Saturday, June 9, 2012

My latest column - American public education

We have recently learned that only 37% of Michigan students are proficient in math. Only 15.6% of students in Pellston, and 8.7% of those in Alanson, are proficient.  Florida, when faced with the fact that only 1/3 of its students could pass their writing test, simply lowered their expectations by lowering the passing grade.  Do they think this serves the students?
   We can spread the blame around: to teachers, their mandated agendas and schedules, to parents and students.  There are many more knowledgeable than I who should be brainstorming solutions to having unqualified and ill-prepared graduates.
   Teachers could be concentrating on the old-school priorities of reading, writing and arithmetic first and only, until all students have the skills which prepare them for productive lives.  Perhaps smaller classes in the early years, with trained parents volunteering one-on-one tutoring, would be productive.  Today’s teachers have so many things they must teach that they just don’t have the time, some schools actually say, to teach such basic things as the alphabet and cursive writing.  They expect parents to teach those things, immediately putting at risk the students whose parents do not cooperate.  Students are currently passed along through public schools even though they lack the proficiency they need, so they graduate unprepared for life’s possibilities for upward mobility.  Perhaps we should worry less about their feelings and more about their skills.
   As we can see from decades of mandates from the Federal Department of Education, more and more money, and more and more social agendas, does not produce better educated students.  “No Child Left Behind” is an example of a good idea with poor outcomes.  Perhaps we should consider ending the power of the federal department while once again putting more money and authority with the state, savings billions of dollars.    Charter schools and school choice have proven to be successful, but are vehemently disapproved of by teachers unions.  As much as we all might like the idea of very expensive forced busing for integration, it has not improved the education skills of anyone.  Long bus rides have decreased the time our children have to be at home, playing with friends and spending time with family.  A child asked me why he can’t just go to school, learn what needs to be learned, and then go home.  It’s a fair question. 
   Thirteen year old Jada accepted an award from the Frederick Douglass Foundation in NY and divulged that her original essay on the Narrative of Life of Frederick Douglas was never submitted because she was accused of offending her teachers with her writing.  She was harassed and forced to leave the school for writing that she wanted teachers to be accountable for instructing even the “unteachable”, to find more productive ways to teach.  In defense of teachers, some students are “unteachable” not because the teacher is not doing her job, but because of the influences of home, where education is not valued, there are no consequences for poor decisions, discipline is ignored and making the most of one’s opportunities is not expected.
   On the other hand, schools take the time to inculcate students with social agendas, teaching what to think, not how to think.  Some have even been taught the art of protest and have been taken to political protests on school time!
   An economics professor at Valencia College in Florida described the extent to which our public education has redefined its agenda.  Eighty percent of his students thought they should be given a house, a job, retirement, vacations, free health care, tuition, a house down-payment, and a job, taxing the rich to achieve it all.  They said they weren’t responsible for their own actions, so government should control those “who don’t care about others”.  To be instructive, the professor took all their wallets, rifled through them, and took their cash, saying, “I want the American dream, and your money will help me achieve it.”  Perhaps the students learned why “spreading the wealth” may not be all that it is cracked up to be. 
   The American dream should be realized with effort, pride, responsibility and a good education. Responsibility requires making the choices which lead to success, or to failure.
 David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at the school, delivered his rather unusual speech (see full text below) Friday, telling graduating seniors that they had been “pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped.”
It was all said in the context of telling students that there is a big wide world out there and that they should not succumb to a culture in which everyone gets a trophy. McCullough, son of the award-winning historian David McCullough Sr., advised the students to seize the future by doing what they love, rather than taking a job for money.
“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you,” he said near the end of the speech.
But he wasn’t exactly kind in getting to his message.
“Contrary to what your soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special,” he said.
Following is an amazingly powerful ad made by the Catholic Church.  It pertains to anyone who favors the old fashioned values that made America great.  You will enjoy watching it.........


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