Thursday, December 09, 2004

Education or training for government dependence

The Smallest Minority has a rambling, but rather interesting post about the left. While all of it is interesting, a section on the incompetence of public schools sent me searching for one of his references.

Are public schools in America so bad because of incompetence, or is it really by design?

Mrs du Toit Weblog has this quote:
“You can’t make Socialists out of individualists. Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming where everyone is interdependent.”
--John Dewey (1859-1952), reformer of the American public school system
Both my parents spent part of their careers in the educational system in America.

My father was an administrator in several districts. At one point, he was principal of school designed using "the Open Concept." This meant that there were no walls between classes. The theory was that students would learn more by hearing other lectures. The reality was that no one learned anything in the chaos. He oversaw the construction of walls.

My mother taught 2nd grade. As far as I was concerned she taught 2nd grade just about forever. This was - at least at the time - the grade where kids really learned to read and write. For years she taught phonics - the method used to teach children to read for centuries I think. But eventually the use of phonics was forbidden, and "whole language" became the current theory. She retired. And of course, we don't write as well as we did. We don't understand as well as we must to face the 21st Century. (For more on the insanity in schools see A Small Victory.)

When Ken Burns' Documentary The Civil War was first played, I was amazed by the letters written by privates - farmers, farm-hands, laborers - home to their wives, mothers, sweethearts. Those farm-boys could write. So why is it that Americans can't write today? Is it just incompetence? Or did Dewey know what he was talking about?

Did the designer's of the Open Concept really believe that learning could take place in that environment? Or was the chaos part of the design?

Why do we no longer teach history? (Civics or Social Science is NOT history.) So that we can be doomed to repeat it? So the failures of the left in Soviet Russia, China, Cuba, et al don't need to complicate matters for the left? Why does no one remember that Nazi is short for National Socialist Party? The left, after all, controls a big piece of the educational machinery in this country.

Why was phonics forbidden? Was it just to increase the market of Hooked on Phonics, or was it to ensure that large sections of the population could not read? Or could not read well enough to succeed in America - and therefore become dependent on the government and all those programs the left loves?

Why was discipline removed from the school system? To make it better? Safer? A more welcoming learning environment? Most urban schools are akin to war zones.

We spend something like $10,000 to 13,000 per student in large urban school districts. Small private schools might spend 7 or 8000. With 50% (or more) additional resources, shouldn't they do a better job? (If I bought a car, and you bought one costing 50% more I hope you got a better car.) As somebody pointed out, "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

I am not quite ready to sign up for the conspiracy theory, but we need to judge programs and institutions by the results they produce not by the intentions of their architects. "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions." If something is not working - it needs to be changed. If something is working, we need to do more of it. The current educational regime is not working. We need to go back to the basics. Reading, Writing, Math, History, Geography, Science.

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