Some quick July thoughts on Education

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Saturday, 25 July 2009

(14:19:14 CDT)

Some quick July thoughts on Education

I have had a half-dozen posts perculating in my brain this past week or two, and never set down into journal form, so expect a spattering over the next couple-three days as I get around to finally purging them. The first, though, and possibly second most important (of what I am thinking about now) is about education. Huntsville Times, a couple of days ago, had a column about how we should discourage drop outs. Today's lead story is about how our school systems (in Alabama) are going to go through another round of cuts. I'm sure these two things are pretty much national in scope. They show the premiere problem facing our schools: this idea that it is somehow an inalienable right, so inalienable that is actionable not to attend, and once they attend it is better to do anything, absolutely anything, rather than allow them not continue to attending.

Is there a bigger waste of increasingly limited state resources than to force warm bodies into seats they do not wish to occupy? We pay teachers to teach entire "d sections" of students barely coasting along in a system they do not like; a system that returns the favor by not liking them. Principals do not want them there, teachers do not, but most importantly, they do not want to be there. They are bored with the system and they lash out. The only good it does for them to fill the halls is a portion of federal money is given over for their occupation (as I understand it) and their parents get free baby-care.

On most things, I identify myself as a moderate, but this is not true. Moderate implies that I am neutral in the Dungeons & Dragons sense of the word, torn between some policies that our supposed political poles offer: the Democrats and the Republicans. This, of course, is false. Not only are they basically the same party (both have increased spending and government control, while claiming that only the other does so) but I think it is long past the time where we need to stop thinking in terms of them. This is for another post, besides to say that I am a "Pragmatist". I often claim the name of my political party is the "Grey" party, but in reality, had I to pick an actual name, it would likely be the American Pragmatist Party and one question asked for every policy is: how does this directly benefit the American people so much as to justify a change in their lifestyle and a use of their tax money? If the benefit given to them is not equal, or greater, then why not let them deal without it? In terms of education, these are some of the ideas that come to my mind:

  • While you maintain mandatory attendance to an age, drop the age to either 12 or 15. After which point, students are only able to get into further education if they work for it. If they have a poor attendance policy, poor grades, or no desire to attend, then they are not allowed to attend except, maybe, at their parent's expense. No reason to waste tax money so some 16 year old can hate their teacher. School and education is something to be earned. If we just wanted babysitters, we could do that for a while lot cheaper.
  • The "3 Rs" are old and stupid. If students past the age of 12 do not know "reading, riting and rithmetic", then maybe they should not try education since it is not their forte. Past about 12, maybe 13-14, all classes should be of a "higher" calibre and demand work from their students.
  • Kill teacher tenure since its benefits are questionable and it leads to qualified teachers being let go so that schools are not forced to tenure faculty they are unsure about and can lead to some problems getting technical promotions into administration rather than have the system face a lawsuit. Teacher employment should be like the rest of us, as we do our job, we get raises and bonuses. If we screw up, we get fired.
  • High schools should be differentiated for many different fields, if possible. Students should be able to take classes in sciences, vocations, and other disciplines, with a focus. While there should be some interdiscipline courses, of course, people above the age of 15 should able to focus their time to something more practical to the rest of their life.
  • Classes in high school should include economics (the American style of economics and not just theoretical graphs but more of a practical side such as credit card usage, loans, investments, free market versus controlled market, and trade agreements and the federal reserve), constitutional law, civic reasoning, logic and rhetoric, and library/information skills. To many people come out of school not knowing anything about how the American system works, about how to reason their arguments, and are taught so by television. This is a very bad thing. Classes in the more subject-oriented schools would also include these, but also classes more germaine (and honestly so) to their discipline.
  • While retaining diplomas, representing a more general completion, more emphasis might be better served on separate certificates. Since the purpose of certificates is to exemplify fluency in a discipline, students should be able to take certification without the class. However, a limit should be placed on how many times a student can take certification tests on the school's dime, meaning that after an initial failure, a student would have to pay to re-take it.
  • School and sports would be partially separated. Many people love sports teams for their schools, and it makes sense to continue to spend tax-payer money on it, but it should not be colluded with money set aside for education. It should be a separate sister entity with its own travel fund and system. It should not be considered a substitute for classes, and should not directly impact attendance of students. Possibility of sport-centric schools should be considered.
  • The viability of textbooks versus cheaper workbooks should be reconsidered. How much does a school spend on textbooks that students may or may not use. Further study should be done on this, with a likely higher emphasis on primary sources. Schools should increase use of current news sources like local papers versus television news versus Internet blogs versus weekly or monthly news sources with concepts of why their versions of facts are different.
  • Finally, the amount of time in class should also be studied. Some are trying to increase time in class (both per day and year round) but this likely would do little to fix anything unless it was made to be beneficial. Schools used to offer more after school activities and time. Open up the library to after-school (and during free period) study and research, allow students supervised use of the labs and facilities for both study and extra-curricular activities. Allow students the chance to self-design research and study more.

I am not sure how beneficial any of this is, or if people would go for or act like trying to bandage our broken tax-sink of a system is the real answer. Almost of my teacher friends say apathy is growing steadily, that budget problems are increasing, and describe fighting for funding to for real teaching as opposed to text-book, honestly, it seems like something would have to be done. But the first thing that has to be done is to stop treating schools like "free" baby-sitters, to stop diluting the diploma so that everyone can, and must have one, and to stop tying teachers and administrator hands behind their back when it comes to keeping discipline and enacting education. Not everyone is going to teach the same way, and it's a big disservice to force good teachers to act mediocre so that bad teachers, whose jobs are assured by tenure, can wing it half the time.

Si Vales, Valeo


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