Monday, August 23, 2010

Who Is To Blame For School Failure? Part 3 of 5

Read Part 2...

If a store sells inferior products or a business gives bad service, most customers will not come back and that store or business will eventually go bankrupt. If public schools sell bad education, year after year, why don’t they go bankrupt?

Why aren’t they shut down? Why are these schools allowed to coerce parents into giving mind-altering drugs to their children?

The answer is that public schools are protected by government compulsion.
Unlike private schools, public schools are a government-controlled education system that stays in business through naked compulsion. Local governments pass laws that give school authorities near-monopoly powers over our children’s education. Compulsory-attendance laws force children to go to these schools. School taxes force parents to pay for these schools. Unlike private schools, public schools rarely go out of business, no matter how bad they are, because they get their “customers” and their money by force.

Compulsion rears its ugly head in our public schools in many other ways. School authorities threaten to expel students unless parents allow the schools to give mind-altering drugs to their children. Laws or school authorities in many states force teachers to join teach unions, and force local school boards to negotiate with these unions. Licensing laws dictate who can work in public schools, and prevent unlicensed educators or outside experts from teaching in the schools. Many public schools now require high-school students to do involuntary community service in order to graduate. School authorities force children to sit in their classrooms for six to eight hours a day, and to study only the subjects they set up in their curriculums. Like prison wardens, school authorities also dictate how long children must stay in school before they will be “allowed” to graduate.

Public schools also stay in “business” by deceiving their customers. They deliberately dumb down tests, textbooks, and curriculums, and mislead parents about their children’s progress to keep them pacified. Public schools don’t shut down because the whole system rests on a foundation of force and deception.
(Turtel, 162)

The rather scary truth about public schools is that they are controlled – completely – by the government. The government says who works there, what they teach, how they teach it, when they teach it, etc. It doesn’t matter if a child is bored to tears by learning about a certain subject, it is in the set curriculum and therefore that child must learn it. Now, in certain things, like the very basics of reading, writing, math, children must learn whether the subject interests them or not. But in subjects with more leeway – like the arts and sciences, WHY must the children learn things they don’t care about? I can remember being forced to take a General Art class my senior year because it was required for graduation. Yes, in order to graduate I had to spend a semester drawing pictures and painting.

Have I mentioned that I can’t even draw stick people? I love art – to look at. I hate art – when I have to do it myself. What purpose was there, exactly, to making me take that class? Do you mean to tell me that someone actually thinks that the youth of today will be unprepared for life if they missed taking an art class? Now, also in my senior year, I took Band (first chair flute, a very important class to me!), AP English (also very important to me!), Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus (highest math class they offered at my school), Creative Writing, Mythology, Advanced Biology 2, Botany, Ecology, and World History, with an extra period taken up by ‘School Service’. All of those classes were interesting to me, but it was a good thing that was my last year there, because after that year I had exhausted every interesting-looking course available (and taken my share of required un-interesting classes).

So my point is: the government has control. It doesn’t matter what the parents or the students want. Now, the government doesn’t want you to know this. They want you to think that parents have a say in what goes on in their child’s school, and you do - as long as what you want happens to agree with what they want. Other than that, unless you’re willing to devote lots of time (often years – many parents who take on the school authorities are still fighting the same battle after their children have already graduated!) , and lots of money (thousands, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees) – both precious commodities these days, you're out of luck. Read this excerpt from Steve Baldwin and Karen Holgate’s book From Crayons to Condoms, The Ugly Truth About America’s Public Schools:

Many people wonder why parents are not more involved in our public schools. One possible reason is that when parents do get involved in any substantial way, they are gradually shut out of the process. The attitude of school administrators and some teachers seems to be that parents are useful only for organizing bake sales or rubber-stamping bureaucratic goals, but nothing else – and woe to parents who dare to challenge those in “authority.”

Why do the schools get away with this? Because they can. They have no competition. You don’t like your school system? Too bad. Either shell out the money for private school or the money and time to home school, or you’re stuck with this school system, whether you like it or not. There is no free market in education. There is the big government school system, which, of course, children are compelled to attend, lest their parents be faced with criminal charges. I wonder how many parents in America would actually just say, “Oh, my kids don’t need an education,” if the compulsory laws were lifted. Very few, I think. Parents want their kids to get a good education. They want them to be able to get that education in the things which matter to them and interest them, and to get it without having their morals and values ripped apart, and to get it without spending insane amounts of money.

But that doesn’t happen, know why? Because we, as a nation, have unwittingly fallen prey to…

Education Mistake #4 – The Public School Monopoly

Since the job of teaching teachers is a second-class activity even within schools supposedly devoted to teaching, much of the teacher training has devolved to the second- and third-tier teacher factories. These schools are not distinguished by the ferment of their ideas or the vigor of their debate over the future of education. To the contrary, they are characterized by the remarkable conformity among both teachers and students about the nature and future of education. Enthusiasm for cooperative learning, distrust of competition, a suspicion of grades and tests, and an aversion to traditional methods of teaching (including phonics) are almost universal in the schools of education. The beliefs that failure should be abolished and individualism de-emphasized are not merely embraced by the educationists-in-training, they are seldom even questioned in the classrooms in which the nation’s future teachers are trained.

Such schools are caring environments, to be sure, peopled with earnest and sincere young pedagogues who may be unclear about the details of history, literature, or science, but who are committed to transforming society and curing the various ills of civilization and the pathologies from which they are sure their students will suffer. The schools of education have become a priesthood of good intentions and well-meaningness, where would be teachers are taught how to cope with low self-esteem, dysfunctional families, and learning disorders: teachers as therapist, social worker, and Big Sister. The idea of education as the passing on of knowledge is a strangely alien notion to these idealists. As author Rita Kramer noted after visiting schools of education, “the main concern is not inspiring good students but protecting the average and poor ones.” It is taken for granted in the education school classrooms that schools must be in the business of providing “a warm, caring environment…They want everyone to end up with a passing grade - in school, in society, in life.”

“Almost nowhere,” writes Kramer, “did I find teachers whose emphasis was on the measurable learning of real knowledge.” When the self-esteem of students becomes the focus of the schools, she noted, it was no longer important what teachers actually taught or how well students actually performed. Thus, the emphasis in the teachers colleges is on “instructional strategies” to help teachers “cope” with disabled or slow students.

… "The ed school establishment,” Kramer concluded, “is more concerned with politics – both academic and ideological – than with learning.”

These schools produce virtually all of the men and women who will run the nation’s schools – both public and private. Into their hands we commend our future. But given their orthodoxy, it is somewhat naïve to imagine that private and parochial schools will somehow remain immune. It is even more naïve to imagine that either the current or next generation of teachers and administrators will embrace reforms that reemphasize academic excellence and rigor. (Sykes, 88)

Degrees in education are some of the easiest to come by, with useless courses taught by professors who have little to no experience in an actual classroom. The education profession is looked down upon as the lowest of the lows among academic intellectuals.

“Course work in education deserves its ill repute,” James Koerner wrote in the early 1960s. “It is most often puerile, repetitious, dull, and ambiguous – incontestably so.” Koerner found both the professors of education and the subject-field inadequate.

“Admission standards are low and sometimes non-existent,” Koerner wrote, “course work is continuously atomized with little restraint; dissertations, when they are done at all, are frequently triumphs of trivia.” The result was that education was “one of the intellectually weakest, most nebulous, and generally unsatisfactory fields in higher education, although it is the biggest.” (Sykes, 84)

Did you know that teachers with a degree in Elementary Education (which encompasses everything up through the 8th grade in most states) are not required to have any actual expertise in the subject they are teaching? They can be the math teacher even if they hate math, they can be the geography teacher even if they can’t name the state capitols…as long as they have that generalized Elementary Education degree, they can “teach” your kids in whatever courses happen to need teachers. (A note: this was the situation when I was in school, I recently did more research and found that most teacher entering the workforce from 2003 onward had to have minimal knowledge of the subject they would be teaching, but no actual degree in that subject.)

Even teachers with Secondary Education degrees often don’t truly know their own subject well. Why should they, when the curriculum is laid out for them with step by step instructions and lesson plans? I cannot help but remember one day in my Senior AP English class when this point was driven home to me. My teacher had been teaching this same class with this same material for years. She had a Master’s degree. She had been teaching for over thirty years. She had been teaching Hamlet to Senior English classes for over a decade. And yet when I brought up in class the fact that many people think that when Hamlet says to Ophelia: “Get thee to a nunnery,” he may actually have been flinging a sarcastic slur in her direction and actually implying that she get herself to a whorehouse, the teacher looked at me like I was either crazy or stupid and said that she had never heard such a thing.

A Senior English teacher, who had taught this same play for years, had never heard this. Huh.

The next day, a boy in my class brought his own version of Hamlet from home (instead of the class-assigned versions we were supposed to be reading), and showed the teacher where, in the footnotes of his book, it did in fact point out that many people believe Hamlet was insulting Ophelia with that comment.

The teacher was amazed.

I guess she had never bothered to read the play for her own pleasure, but had only read the prescribed lesson plans and discussion points contained within her teacher’s manual.


So why are teachers who are ill-trained, ill-equipped, and often not even interested in their own subjects still teaching? Why haven’t they been sacked in favor of teachers who are innovative, creative, caring, well-trained, and knowledgeable in their subjects? One word:


“…tenure laws make it almost impossible to fire incompetent public-school employees. After a probationary period of two to four years (depending on the state), most teachers get tenure. …Under tenure laws, teachers and principals can only be fired for “just cause” and have the right to “due process” before they can be fired. Unlike owners or managers of private schools or businesses, school boards can’t simply fire a public-school teacher or principal after making a fair review of their conduct or incompetence. Instead, teachers have the right to take their case before various review boards, and then appeal a decision to lower and superior courts set up for these cases.

To dismiss teachers or principals, school boards usually have to file lengthy, aggravating, and very expensive lawsuits. Since most school boards have the sense to avoid such lawsuits like the plague, tenure laws, in effect, give public-school employees a guaranteed job for life.

…In June 1997, a Jacksonville teacher threw books at her students and in rambling letters wrote that she saw evil spirits in her students’ eyes. Some time later this teacher changed her name to “God.” Because of Florida tenure laws, it took the local school board three years to fire her, during which time this teacher repeatedly hurt other students she threw books at.

…How do tenure laws contribute to public schools’ educational failure, year after year? If most school boards won’t go through the time and enormous expense of firing an incompetent teacher or principal, students suffer because these teachers and principals remain on the job.

Even worse, tenure entrenches mediocrity in public-school education. It’s not just the incompetent teacher who’s the problem. Far more devastating for our children’s education is the much larger number of teachers and principals who are simply mediocre at their jobs. Private schools or companies usually won’t allow their teachers or workers to produce mediocre work, year after year. Most private businesses demand more from their employees because their profits and competitiveness depend on having quality employees who continually improve their skills and knowledge.

In contrast, most public schools don’t require or enforce high teaching standards. That’s because lazy or mediocre teachers or principals know they can’t be fired for using the same lesson plans or boring teaching methods year after year. (Sykes)

And thus we have…

Education Mistake #5 – Incompetent Teachers Protected by Tenure

Read Part 4...

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