Re ‘Eh?’

by Jay Nordlinger

Thanks to all readers who have written in about the “overamplification of American life” (at least as I see it, or hear it). They were responding to this column or this blogpost. I’d like to publish one more letter, in part because it contains another point, which I’d like to elaborate on:

I’ve just read your correspondent’s story about the amplified junior-high students. As a junior-high teacher, I can offer a little more insight. They were probably wired simply because someone had bought the equipment.

No one, 30 years ago, thought that junior highs should be awash with amplification. Today, our supposedly cash-strapped schools fling money at technology like monkeys with a new pile of poo. I have in my room an amazing sound system that cost thousands of dollars so that I can be amplified when I teach biology. 

I don’t use it, but the taxpayers of my district shelled out for it. 

Ah, yes: the “cash-strapped schools,” or “cash-starved schools” — an article of faith my entire life (no matter what the facts). Let me reprint something I have reprinted before — worth it, I think (hope):

Some years ago, I was interviewing Marilyn Horne, the great mezzo-soprano. . . . She was decrying the state of music education in the schools, and saying how there was not nearly enough money available. Instead of arguing with her — I was the interviewer, after all — I asked her about her own music education, the schooling she obtained when she was growing up in Bradford, Pa. Oh, it was wonderful, she said. The principal of the school was the music teacher, too, and they had their music lessons down in the basement, with just a pitchpipe — nothing else. Not even a piano. But, boy, did they learn.

And I remarked, “That did not take much money, did it?” She agreed. What it took was the care and consideration of the teacher: a desire to transmit something important, or at least delightful. I think of this story almost every time the subject of money and the schools — per-pupil spending and so on — is raised. Money is great, indispensable. So are other things.