Scattered Well, Please!


I’m not going to break any new ground in this post, but ever since spring break, I’ve had something I’ve wanted to get off my chest and it’s not going away. I’ve fought back the urge to write this post because I didn’t want to insult anyone or get anyone’s knickers in a knot. But, it’s in my nature to make people mad, so I’m taking Admiral Farragut’s advice and steaming on ahead.

Simply put, the greatest argument against the wrongheaded thinking that is No Child Left Behind and all its accompanying legislation can be summed up in two words — Waffle House. Okay, so maybe in your neck of the woods it’s Huddle House or Pancake House or even Falafel House, but you know the place I’m talking about. If everyone has to be, as the pundits would have us believe, a rocket scientist, who is going to work at Waffle House? Who is going to write down my order for two waffles, dark and a large order of hash-browns scattered, smothered, covered, chunked, topped, diced, capped, and peppered — with a vanilla Diet Coke? Who is going to ladle the Batter of Life onto that Heavenly waffle iron at 3:00 AM so I can bring my inevitable meeting with the cardiac surgeon just a bit closer?

Now, let me, as the cowboys say, “Whoa up,” right here a minute and get one thing straight with everyone who has gotten all red in the face at my perceived elitism. Those of you who know me are aware that I was raised from pillar to post following Mama after we lost our home when my daddy left. When we finally got to settle down the summer before I started 8th grade, it was to live in a 15’X50′ 1965ish single wide trailer with no heat in the winter and one room of A/C in the summer. Mama dropped out of school in 10th grade and still kept a roof over my head and enough food on the table to make me fat a freaking mud. Mama worked in a textile mill. Long as you are earning your money and not hurting anyone, you work where you can or where you want to. If slinging burgers at the Golden Arches is the best a person can do then sling on, my brother, and as a matter of fact I will have fries with that. I’ve got NO PROBLEM with a man, woman, boy, or girl earning an honest dime as best as he or she can.

Believe me, I’ve worked some crappy jobs. I’ve also worked some nasty jobs that, if I’d stayed with them and the job had kept going, would have netted me a whole lot more than I make now. I personally knew (as friends only, not in the Biblical sense of “and Cain knew his wife and they begat . . . “) more than one young lady of unimpeachable morals and inadequate resources who put herself through a certain university in the Upstate of South Carolina by um, . . . “dancing” at a “gentlemen’s” establishment called CatTails. One is a doctor now. One is a lawyer . . . and one, well, one got used to $1000 a week for three nights’ of work and never bother to get out of the trade and last I heard she’s down in Atlanta at one of those high dollar clubs the Atlanta Falcons, Braves, and Hawks visit after practice.

Bottom line, I’m not pointing fingers at what anyone does to get by because in the end, that’s all any of us are trying to do — get us and ours by and make ends meet hopefully with a little left over to have some fun every now and then.

A brief digression if you will permit me. Waffle House now and forever holds a special place in my heart because in my Papa John’s last years after many strokes and heart attacks took his vitality but left him insomnia, he would get up at all hours of the night and drive 25 mph all 14 miles on back roads to the Waffle House near our hometown and he’d sit for hours drinking coffee and eating fried egg sandwiches that a precious cook named Mr. Willie and a loving waitress named Ms. Maggie would fix for him. Then they’d call me or Mama and let us know where he was and that he was safe. That might not seem like much you, but to a man like my Papa John, full of pride but past his prime, it meant the world.

Mr. Willie didn’t need a master’s degree in culinary arts from Johnson and Wales to cook bacon and eggs at Waffle House! Ms. Maggie didn’t even need a high school diploma. For that matter, observing the usual third shift crew at our local store, you don’t even need all your teeth, but a tattoo or four does seem to be mandatory. Waffle House employs a tandem axle dump-truck load (that’s a whole bunch for the yankees in the audience) of people as waitresses and cooks and a good chunk of them have never walked across ANY stage to pick up a piece of paper.

Our homes are built by day laborers and equipment operators and carpenters and plumbers who dropped out of school but got a degree in LIFE and now are productive and motivated in a way that every standardized test in America will never measure. My Papa Frank used to always tell me the world would make a place for a man with a quick mind and a strong back. Jobs are available all over this country that, contrary to what our guidance counselors and career specialists say, don’t require any formal training at all. Some of those jobs pay very, very well. If you don’t believe it, get in the phone book and get some quotes on having your driveway paved by a good crew. The job ain’t cheap folks, but asphalt is, so somebody is getting money somewhere and that redneck looking fellow in the cab of the steamroller might look scary, but — assuming he’s worth the powder it would take to blow his brains out — his bills are paid and his family is fed and he isn’t holding up a liquor store.

It’s all well and good to say “everyone needs to graduate high school.” What we really need to do is look hard at WHY we say that. Who are we making feel good? I’ve got a buddy right now whose mama was my fourth grade reading teacher, his daddy’s an engineer, but he dropped out of college after half a semester to start his own landscaping business and he’s done just fine. He employs about 15 people in 3 crews and is making money hand over fist. So, who is elitist? Who gets to decide that “everyone needs to graduate high school.” Papa Wham always said “This world needs ditch-diggers just as much as it needs doctors.”

What’s the difference other than the fact one has a lot cleaner feet! I can tell I’ll be coming back to this topic later, but for now . . .

Love y’all and, Mr. Cook, if you would, make my bacon crispy, my toast dark, and my feet . . . well, y’all know how I want my feet now, don’t y’all!  Til next time.


5 responses »

  1. Part of the problem is the massive number of “standards” we have to “cover.” If we could cut those by two thirds we could get all of them in for the general population and anyone that wanted to could go further and deeper with them. Science as an example: wouldn’t it be better to graduate kids with a deep understanding of inquiry and the methods of science and have kids of differing abilities express this in their own way than spending countless hours cramming a million facts down their throats? Same goes for history, etc…

  2. Thanks for a your comments. I totally agree. NCLB is idealistic, and sadly God didn’t create everyone equal. We need equal opportunities, but not all receives the motivation from home or school to take advantage of those opportunities to move on. I still like to think of society as a chain, and we are linked together whether we like it or not. Each is important, and no person is better than another. Vocational programs are very important in our schools.

  3. Well, I too think NCLB is wrong-headed and stupid and will probably continue the trend of driving good people out of teaching, BUT I do want to say a word for equal opportunity. No, not everyone has to graduate from h.s. (and a couple of kids from here who did not go to college did great for themselves and would have without the high school education), but it’s fair to want to be sure everyone has a more or less equal chance to be educated. But NCLB isn’t the way to ensure that. I think one key is to put lots more attention on early childhood, because that’s most often where the game is won or lost. I’ve subbed some and can tell you that even in kindergarten you can tell who’s going to do well in school and who not. By third grade it’s blindingly clear. That’s my morning rant. Thanks for writing about this.

  4. I would have agreed w/Kate W a couple of weeks ago, but then I heard an episode of This American Life (you can download a podcast of it for free @ called “The Wrong Side of History” and one of the reporters, his dropout brother and an economist had this very discussion with some surprising results.

    This post also reminds me of a great talk given by Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” fame who has some similar and insightful things to say about the economy.

    Great post, as usual!

  5. I have to agree with you on one point – not everyone has to go on to college, or even finish high school, and that’s okay. In fact, I know I was the only person in my Education for Employment class that thought the whole school-to-work thing was great, and I’ve always found that a sad statement about our future educators in the class with me. Two quibbles: in my state, your plumber has to have gone to trade school and be licensed; and I think that as bad as NCLB is, the goal was really to keep schools and teachers from making excuses for teaching children poorly. Not everyone has to finish high school, but everyone who gets through ought to have gotten the opportunity to gain knowledge enough to get by in college. I look at some of my cousins who went to the high school I would have attended if we hadn’t moved to a more affluent suburb, and I’m horrified that they didn’t get anything like the opportunities to learn I did. They didn’t have those challenging classes. They didn’t have teachers who expected them to finish high school and continue on. They didn’t have someone submitting their good work to competitions, or technology to help them succeed easily in the work world. So they struggle without GEDs or fight their way through Associates degrees.

    The trick is giving kids opportunities without having unreasonable expectations of schools and teachers. How do we encourage kids to meet their potential while not believing in the big lie that everyone can be a rocket scientist, or suggesting that those who can’t be a rocket scientist are worthless?

    And not to be a “the world is different” chanter, but it is different. It’s much harder to find a job without a diploma than it was just 20 years ago. It’s much more precarious financially. As our average education level rises, our minimum education does as well. The number of people who can be recession-proof remains about the same, but just like the growth of high school attendance in the 1890s raised the bar, the growth of college attendance has in our new century.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s