Three Katrinas and Education

Callista and I were participating in an amazing book signing in Naples, Florida on Saturday (900 people, five hours!) when a new Katrina entered my life.

The original Katrina was Dr. Katrina Yielding, my government teacher at baker high school in Columbus, Georgia. She taught me a great deal about rigorous thinking, integrity and seriousness of purpose.

The second Katrina was of course the hurricane which hit New Orleans in 2005. As a Tulane graduate student who had lived in The Big Easy for three years, it was tragic to see the devastation, and in particular the failure of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The third and most recent Katrina was eight and a half years old. She confidently walked up to our table at the Books-a-Million this past Saturday.

“I have three questions for you,” she announced solemnly as the future reporter I am certain she will become. (Her mother is a writer and told us later that her daughter had narrowed her twelve questions down to three to have a reasonable number.)

“Have you ever met a president, and which was your favorite?” was her first question. I’ve met eight presidents, I told her, and Ronald Reagan is my favorite president of those I have known personally.

Callista prompted, “Who are your all time favorites?” Without a doubt, they are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, I told Katrina.

As Elicia Dover from ABC News reported, I went on to tell her:

“I’m not president yet but with your help I might be.”

“If you become president, will you order Godfather’s Pizza?”

“I like Herman Cain. Godfather’s Pizza is good. I eat too much pizza. I’m not supposed to eat too much pizza. Do you like Godfather’s Pizza?” I asked.

“I haven’t had it before,” Katrina said.

“Well, I will tell Herman Cain that you should get some Godfather’s Pizza,” I said.

Katrina asked him one last question before moving on. “If you have pets,” she said, “what are you going to do with them?”

“I don’t have pets right now, but I love pets,” Gingrich said. “We used to have dogs which I like a lot. Maybe when we get to the White House we might get a dog.”

 It was a great interview.

The reporters, tired of covering politics, swarmed around Katrina.

She handled them with the ease of a veteran.

As I thought about how mature and knowledgeable Katrina was for a third grader, and of my inspiring high school teacher and the many students whose educations were damaged by the hurricane, it reminded me of the scale of our problems in education. The current system serves far too many of our young people poorly.

Katrina can learn more, and she can learn it faster and better, than our education system is prepared to handle.

She, along with many of her peers, will be slowed down, diluted, and bored by the pace of the curriculum and the group mentality of modern bureaucracy.

Katrina serves as a reminder that American children can compete with students anywhere in the world if we are committed to sweeping away the bureaucracy and solving our problems.

We must reshape the education system to empower and accelerate the eager Katrinas in our midst—not reshape ambitious young students to be as slow and mediocre as the current system itself.