Teacher sees gap between public, private education

March 09, 2002|By Gregory Kane

"YOU'RE going to love coming to work in the morning," the departing art teacher at Gunston Day School told Ben Dize shortly before he took the job.

Dize has been Gunston's art teacher for three years. As predicted, he does indeed love going to the private school on the banks of the Corsica River just outside Centreville, the county seat of Queen Anne's County on the Eastern Shore.

It's not that Dize didn't love his previous job, mind you. It was just, well, different. His experience highlights the growing chasm between private and public education.

Dize taught art at Kent County High School for 30 years. Kent High is just up the road a piece from Gunston, but for Dize, in terms of educational mission, the schools might as well be light-years apart.

"This is an art teacher's dream come true," Dize said of Gunston. "Small classes, supplies plentiful. Things had been on the decline the last four or five years I was at Kent."

Dize remembers getting two, maybe three troublemakers in his Kent classes, which averaged 25 to 27 students. (He teaches five to 12 in each class at Gunston.) Before he left in 1999, he was getting seven or eight fools in the classroom.

"Things had started to happen to me in public school that never happened before," Dize recalled. "A couple of guys tried to knock me down from behind. I got cursed out by another student. I had never been cursed out before. I'm an art teacher. I'm not an in-your-face kind of guy."

When his wife retired after 30 years of teaching to attend a seminary, a job opened up at Gunston. Someone from the school called Dize with a job offer.

"It took me about 1.2 seconds to decide I would make a move," Dize said.

He's a native Marylander, born and raised in Crisfield in Somerset County, which is "about as far south in Maryland as you can go." He graduated from Crisfield High School in 1964, received a degree in art education from the University of Maryland in 1968 and a master's in the same subject from what was then Towson State University.

Dize taught wood shop, of all things, at a high school in Howard County before finally settling at Chestertown High School - later Kent - in 1969.

"That was kind of a turbulent time then," Dize said of the late 1960s and early 1970s, not knowing what was coming down the road. Even then, he had to deal with knuckleheads in the classroom, albeit the harmless type. Dize said he ran into one such guy years later who discussed Kent's students now.

"Mr. Dize," the former student said to him, "do you know what the main difference between me and these kids is? You never had to worry about me bringing a gun to school, did you?"

Those were the days before students thought of themselves as the Dalton Gang. That was before America's most dangerous generation - the baby boomers - made drug use a near religion and passed on this folly to America's densest generation: Generation X.

"There's a drug problem everywhere in this country," Dize said. He remembers the first time he ever smelled pot. It wasn't in college. It was in a locker room at Kent.

One day at the school, a kid with long hair - presumably a holdover hippie from the 1960s - came to him with a complaint.

"I've only been here two days," he groused to Dize, "and I've been approached by a half-dozen kids looking to buy drugs."

That's the legacy baby boomers have left. One woman told Dize that, in the 1960s, "we all tried [drugs]." He answered her by saying, "Well, actually I didn't."

Dize swears some kids today have emotional and psychological problems that stem from their parents' drug use.

"I tell them, `There's nothing wrong with you; your parents just took too many drugs,'" Dize said.

For all his criticism of public education - one of his pet gripes is the state "school report card" that penalizes schools for expelling or flunking students - Dize sees hope. He firmly believes that every public school child is entitled to the type of education students get at Gunston.

"Every student should have the benefits that a private system offers," Dize believes, "small classes, individual attention, sense of community, committed teachers and discipline that focuses on changing behavior rather than making excuses."

Such a system would cost more money, of course, but Dize figures America is already paying the extra cost of undermanned and overwhelmed public schools.

"The future of this country rests on its educational system," Dize said. "All the more reason why we need the best. ... Right now, the system favors the brightest and the dullest - these students get the benefit of small classes - while the rest get shortchanged."

Dize has a plethora of ideas. Higher - much higher - salaries for teachers is among them. One has already been proposed.

"The next thing that needs to be done is get rid of MSPAP and [state school Superintendent] Nancy Grasmick," Dize suggests. "The county superintendents stand in reverential awe of this monstrosity and refuse to listen to their teachers who renounce this thing for the monstrous waste of time it is."

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