines Responds After Girl Tweets Alleged Terror Threat 'Joke' Charlie White's "Dancing" Mistake Olympic Great & Baltimore Native Michael Phelps Ends Retirement; Eyes Rio 2014 NFL Draft: Potential Booms And Busts William and Kate Squash Baby No. 2 Rumors With a Wine-Tasting Trip Who Showed Up at Coachella?

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
  • -


    March 12, 2010