Education: Is Help On The Way?

For centuries ivory tower academics controlled education.  They decided what was taught, how it was taught, when it was taught, and to whom it was taught.  As public education evolved, politicians became their allies, and in some cases their masters.  Liberal politicians hand out money “for the kids”, and in return the academics advance their left wing objectives.  Consider some recent changes: reducing teaching civics and history, cutting reading the classics, and turning classrooms into laboratories for “innovative methods”.  How many different ways have academics experimented with to teach basic mathematics in the past 75 years or so?   Can kids figure out 2×2 any better today than they could back then?  Politicians are obsessed with being “fair”, so schools eliminate grades, homework, and give everyone an award for showing up.  Standardized tests are “dumbed down”.  Then parents wonder why colleges need remedial high school courses, employers wonder why young employees lack good communication and math skills, and many wonder why young people can’t handle real life (which is not fair).  Academics and politicians have third partner: textbook publishers.  Every time academics decide that the teaching methodology of a subject like mathematics has to change, those companies reap a windfall.  Likewise when politicians decide that a subject like history needs to be presented with a different slant, e.g., don’t love your country, hate it, because what happened 200 years ago is YOUR fault.  Technology companies have latched on to the “spend-spend-spend” profiteering of textbook publishers.  The kids must have absolutely the latest technology.  Does anyone care what it’s being used for (or isn’t)?  Do local school administrators even know what the latest technology is or are they buying into to sales pitches?  Since the Feds began their takeover of public education in the 1970’s the US has spent over one trillion dollars on education but it’s nowhere near number one in achievement internationally.

There are signs that the winds are shifting.  President Trump selected a businessperson for Secretary of Education.  In the state of New Hampshire, the Republican governor selected a businessperson for Education Commissioner.  Business people know that money is neither free nor unlimited.  They understand “return on investment”.  They know, as academics should, that one size does not fit all, so they’re more supportive of alternatives to public schools like charter schools, magnet school, private schools, and home schooling.  Common Core is a win for liberal politicians who seek to indoctrinate children with “common values” but a loss for states, parents, taxpayers,  and the kids.

 

But… sometimes the winds shift the other way too.  New York state was praised for requiring a literacy test for teaching candidates.  After all, literacy is the foundation of learning.  Well, the liberals are considering abolishing the test because minorities have more difficulty in passing it. One candidate complained about the test being given on a computer.  What does that person expect to see in a modern classroom?  Once again we see the best interests of the students being sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

Where’s the North Pole?

M1: “Ummm… where’s the North Pole?”

M2: “I dunno… up north I guess.”

M1: “where’s north?”

M2: “I dunno… but someone does… check Wiki.”

 

Would anyone like to draw a cartoon to go with that hypothetical exchange?  It might be funny if it didn’t reflect a truth.

A recent survey by a fellow at the Carsey School of Public Policy at UNH regarding attitudes towards climate change and science itself revealed that less than one in five Americans know that thousands of their fellow citizens live and work above the Arctic Circle (where’s Alaska?) and that less than half know where the North and South Poles are located.  Although this survey was looking at the attitudes of  different political supporters, it, along with previous studies regarding educational attainment and international testing, deliver a scathing indictment of the public school system.  The most expensive public school system in the world isn’t educating its students for that real world!  If people don’t know where Alaska or the Poles are, it’s not because of their political views, it’s because they never learned geography (even of their own nation).  If people don’t know how our government is supposed to work it’s because they never learned civics.  If, as business leaders have said, young employees can’t write a coherent sentence, it’s because they never learned English grammar.  Likewise for science, mathematics, history, and any other subject.

Sadly, liberals who demand “one-size-fits-all” Common Core schools while ignoring successful alternatives like charter and magnet schools, are putting politics ahead of the children.  If they think  that kids need to spend more time “feeling good”, or feeling guilty for the actions of people 200 years ago, or questioning their gender, they’re only contributing to the decline in learning.  Indoctrination isn’t education.

The first step in reversing this downward trend is accountability.  Start by ending tenure, a luxury that other professions don’t enjoy.  Taxpayers need to be asking what they’re paying for, e.g.,  will a shiny new school building really mean a better education or is it just a better resume for the mayor?  Parents need to demand accountability, but so do teachers.  It’s up to the parents to see that homework is done, to attend scheduled meetings, and to teach their children respect for others.  The more we expect the schools to do the jobs of parents the less time the schools will have to do their own job: educating.

The second step is to get Federal government control out of education.  Over fifty years of “Fed Ed” and a trillion dollars later we haven’t gained that much.  Return control of the schools to the states, hand them a copy of my “Mission Statement for Schools”, and tell them to shape up.  If the parents care and the states want to compete economically and attract business, they’ll deliver.

The third step is to “put America first” so that business can thrive.  Make sure that trade agreements guarantee fair trade, not just “free trade”.  Put citizens first by limiting immigration to what the economy can absorb without reducing wages or seeing US workers replaced by H1B visa holders.  Reform our tax code and stop rewarding companies that move operations overseas.  We don’t have to be isolationist, just sovereign.  The future of our nation depends on it.

A Common Core Math Lesson: Right Is Wrong

A third grade student was asked to solve the multiplication problem 5×3 by repeated addition. The student responded with 5+5+5=15 and was told that’s wrong. It was supposed to be 3+3+3+3+3=15.
Now Common Core advocates claim that it’s math is cumbersome in order to teach basic math principles. The fact that AxB=BxA is a basic principle called the commutative property. So, what’s really going on?
What’s going on is teaching obedience to authority. It’s “my way or the highway”. It’s “you’re wrong because I say so”. It’s what political correctness demonstrates every day: that speaking the truth is wrong if anyone is “offended” enough to protest. It’s better to deny the truth than stray from the party line.
As I mentioned in “Common Core: Teach the Test!” this is the system that J. S. Mill warned against in 1859; a system to turn out obedient workers for the state. It’s also being used to undermine our cultural heritage.
Since the Federal government got involved in education costs have skyrocketed while achievement has not, and Common Core represents the final Federal takeover of public schools. Their next step will be to use money to gain control of public colleges and impose “Common Core 2.0” on them.
There is only one solution. Abolish the unconstitutional Department of Education, move their fund distribution function to Health and Human Services, give the schools a simple mandate like my “Mission Statement for Schools”, and return control to the states, the cities, and the parents.

Competition breeds excellence, control breeds mediocrity.

Responsibility and Authority Disconnected

Fifty years ago colleges didn’t need remedial math and English courses; today they do.

Remedial courses cost students time and money, things they can’t afford in today’s high cost higher education world.  One state lawmaker has proposed an innovative way to relieve students of this cost.  The plan would charge local school districts the tuition for remedial courses required by their former students on the grounds that the local school didn’t adequately prepare the students for college.  To families of students and people fed up with poor public school performance this sounds great.  To property owners who would see their taxes go up this sounds like a bad idea.  It’s actually a disconnected idea.  The disconnect with holding local school districts responsible for college remediation is that local education is no longer under local control; it’s dictated by the Federal government through Common Core, NCLB, required testing programs, and numerous unfunded mandates.  The concept of being responsible for something implies that you have the authority to control that for which you’re responsible.  When your actions are dictated by an external authority your sole responsibility is to follow orders.  The outcome is presumably assured by the authority figure issuing those orders.  In the case of public education the Federal government doesn’t “know” the outcome, it’s just trying yet another approach in an ongoing series of costly experiments to “improve” public education.

The Federal takeover of public schools is also another progressive attack on the family as the basic unit of society. When control is local parents have far more influence over the schools than when control rests with the Department of Education and it’s head who thinks that all children should be raised by the state.  Even the former Soviet Union didn’t go that far.

If you want to hold local school districts responsible for student outcomes abolish the Department of Education (which has no Constitutional basis for existence) and return control of education to the states (where the 10th Amendment says it should be).  If you’re happy with Federal control of your schools ask the Department of Education to pay for remedial college courses and see how fast that department points the finger back at the local school districts.

Authority must always be commensurate with responsibility.

We Will, We Will Track You.

In the movie “Minority Report” people could be arrested before they commit a crime by the “Precrime Unit”.  The US hasn’t reached that point yet but the government is working to acquire two new powerful profiling tools to increase it’s surveillance of US citizens: biosurveillance and student databases; along with the FBI facial recognition database to support all tracking programs.

Let’s start with what they already know.  Thanks to the IRS they have a complete financial picture of you (unless you’re involved in illegal activities), and they will now know you have health insurance.  They have your military records and criminal records if you have any.  They can track your purchases with credit cards, cell phone activity, internet activity, foreign travel, and driving with toll transponders.  Since the US Post Office photographs all mail they could watch where your mail comes from and goes to.  They also know when you die.  That’s a pretty complete picture of your adult life, but for complete profiling some dots are missing.  Here are the two big dots.

The first is biosurveillance, a plan outlined in a 2012 White House  Memorandum (which has the same authority as an Executive Order with less publicity).  The concept is to give the government access to all medical records (which conveniently must be digitized by 2015) in order to track “health threats”, i.e., disease outbreaks and large scale accidental or deliberate releases of toxins, to a greater extent than is now tracked by the CDC.  While it sounds reasonable, the problems are that the access is unlimited (and therefore subject to abuse) and a “health threat” is whatever the government defines it to be.  Every diagnosis, lab test, and prescription would be available to non-medical people.  With the administration wanting gun ownership to be in medical records, those records would be a form of registry.  Your complete health picture would become part of your profile thanks to biosurveillance.  Oh, he got a pain killer prescription so put him on a list of suspected drug dealers, she got referred for counseling so send a sheriff  to make sure she doesn’t have a gun, etc.  Where does it end?

The second is the national student database (actually interoperable state databases) of  identifiable student information which is seen as an adjunct to Common Core, that will extend individual tracking to a younger age.  There is no educational need for individual student identification including health issues, disciplinary actions, family income, religious affiliation, etc., to statistically evaluate learning trends; this is about cradle-to-grave tracking of citizens and possibly data mining for commercial purposes.  Your kid gets suspended in 3rd grade and it’s part of a lifetime record.  Add to that a couple of high school detentions and your kid might be labeled a “potential troublemaker” for life.

The FBI facial recognition database will support all surveillance programs.  As long as it only contains photos of criminals it is within legitimate law enforcement bounds, but once it adds photos of innocent civilians, as planned, it becomes another tool of “Big Brother”.

The solutions are obvious.  Restrict biosurveillance access to communicable diseases and toxin releases, not anything some bureaucrat decrees.  Also prohibit information obtained through biosurveillance from being used for legal prosecution (to prevent “fishing”) except in cases of terrorism involving WMDs.  Outlaw identifiable student information in any state or nationwide education databases.  Finally, restrict the FBI database to photos of convicted criminals.  This would allow the intended purposes of the programs to continue while protecting individual privacy.

It’s unbelievable that a government that is so concerned with tracking US citizens is so unconcerned about the health or criminal backgrounds of millions of illegal immigrants.

Update:  The FBI facial recognition database now contains over 400 million images.  These aren’t just criminals or suspects, they’re anyone with a passport and, in some states, a driver’s license.

Wherefore Art Thou, Shakespeare?

Common Core reduces the reading of classics in English classes so students will spend more time reading “factual material”.  Isn’t that what they’re supposed to be reading in science and history classes?  Here are five good reasons to keep reading the classics in school:

  1. They develop critical thinking skills, i.e., how to think, not just what to think. When students have to struggle with “Hamlet” it’s good for their developing brains. Students also learn that “classic” doesn’t have to mean boring. “Moby Dick” is an adventure tale, “Macbeth” is as gruesome as a modern vampire story, and “Wuthering Heights” is a dramatic romance novel.  Young people won’t learn much about life on a sailing ship by watching “Pirates of the Caribbean” but they can read a first-hand account in Dana’s “Two Years Before the Mast”. There’s something for everyone.
  2. Through these books students learn how authors of the past dealt with many of the same problems people face today, and how attitudes have changed. They provide opportunities for assignments on comparisons of different works.
  3. Students learn history while learning about the authors. How did the authors live in classical Greece, Elizabethan England, or pre-revolutionary Russia? The stories themselves yield insight as to what life was like at the time. Mark Twain’s books have been criticized as racist but that’s how society was during his life. Denying the past doesn’t change it, it just makes people unable to understand the present.
  4. The classics can stimulate imagination and imagination is part of a healthy childhood. Imagination also stimulates creativity and creativity has been the foundation of US advancement in fields like technology.
  5. The classics provide a link to our past, our culture, and our heritage.       Progressives like to deny that the USA has a unique cultural heritage, but it does. Extremists throughout the ages have burned books in an effort to erase the past and we’re seeing it happen even today in the Mideast. While the classics can’t be erased by burning they can be marginalized by dismissal.

As for that “factual material”, who determines what it is?  If students are reading about how the Large Hadron Collider is used to research elementary particles they’re studying factual material that belongs in physics class.  If they’re reading about “white privilege” they’re reading a leftist theory about why the world is so “unfair”.  Indoctrination is not education. Some of the new material isn’t factual at all, it’s fiction, specifically science fiction. Schools intend to add reading science fiction novels related to climate change, a genre named “cli-fi”. This doesn’t teach kids meteorology or Earth Science, it prepares them to vote for progressive Democrats as soon as they’re old enough to vote.

Common Core is designed to transform schools so that they will turn out obedient workers.  That’s how school works in China, where students learn to be productive workers but to always think “inside the box”.  So where’s the creativity?  They may make various Apple products but those products were conceived and designed by creative people here in the USA.  An immigrant from China recently remarked that Common Core looks a lot like the Chinese school system.  If you think that J.S. Mill’s warning about public schools is old fashioned you might want to heed the words of this present day immigrant.  Common Core is one more step to subordinating the individual to the collective, that’s all.

Assignment 1: Christopher Marlowe was a contemporary of Shakespeare. If you haven’t read his “Doctor Faustus”, do so.

De Facto Dangerous

The term “de facto” simply means that it’s a fact, it exists.  Fifty years ago the South was accused of maintaining de facto school segregation in violation of civil rights laws.  Today Federal agencies are increasingly creating de facto “laws” to bypass Congress or the Constitution.  Here are a two examples.

As it established the Common Core standards, the Education Department insisted that it’s not a Federally mandated curriculum, something that’s prohibited by law.  The standard tests, however, must align with the standards, so the curriculum will eventually have to align with the tests.  The result is a de facto Federal curriculum that will permit only minor tweaking at the state level.

The Department of Justice has labeled certain businesses as “high risk” and is pressuring banks to “choke” their credit.  Banks are complying and even cancelling accounts.  Businesses like adult entertainment, payday loans, and firearms dealers may not be popular with everyone, but they are legal businesses that employ people and pay taxes.  Unless charges are filed and a conviction obtained these businesses are being denied the due process guaranteed by the Constitution.  They are guilty by decree of the department head and must be driven out of business.  It’s de facto denial of  rights without congressional action or court rulings.

There is only one solution.  Congress must assert it’s function as lawmaker and rein in overzealous department heads.

The Federal government isn’t the only one stepping on the Constitution.  Private organizations, including colleges, are increasingly using political correctness as a de facto law to silence free speech.  This isn’t about preventing hate speech or lies, it’s about blocking any views that don’t fit with the ever expanding liberal view of tolerance.  The truth, as long as it’s presented civilly, should not be suppressed under the guise of PC.

If people can’t honestly discuss both sides of an issue they are no longer a free people.