The educational system in our country is falling apart at an ever increasing rate. Students leave high school by either dropping out or receiving a "feel good" piece of paper called a diploma. In either case they are neither capable nor motivated to contribute to the continued progress of our country. On the contrary, we are creating a class of people that will squander an ever increasing portion of our nation's resources.
Where have we been, how did we get where we are, and what can we do to correct the situation? These questions will be addressed in the following dialog.
In the beginning, the schooling of our country's children was provided by home tutoring and private institutions. Wealthy families were better able to provide educations for their children. Around the middle of the 19th century, the education of children was given a high priority. Many states set aside large sums of money, often derived from the sale of land, for the purpose of funding education. Common-school advocates worked to establish a free elementary education financed by public funds.
Compulsory school attendance laws were passed for elementary-age children. The detailed administration of schools was left under local control. The rationale for this increased emphasis on schooling was as follows:
An educated public is necessary for the proper functioning of a democracy.The curriculum of these early elementary schools concentrated on knowledge that could be applied to everyday life. The learning was largely by rote. Religious and moralistic concepts were embedded in the lessons as in the McGuffey Readers. Ninety-seven percent of the 6 to 9 year old population attended elementary school while the attendance at secondary schools fell to 2%. Secondary education tended to expand into the teaching of foreign languages, more advanced mathematics and the sciences.
A common school system will tend to "Americanize" foreign immigrants.
Mandatory schooling will create more productive citizens and reduce crime.
A broad education will teach morality and diffuse the emphasis on materialism.
As the country progressed into the 20th century, adjustments in the educational curriculum were required to prepare citizens for a more complicated world. As technology made life less arduous, a greater segment of the population was left with free time on their hands. Much of the work which showed immediate or short term results was being performed by technology.
This centralization of education created an opening for otherwise idle people that tend to drift toward the nearest bureaucracy. They began to propose ideas that could not be easily refuted. These people exaggerated the problem by tending to deal with abstractions and often shunned the scientific testing of their ideas. They were, of course, supported by much of classical philosophy which also extolled the virtues of pure thought.
The centralized structure of the common-school system gradually became dominated by liberal idealists that do not deal with reality and resist all attempts to do so. Let's look at a few of their programs:
Whole Language - Students are expected to learn each word as an complete entity. By contrast, phonetics is the traditional method of learning language. It breaks words down into individual sound components called phenomes. The English language is made up of only 45 distinct phenomes "Whole language" forces students to treat each word in the english language as a separate complex symbol rather than a group of letters and sounds. This approach was rejected by the Phoenicians in 1600 BC. They created an alphabet with only 22 sounds to remember which was a huge advancement over previous complex symbolic languages.Implicit in all these teaching programs is the idea that discipline retards creativity. This spills over into the classroom where discipline has been almost completely ignored. Over the years students have progressed from bad mouthing the teachers to intimidation; from concealing knives to taking drugs; from carrying guns to overt shootings of teachers and students. We should go back to what I call the "chewing gum" principle. When I was in school, if you were caught chewing gum you were subject to disiplinary action. This tended to eliminate any thoughts of the more exotic ways of causing trouble.
Project-Oriented Instruction - In this scenario, students are expected to be educated by mixing all the traditional disciplines, such as math, english, history and science, into a single learning experience Doesn't this sound a little like "whole language?" It would seem that breaking down a problem into it's component parts would be productive. The concept of analysis has long been inherent in the process of learning. If we look in the dictionary we find analysis defined as "breaking up of any whole into it's parts to find out their nature, function, and interrelationships." Project-oriented instruction by-passes this process
New Math - This method de-emphasizes correct answers, relies on "flexibility" and places value on "reasonable" answers. A similar approach is taken in spelling and grammar where misspelled words are close enough. Children are thus taught that striving for accuracy is not important. Another trick is what I call the "team math" approach. The school my son attended in Wisconsin grouped math students into teams of three students of differing ability. The "team" amswer to a math problem was the result of the work of the superior student in the group. Everyone on the team received the same grade thereby allowing the teachers to claim that grade averages were improving. Such practices are an insult to our intelligence. Of course if you are a liberal - the important thing is to "feel" good.
The school system is not the total cause of the loss of discipline. Parents who were sold on the Dr. Spock method of raising children now bring law suits against school administrators who attempt to impose discipline on their little darlings. We are creating future generations of adults who have no sense of personal responsibility.
RETURN TO REALITY
What is needed is a return to teaching principles that have proven effective over the centuries. Of course the curriculum must evolve as the country progresses. The primary measure of progress is the advancement of science and technology - not the implementation of untested ideas. It is to be expected that teaching methods will improve with time, but proposed changes must be tested and proven on a small scale under controlled conditions before jumping off the deep end.
Parents need to be advised of the need for discipline in the schools. In the long run, it is the parents that must press for practicality in education. As it now stands, most parents do not have enough information to effectively challenge school administrators. If a competitive atmosphere were created in the field of education, it would become readily apparent which educational system produces results. With public education as it now stands, parents are taxed to support public schools and are reluctant to spend additional money for private schooling. In effect, they have only one choice for schooling - and that is equivalent to no choice at all.
We need to keep the education of our children mandatory for the survival of our democracy. But we don't need to make public schooling mandatory. A governmentally run school system has proven to be a disaster. It has produced an unfettered bureaucracy with ever declining efficiency. Our year to year student improvements in reading, math and science averages only 75% of 17 other industrialized countries. Our expenditures per pupil are among the highest in the world. Privatization of our schools and elimination of the public schools offers the best solution.
This raises the question of how schools in a competitive environment are to be funded. We all have a stake in assuring that the next generation is properly educated. Accordingly, the property taxes that are normally used for funding public schooling should be placed in an education pool. This pooling of funds also allows low income parents to comply with mandatory schooling. Local government contracts should be awarded to private schools. These contracts should provide standards and include scientific testing for measuring progress. Local government control will keep government honest by comparing academic progress with other local school districts.
The advantages of the private schooling approach can be extended to include separate contracts for private schools that take either troublesome or disabled children. Ordinarily, parents should have a choice as to which school their children attend. This is the essense of competition. There must, however, be some limitations on choice with qualification requirements for children with special needs. In this era of advancing technology, many of these special needs might be handled in non-traditional ways. Computers, for example, will undoubtably play an important role.
As usual, we can expect government to gradually propagate an endless list of rules and regulations for the private schools. And we can also predict an eventual huge overhead of paperwork. Local government control should help to mitigate this effect as well. We must, however, treat this intrinsic tendency of government in future discussions ...