It breaks my heart when children graduate with diplomas in political correctness that they cant read without help, and can't understand after you read it to them.
The Agricultural Revolution Arrived
People and Business Adapted
Schools Were Born
The Industrial Revolution Came
People and Business Adapted
The Schools Remained The Same
The Technology Revolution Arrived
People and Business Adapted
The Schools Remained The Same
The Communications Revolution Is Here
People and Business Are Adapting
The Schools Remain The Same
With a few notable exceptions, today's schools bear much of the same basic structure as those of the early Agricultural Age.
The one-room schoolhouse (now being hailed as a new idea) is gone and today we have video conferencing, High Definition Television and the Internet in the classroom.
These new technologies, however, are being used with the teaching methods and philosophies of the distant past.
I had occasion to spend some time with a group of what I consider "average" teenagers at a local high school. These are middle class students, in what is supposed to be one of the better schools in the area. I am appalled by their lack of knowledge of things they will need when they hit the real world.
Here is what I found in my little unscientific survey of 100 randomly chosen students, in grades 10-12:
As low as these numbers are, however, they are slightly better than last year's survey.
This is just a sampling of the people who will be voting and attempting to enter the job market in a few years.
It's Not the Student's Fault!
It's a systemic disease of the school system, and the accompanying bureaucracy.
The system is not just sick, it is terminally ill.
We must replace it before it rots to kill us all.
It's Not a Lack of Money
The U.S. Leads the world in per-student spending.
The U.S. is Sadly Behind in Quality of Education
Chicago teachers are the highest paid in the nation, yet Chicago schools are the lowest in performance
The Federal Government
Eliminate the Federal Department of Education
There is no Constitutional basis for this agency. Why should the states send their education money to the feds, just to have it plundered by an inefficient and corrupt political bureaucracy before the remainder is returned to them with numerous strings attached?
My kids went through a middle school of about 800 students. The turnout at the PTA meetings was usually 20 to 30 people. During the meetings, there were half a dozen or so administrative types, skulking around talking on walkie-talkies like undercover operatives. These self-important people were at the vice-principal level, and the very people who needed to be participating, not playing James Bond on our time. During most of the meetings that I attended, education was never mentioned. The hot topics were.
- The poor quality of the school pictures
- New uniforms for the football team (The band uniforms, old and ratty were not mentioned),
- The litter problem on the school grounds
- Suggestions for keeping the graffiti off of the rest room walls
- Whether students should be required to wear school uniforms
- It was resolved that students would require written permission from their parents to enroll in "family education."
- How to deal with the "problem" of unauthorized gifts of supplies, computers and science project kits directly to teachers -- (It seems that all gifts must go to the school "system" which would determine where they go.)
- A fund raising drive to buy some new books for the library lasted about five minutes and was voted down.
This last item was a noble effort, but if they got rid of just one of the walkie-talkie types they could fund the library for years. This very brief discussion of new books was followed up by a heated discussion of which books were no longer appropriate for the school library, and should be removed. Among those mentioned were Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It seems that these are now blatantly racist.
Here's a novel idea --Why not FEATURE these books, as the center of a student discussion of how attitudes have, or have not, changed since they were written. I'll tell you why not -- it makes too much sense! The idea was quickly silenced.
Funding The Schools
When additional money is given to a school system, it is usually used to hire another junior deputy assistant to the senior deputy assistant to the secretary of the vice-principal for the 10th. grade. More for bureaucrats and paperwork.
The school system should exist as a support mechanism for the classroom teacher.
Teachers should receive the respect and the remuneration due a person who has had at least five years of specialized education.
Having said that, however, along with that respect comes great responsibility, and teachers must fulfill this responsibility to their ultimate clients, the students.
The Teacher's Responsibility
The world depends on each successive crop of graduates being just a bit more prepared than the last. Unfortunately we are regressing. Of course, there are dedicated teachers who are outstanding, primarily by their scarcity. They make the substandard teachers even more obvious by comparison.
Can you believe that one state actually ruled:
"If a student is assigned a substandard teacher in any two consecutive years, they must be assigned a competent teacher for the following year."
I have a better idea ... Fire the Substandard Teachers!
Today's classroom teacher is arguably the one profession on which our future depends more than any other.
When the quality of early education is improved, a larger, more well-prepared supply of technicians, scientists, salespeople, engineers, health care, finance, law and other professionals, executives and small-business owners will automatically and naturally follow.
Why is this critical profession unique in providing lifetime job security, insurance and retirement, even for practitioners who do not perform?
Teachers must be held accountable for their performance.
The concept of tenure, guaranteed job security within a few years, regardless of their performance and effectiveness is in direct conflict with both common sense, good business practice and worker motivation.
Only teachers and politicians are not subject to performance based evaluation, and even politicians can be 'fired' when they don't perform. (Why we don't do that is another topic.)
Until the students, and not the unions and politicians are at the center of the process, this can't happen.
Freedom of Choice -- Privatize Education -- Charter Schools Work!
Here's a touchy subject, privatization of schools and school vouchers. In some areas it costs over fifteen thousand dollars per student, for a year of substandard public education. Many private schools provide a better quality of education at a lower or comparable cost.
Why do we continue to reward our public schools for substandard performance? There is only one place that we can hit them, in their pocketbooks and bank accounts. If a school knew that when students move to another school, the money would follow, they would certainly go the extra mile to hold onto those students.
People will whine about the under-performing inner city schools that will have to close. GOOD! Of course, these same people are slow to pick up on the fact that those schools just might decide to fight for their survival. How would they do that? By providing a better quality of service to the community, and attracting students rather than driving them away.
I'll admit that some of your tax money would be used to send Catholic kids to Catholic school, Jewish kids to Hebrew school, and the like. This is a fine Constitutional line which, I am afraid, has been drawn in the sand. We have been dared to cross it. The consequences for crossing it are largely academic. (no pun intended).
If, however, these schools can turn out a better educated student, prepared to contribute towards the bogus social security fund that you will never see, why not?
If you don't want your taxes funding religious entities, you are in for a rude awakening. That Cathedral or Synagogue sitting on the best piece of prime real-estate on Main Street pays no taxes. You are subsidizing them, along with the one room church in Appalachia, the tent revival that just went up at the fairgrounds, the Mormon Tabernacle, the Mosque on the cornerand the snake-handling fundamentalists back in the mountains.
We need to light the competitive fires under our status-quo system, and continuing to give them our money after we throw in the towel is not the way.
Frankly, I would not send my child to a parochial school, but I don't care if you do. The Constitution guarantees you the right to raise your family as you see fit.
I'll feel better if I know that my tax money is going to provide a quality education for a child. This will hold true whether that child is Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic or atheist. Lets get our priorities in order.
What breaks my heart is when children graduate with diplomas in political correctness but can't read them without help, and can't understand after they are read to them.
The School Term
For the most part, the family farm is dead. They have been foreclosed into easy prey for the big conglomerates. The need for a National Summer Vacation is gone. Most children don't have to plant and harvest. (In fact, most wouldn't know how.)
Would you like to increase available classroom and lab space by 25% immediately? --- Year Round Schools!. Even if a vacation is given, keep the buildings open all year. We're paying for them, let's use them. Rotate classes in and out over the year, after all, 25% of the school year is "off time."
The School Day
Every hour (or in many cases, less) everyone in the school gets up and moves. This is not just inefficient, it's plain stupid. By the time a kid gets to class, sits down, gets prepared, socializes and settles into what can only be loosely described as 'learning mode,' 10 to 15 minutes have passed. (From 15 to 25% of an hour long class.)
Ten minutes or so before the class ends the student's minds begin to wander toward the forthcoming bell, and the next class. (Another 15% of an hour long class.)
What this means is that 30% to 40% of the classroom time is wasted. By having Two hour long classes, an immediate gain of 20 to 25 minutes would be realized. Multiply this by three, two-hour classes per day, and we have just added 60 to 75 minutes of teacher contact hours to the day.
No one denies that a solid core curriculum, firmly grounded in real world skills is a necessity. The way that curriculum is defined and delivered, however, has to change. There is too much emphasis on rote memorization of obscure facts that will only come in handy should the student be a contestant on Jeopardy. Who cares that the battle of Hastings was in 1066. "Around the year 1000," is probably close enough. What is truly important is to be able to place history into a coherent time-line of cause and effect. How many of you could tell me the exact dates of the US Civil War. Isn't "Eighteen Sixtyish" good enough?
Why is learning so much fun on The Discovery Channel, and such a task in the classroom? It's because The Learning Channel and similar media, make subjects interesting by exposing what really matters, the reasons, politics and sociology behind an event. Even the Bible, Qur'an and Torah all take on a new interest when presented as literature -- collections of fables and short stories, rather than as gospel. Even more so when placed into historical perspective.
Outdated Age-based Grade Level System
As any parent or teacher can tell you, different children learn differently, and at different rates. Studies (and adventurous parents) have shown that children can read and comprehend simple text as young as age Two.
Expecting every child in a room of 25-30 Ten year olds to be on the same reading or math level is not just unrealistic, it's absurd.
Some speculate that putting younger children in a class with older ones will result in bullying and violence. That's also whet they said about mixing races in the classroom. The only significant violence was perpetrated by the adults. (And I use the term loosely)
When the history class is studying Medieval Europe, why isn't geography there as well? Math and science classes could be studying the challenge of building a catapult, and actually using it, calculating trajectories and the like. That's when you bring in computers as advanced computational tools, to make life easier only after the basic math skills are learned. (More on this later in the Computer Labs Section.) Other classes should be studying the arts, science and music of the same period.
Yes, this creates a huge coordination problem. These problems, however, are just solutions that have yet to be uncovered.
There are a few progressive schools breaking new ground in this area, but they are far from mainstream, and the NEA doesn't like them one bit..
Real World Education
How about a class Skills for Living. Here students do their taxes, balance a checkbook, build a mailing list, or maybe "buy" a house or car.
In the home buying exercise, they would have to fill out a credit application, negotiate a deal, understand the contract, figure the interest and deal with the lawyers. Students would take turns being buyers, sellers, bankers and lawyers.
These are skills that will serve them, and society well. Banks, business, real-estate agents and even used car dealers would love to volunteer resources for this sort of venture.
Some schools are attempting this now, but only as far as it fits into the "existing system" and in most cases it's an elective rather than required class. (aka Home Economics)
If the existing system does not permit easy integration of this type of "spot learning", then the system is the problem, and must be replaced, not repaired.
Strong computer skills are an absolute necessity today. Most school systems, however, treat computers as an end unto themselves. The average graduating student has no concept about how these tools are used on the job.
Don't try to teach everyone programming, teach spreadsheet macros. Don't teach computers, teach word processing.
In my high school typing class, we didn't spend half the year learning how the typewriter worked, or the history of typing, we learned how to use them. That's why they have both drivers education and auto mechanics. One is for the end users, the other for the fixers and builders.
The computer is a tool, a means to an end, and nothing else. Please stop teaching kids to write programs in obscure languages on outdated computers. Teach them instead, to install and use a spreadsheet or project organizer. If a student wants to go into computer science, then teach them the internals of computing. Make sure, however, that the teacher is qualified.
"I hear Bill has a computer at home, we'll let him run the computer lab." So Bill does the best he can, and teaches outdated folklore as absolute truth. When a kid hits a computer on the job, they are lost. (Unless they go to work testing arcade games.)
We tend to THINK all kids are techno-guru's. That's probably because the few that are even marginally conversant with computers are spectacular compared to much of the over 50 set.
I realize that I have raised more questions than I have answered. Not the least of which are how to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers, and evaluate student performance in a subjective rather than objective environment. But we have to start somewhere.
That's my opinion and you are welcome to it!