Monday, April 8, 2019

The State of American Education

I've been involved in education for many years - as a parent, as an adult student, and as a teacher.

Many say that kids are just dumber than ever before. I'd have to disagree with that. The raw material is there, basic brainpower.

It's just not been activated by decent schooling.

This is not a criticism of the teachers. Most teachers do their very best with the materials they've been given. It's just that those materials - Common Core and the Wanna-Be curriculums - are not designed to reach the populations that desperately need them.

The kids whose background puts them at a disadvantage is those who come from 1-parent homes, with noisy environments, and families that value other things more - such as music, dancing, fashion, and athletics - but NOT formal education. What money there is in those homes goes to entertainment, primarily of the popular kind, and toys that do not teach, but entertain.

The difference is obvious in preschool and kindergarten. Some kids come in with experience in sorting, classifying, and explaining their thinking. Others repeatedly interrupt the lesson to put the focus on THEM. A lot of time is wasted just working to get the boisterous to settle down for some learning.

Much of a child's learning takes place in a relatively quiet environment. Quiet observation of nature, creation of artistic work, thinking, and listening to others with more experience or knowledge. Despite the educational world's preference for group (collaborative) work, "meaningful" conversation, and other activities that create a noise-filled classroom, this is still true. When children are truly concentrating, the class is amazingly quiet - what talk is going on is purposeful, not just aimless gab.

Some members of the classes are so unable to allow others to learn, that they inhibit their peers' progress. Hence, the Elite push for "gifted and talented" classes. Most of the kids in those classes are neither particularly gifted, or exceptionally talented. They're good students, however, who won't disrupt the classroom. That's what the Elite want for their children - a relatively quiet environment - something that was the norm when I was in school.

They can't just SAY that, as they might be accused of being anti-minority. Instead, they couch their desires in terms of their child being "special" in a way that would justify their separation from the rest of the kids.

It's NOT an academic thing, as much as a cultural thing. Parents in the upper classes want to have their kids taught in a setting that conforms to classic Euro-American norms.

The upper level classes generally get kids prepared for college; sometimes, the content is force-fed them in ways that make it hard to retain concepts - I'm talking about you, AP courses.

Too few math classes use a well-structured approach in the elementary and middle schools. Teens arrive in high school still confused about the use of fractions and decimals. I'm talking AVERAGE ability students, not those who have special needs.

If you doubt the inadequacy of American education, read the story at the link - it will horrify you.

Are there solutions to the problems in American education? I believe that it's possible, but it will take a lot of effort, a willingness to toss out the ideas that are NOT working, and a willingness to pare down the bloated administration/staffing that exists in many of the most troubled schools.

I've mentioned the dreadful curriculum above, but I need to add a few words about the ridiculous administrative bloat. "Free Money' comes with a BIG catch - getting it requires a major  time and personnel commitment that can only be met through hiring more people - which means that money will NOT be available for the line function (to use the business term) of teaching.

Add to all the above the horrors imposed by clamping on the Diversity Bandwagon - a wagon that is filled with staff, expenditures, and paperwork - and you have effectively slowed the Education Train to a crawl.

For another perspective, let's look at Chicago Boyz, who've been looking bad at the Not-So Good Old Days of School.

They do make a valid point near the end of that post - in the Old Days, those who managed to get to the graduation point were a selected bunch. That the high school curriculum was more rigorous would be a given, considering that the less-able (and the poorer able) were persuaded to leave long before that point.

Here's another post by the Chicago Boyz, who de-construct an old Harvard entrance exam, and how it does NOT show that the students were so much better.

One FAST and EASY way to improve math education is to narrow the span of topics taught in a single year - AND, add in some drill (which today could be a game-type practice - high scorers to be posted on the wall). I'd rather see the average middle school kid COMPETENT in basic arithmetic, then mediocre in many areas of math. Relatively few professional fields call for advanced math. MOST jobs involve arithmetic, maybe some PRACTICAL geometry.


Glen Filthie said...

I hate public school teachers. I hated them as a student, and I hate them as an old fart. In my neck of the woods, they are at best day care workers and at worst, unionized pooch screwers. They have made a child’s self esteem more important than his education. Lately I have seen the flip side of that: at the local chapel on prayer night, a few teachers drift in to offer up prayers for kids they can’t help due to failed family and broken homes. They are forced to stand by helpless while good kids are destroyed by their idiot parents.

I almost committed a quadruple murder at the first and last PTA meeting I went too. The meeting was dominated by three women that wanted to re-invent the curriculum and the teachers to benefit their own kid, and to hell with everyone else’s children. But they were treated courteously and with respect and they wasted the evening, when those harridans and fish wives should have been kicked or slapped out the door, or shushed by their husbands.

I think we need to get parents, especially mothers - out of the classroom. Teachers need to regain control of their classrooms and if that means bringing back the strap and expulsions so be it. They can’t be held accountable until they can control the kids. The other thing that needs to be done is demolish the teacher’s unions. They enable and protect the deadbeats that will make any reform impossible, and they artificially inflate costs. Parents have to step up too. If your kid isn’t doing well at school it’s YOUR fault, not necessarily the teacher’s or the system’s. Yes, you will need to tutor your child and discipline him when necessary. Too many slob parents fully expect teachers to do that too.

But all that presumes an honest desire to educate the kids and not just warehouse them while providing a cushy ride for union slobs.

Linda Fox said...

Part of the problem is that many curriculums assume that all kids are the same:
- able to control their behavior according to middle-class models of well-brought up children
- have literate parents, able to assist them with homework, or recognize that the child has not mastered the work
- if the child has special needs, the parent will be eager to get them help, rather than deliberately refusing to have the kid evaluated, because "my child is NOT Special Ed!"
- able to participate in class, without disrupting other students, and making good progress in their own learning

Likewise, not all teachers are the same:
- some have little actual experience with children, particularly large numbers of them
- some come in, indoctrinated with the latest theories, and only finding out, after classroom disaster, that they don't work
- some are pregnant, or mothers - their attention is split, and their available energy is diminished - at least for a time
- some are close to retirement - they may have medical problems, low energy, just not give much of a damn after years of institutional abuse
- some have been injured/attacked - with the admins blaming them for it
- some are doing their best, but the curriculum from downtown sucks, the materials/equipment are not there, and problem children (even those severely mentally disturbed) are returned to the classroom, with the directive "YOU handle it"

Easy answers are not there. Each school is different, and directing them from a central location is a recipe for disaster.

Glen Filthie said...

Well, that brings up another problem I have with public education - and that is the curriculum has been dumbed down beyond the point of any usefulness.

I saw an interesting video from Bill Whittle the other day on one of the blogs where he speculates that kids having the sum of all human knowledge on their cell phones - has deprived them of the need to develop scholastic skills. What are your thoughts on that?