Posted November 14th 2010 at 11:12 pm by
in Kentucky, The Thoughtful Coal Miner

Public Education in the Coalfields

Too many youngsters are victims of underfunded  and poorly managed school systems within the coalfields. Students who aren’t shining stars (shining stars being of either a natural academic ability or more often a wealthy parent) are left by the wayside where it is assumed they will either be a coal miner or marry a coal miner.

– Daniel Hawkins

 

I was recently talking to a wonderful lady. Like me she enjoys meeting strangers and chatting with them, sometimes loosing track of time and enjoying a conversation that goes on for hours. As we spoke the subject of coal mining came up, as well as the choices many young people eventually face who grow up in the coalfields.

She told me an interesting story of her son, local schools, and his avoidance of the coal mines. When he was young he was diagnosed with a hearing disability, not a severe one, but one that at least caused him some academic troubles in school. She told me of the school system’s unwillingness to help her son and the many fights she had with them over the matter.

Instead, the help her son needed came from an unlikely place. She explained, “One time we took him to the pediatrician he had had since birth. When he told the doctor of his concerns at school the doctor told him, ‘No need to worry about it, you’ll probably end up living in a trailer above your mother’s and working in a mine anyways’. That lit a fire under him and he set out to prove that doctor wrong”. Whether the doctor was being malicious or said such a thing intentionally to spur the boy to do better, no one knows, but according to his mother he did work hard to stay away from the mines.

She also told of another child she knew who just recently dropped out of high school. His reasoning? He didn’t need school, he could get a job in the mines. I had hoped such practices were a thing of the past, but it continues today. Too many youngsters are victims of underfunded  and poorly managed school systems within the coalfields. Students who aren’t shining stars (shining stars being of either a natural academic ability or more often a wealthy parent) are left by the wayside where it is assumed they will either be a coal miner or marry a coal miner.

Teachers are underpaid in the coal fields and most leave to find higher pay and better school systems elsewhere. Of the teachers who do stay to teach in the coalfield, only a very few have the convictions and compassion Mrs. Johnson showed her students in the movie Dangerous Minds. When I was in school, most faculty, including guidance counselors, assumed we would not succeed and gave us little more education than what was needed to maintain their jobs as educators. Apparently, little has changed.

The lady also told me her son now lives only two hours away in a different part of the state. She said the schools her grandchildren attend are world apart from the ones we know.  Despite the fact they are within the same state, governed by the same laws, and funded by the same tax dollars, the attitudes of the faculty and the tools they have to do their job easily puts ours to shame.

Daniel Hawkins is a former coal miner from Virginia. Having finally gotten fed up with current labor practices and environmental destruction within today’s Appalachian coal mines, he has left the mines in search of a better future for his family. In this series, he looks into Appalachia’s past and possibilities for the future. You can find his full series on his own blog, http://thoughtfulcoalminer.blogspot.com/. This post originally appeared on Daniel’s blog on Monday, November 8, 2010.

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