2/16/13 Educational System Failures

Sure, I have friends who are teachers. My daughter is a teacher. But there’s a few things that need exploring that’s going to ruffle the feathers of a few teachers, whether they’re relatives, friends, or both, or neither.

The President has proposed that children start attending school when they are four years old. It wasn’t too long ago that they made children start attending school when they were five years old. Then, there is the Headstart Program which is available for economically disadvantaged children who are as young as three years old, but the recent release of studies conducted by The Department of Health and Human Services indicate that any advantage Headstart children have received have all but vanished by the time the child reaches the third grade. Though, to be fair, children who attended Headstart do have a higher graduation rate.

Here’s what needs stating that no one seems to have stated yet: Since Kindergarten is a requirement now, our educational system must admit that it now takes 13 years to teach children what they used to teach in 12. Now we seem to be in the midst of a similar quandary wherein it’s an admission that it will now take 14 years to teach them what we used to teach them in 13, and formerly taught them in 12. I find this puzzling. Am I the only one? I hope not.

Now, we even have California dropping algebra from its core curriculum for 8th graders. If 8th graders can’t handle 8th grade Algebra, how is it that they will be better at it when they are older? Is it that they are just expected to be magically better at it when they are in high school? Or perhaps, in order to keep the grades looking good, the schools just drop algebra altogether?

Every state has failing schools and failing school districts. I am from Mississippi and we certainly have our share. In my own home county our school district is always just a single step away from being taken over directly by the state for its continually failing scores. We spend less per student than any other state in the nation. By every standard by which schools are measured, Mississippi is dead last among the 50 states . . . yet what you read here is mostly the product of a public school education in Mississippi. I can write. I can spell. I can use correct grammar. Though, I must add, English itself offers some major difficulties here, particularly for those who learn it as a second language; but I cannot think of another language that is so expressive or has so many words available to it. I’m also not saying that I learned nothing in college, but I am saying that whatever critical thinking skills and writing skills you witness here were acquired in public education, and then mostly refined because as I got older, I simply had more to say. It’s hard to write when you have nothing to say beyond, “it’s like . . . like, for real . . . you know what I’m saying.” No I don’t know what you are saying, because you aren’t saying anything.

That we have graduates of American public schools that are unable to balance a checkbook, or even understand the need to, is shameful. Not only do our students need algebra, they need basic business math. Math was never easy for me, but I learned it, and I use math nearly every day in my business. The formula I=KWx1000/ExPF is one that I use regularly. You can look up Ohm’s Law and the meaning of the symbols for the variables if you’re of a mind. If you already know about it, good. If you don’t and are like me, you’ll be looking it up. One NEVER has all the absolute values for the variables . . . I have to use simple algebra to solve the equation for the thing I don’t know. This is SIMPLE algebra, not rocket science, though you can’t be a rocket scientist if you can’t do simple algebra. It does not require algebra to balance a checkbook, but it does require mathematics, and I daresay that are some rocket scientists who can solve a differential equation but fare about as well as some mathematical illiterates when it comes to balancing their own checkbook. Isn’t this shameful? Isn’t it shameful when people cannot understand numbers well enough to know what the true cost of their mortgage is?

Not to ramble too much, but to hammer home the point: when will our educational system admit that it is a core failure when it takes 14 years to do what it once did in 12. If this does not produce the desired results, will children be required to go to school at 3 years old? Then 2? Then 1? Will we have prenatal education for our abortable biologic non-human masses? Will the government raise our children from the cradle? Is this what our mothers and fathers want for their children? I swear I believe a return to the locally run, one-room school house would produce better results than some we are seeing today.

Oddly, home schooled children seem to do extremely well in college and on standardized testing. “But they lack the social skills of children who attend school in a formal setting!” cries our school’s paid sociologists and school counselors. Hmmmmm! They also lack saggy britches (I know it’s BREECHES, but I am from Mississippi and I will spell it like I say it), they mostly lack tattoos, and they mostly don’t drop out of school, either. Perhaps it is because their parents are intensely involved in their education. Perhaps it’s because their parents make them read books, then write about what they read.

Our schools don’t require our children to read enough. We show them movies in schools. We show them other television programs. We allow them to be babysat and hope, beyond hope, that the teacher is able to maintain some type of discipline in their classrooms. We cannot eliminate trouble-making students from the classroom because they have a right to be educated, even though many would not be. We revise the curricula to match the lack of performance of the students so that the schools appear, by reduced measuring standards, to be doing well. We allow teachers to resist any means by which their own performance would be measured.

Please . . . I know about the dedication of teachers. I had many dedicated, devoted teachers at whose hands I suffered . . . and LEARNED. I owe them a tremendous debt which I can never personally repay. But they were paid for their work. Like everyone else, they took a job knowing what the wages were. Once committed, it was up to them to perform the task for which they were being paid. I am the product of the dedication of many teachers and the ones that were the hardest on me are the ones I remember today. They were hard on me because they saw potential and demanded that I perform at the level they knew I was capable of; they wouldn’t accept anything less. Sometimes I felt that they were unfair because they did not seem so hard on others. Perhaps their unfairness was actually towards those others in whom they saw less potential. That is unfair for me to say, because a teacher can bestow facts to us that we are required to regurgitate when examination time comes, but a teacher cannot bestow a thirst for knowledge on a student, nor can a teacher teach that we all remain students for the rest of our lives. There are so many things we just have to get on our own, but many of them we acquire with the help and guidance of a good teacher. God bless them.

Teachers Unions?? Since when were school workplaces ever like dangerous steel mills or coal mines that teachers were in danger of their lives and limbs from their working conditions? Nope, that is out. And arguments that schools have become violent places in modern times is right out the window, too, since we all face the same violence every time we venture out into a public place, or even stay in our homes, since home invasions are relatively commonplace nowadays. Nope . . . Teachers unions are all about money, and earning more of it while working less and not having accountability for failures, and lessening the requirements for continuing education and certification. Teachers unions are about getting more for doing less.

And money? There will never be enough of it. The more we spend on education, the more educators need to fulfill their mission. In the world of primary and secondary education, we have been repeatedly told that students are unable to learn in 50 year old school buildings, yet we pay the highest dollar and place the highest value on the post-secondary educations which students receive at those ancient ivy-covered buildings in Ivy League schools. Why? Oh, why? I wonder: does a 50 year old building diminish the learning capacity of a 17 year old, but having studied in a 200 year old building makes an 18 year old smarter? Is there not something wrong with this? If it could be reduced to an algebraic equation, which it can’t because there is no way to get the variables to balance, it couldn’t be solved because, ultimately, it would require zero as a divisor. Try dropping zero into your spreadsheet formula as a divisor and just see what error messages pop up.

They used to teach this to 8th graders in California, but what will those students be taught now? They will be taught that algebra is not important, simply because it’s no longer taught. They will get THIS on their own. What poor signals we are sending to them! And starting them to school at 4 years old won’t help, though, starting them to school at 4 years old will do one thing . . . it will completely change the Headstart program. They will simply expand the 3 year old program, and drop back and pick up 2 year olds . . . perhaps even 1 year olds.

It’s about the same thing as a modern day Leakey family member on their endless quest for humanoid artifacts in the Great Rift Valley’s Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, finding a new jawbone fragment that’s a million years older than anything previously known. Rather than admit that everything they told us before was obviously wrong, if this new thing is right, they say, “Just add a million years to everything we told you before.” I don’t think it’s quite that simple. But what do I know? I only have a brain the retains the knowledge that one cannot divide by zero. I am not a trained anthropologist, nor am I an educator.

Hmmmm! At the end of World War II, when the Soviets and the United States were in a rush to get to the German rocket research facility at Penemunde, to bribe, coerce, and flat-out kidnap scientists, which may have been the only time in the history of the world that so many governments placed such a supreme value on scientists, I find it remarkable that there was not a single sociologist, anthropologist, political scientist or certified educator among their number. They seem to have been all engineers, mathematicians, physicists, and chemists.

Welcome to the new world, new-born child. You will soon be educated by your government before you can even properly use a spoon . . . or a toilet.

Now won’t that be a cause for teachers unions to denounce classroom-workplace hazards!!

And please understand . . . The teachers in the CLASSROOM have to deal with the curricula and the directives that come down from offices they never see, from administrators they never meet, as directed by educational consultants who are handsomely paid to do studies that take years to analyze for recommendations, and even longer to implement. As of late, most of those studies seem to indicate that little Johnny should, above all things, be made to feel good about himself.

Little Johnny, you better tighten up. The world is coming at you faster than you think. You’ll either be a productive, contributing part of it, or it will pass you by leaving you dependent on the benevolence of an increasingly bankrupt government. Find your spot in the world and cling to it . . . make your own way with the tools you get from your education. Declare it to be so and hang on to it with all the persistence you can muster. Never be dissuaded nor turned aside by failure, because each failure is a lesson.

Johnny, only when you quit is your failure final. It’s up to you. The water is out there, but you must drink it. If you’re not thirsty, you won’t even see the water.

A good teacher feeds us enough salt to make us thirsty. Where do they find it??

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