Remembering Sister Mary “Brass Knuckles”

Boy, did New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg get himself into a heap of trouble with educators.

While speaking to students at MIT, he said that “in his ideal world he would fire half the city’s teachers and pay those remaining twice as much to teach classes double the current size,” reports The New York Times.

He also said that when he was a kid, classrooms were packed and he and others in his generation did just fine — the idea being that good, committed teachers can handle larger class sizes.

He’s older than I am, but I had the same experience. I was taught by nuns.

Unlike so many schools today, where some teachers fear their students, we feared the sisters.

My second-grade teacher, Sister Mary Brass Knuckles, ran her classroom in a structured, orderly manner. She took guff from no kid.

The floors were so clean, you could eat off them. The blackboards had a brighter sheen than a Mercedes fender. And our desks, subject to frequent and unannounced inspections, were clean and organized — or else.

As for our attire, we weren’t permitted to wear the loose, sloppy clothing kids wear today. We wore trousers, blazers, white shirts, and clip-on ties.

There was a clear sense of right and wrong and a total lack of chaos — no daydreaming, no talking, no joking, no doodling.

It was expected that each student would put forth his best effort. Anything short of trying your hardest was grounds for punishment, which included anything from a call home to a pinched earlobe or a whack on the knuckles with a wooden ruler.

I admit that this environment was especially challenging for me, as I have never functioned well within rigid structures. When I wasn’t cracking jokes and disrupting the class, I was daydreaming.

Fortunately, no behavioral “experts” were around to pump me full of drugs.

One need not be an expert in education to conclude that the nuns’ basic rules weren’t such a bad way to go.

Adults were in charge and respected, students were disciplined and orderly, and teachers were supported by parents, who were eager for their kids to master math, science, and English.

Self-esteem and other “psychological” concepts weren’t part of the formal teaching plan. Our self-esteem was the result of actual accomplishment. Nobody was praised for accomplishing nothing.

All I know is that the discipline and hard work paid off, even for the most average students. We kids from Catholic schools routinely outscored our public-school peers on tests and were well-prepared for our future endeavors.

Many of my classmates went on to greatness at top schools such as Carnegie Mellon and Notre Dame. I went to Penn State, where I was the first person in school history to graduate with a major in writing — and a minor in air conditioning and heating.

In any event, for several years now, some have argued that more tax money, smaller classes, more teachers, more studies, etc., are the keys to better results in America — even though costs have soared over the past few decades and results have not improved.

What we really need is a return to the rigorous basics — good, committed teachers supported by parents — that are still common in Catholic elementary schools.

As the funnier nuns might say, our education system will only improve when we “rid ourselves of our bad habits.”

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