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.

Zero tolerance = infinite intolerance.

Zero tolerance policies became popular in schools in the 1990’s.  Some are reasonable, some are robotic codes that teach children nothing about justice, and one is liberalism gone mad.

Zero tolerance makes sense for real deadly weapons, drug trafficking, and other illegal activities.  I also support zero tolerance of replica guns, typically BB guns that are almost indistinguishable from real ones that could be used to take hostages or get the kid holding one shot by police.

Offenses that violate policy but wouldn’t land an adult in jail should be handled on a “let the punishment fit the crime” basis rather than a  “one size fits all” preprogrammed response.  Schools should deal first with the student, then with the parents, and only involve outside authorities if the situation gets out of control.  I’m a strong believer in parental responsibility.

What about zero tolerance for toys?  That might be funny were it not for the inherent dangers of it.  Children have been suspended from school for having toy action figures with inch-long plastic weapons.  Can anyone say with a straight face that those little green army men could shoot anyone?  Has anyone died from a splash from a plastic water pistol?  Aside from unnecessarily traumatizing a child this could have repercussions later in life.  Someone in high school could unearth the record and the bullying could start.  Years after that a prospective employer could find a partial record and deny employment to someone who was suspended for “bringing a gun to school”.  Maybe the trauma is intentional, with the intent being to induce a fear response every time children hear the word “gun”.  Using Pavlovian conditioning on children is inhuman but I wouldn’t put it past the far left.  A basic tenet of socialism is that the end justifies the means.

Maybe if we let kids be kids (play with toys, use their imagination, etc.) instead of trying to make them into miniature PC adults they’d have fewer mental health issues later in life.

A Medieval education

I said there were many models for education and now I’ll look at one of the oldest to see if it’s still relevant.  The classical Trivium and Quadrivium model dates from the Roman Empire and persisted well past the Middle Ages.  The Trivium, which was considered basic (it’s the origin of the word trivial), consisted of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.  The Quadrivium subjects were considered advanced and included astronomy, arithmetic, geometry, and music.  Let’s update them for today.

The Trivium actually meets the “good oral and written communication skills” requirement commonly seen in job ads.  Grammar provides the mechanics of the language, logic the ability to formulate good arguments and recognize fallacious ones, and rhetoric (ignoring the negative political connotation) simply means being able to present ideas clearly, concisely, and convincingly.

The Quadrivium needs a bit more work.  First expand music to “arts”, expand astronomy to “science and technology”, combine arithmetic and geometry into “mathematics” and do something with the now empty fourth place.  That fourth place is where history, geography, civics, economics, personal finance, and even service projects fit, and it could simply be called “civics”.  Maybe we could call the T/Q combination a “Triquad”.

Add to this simple model a range of athletic, intellectual, and social extracurricular activities  and the model meets the three requirements of my mission statement.  Notice that it’s just a model, and a high level one.  It says nothing about how any subject should be taught or about standardized testing.   This was just a fun digression from the serious topics.

Common Core: Teach the Test!

As an abstract model for education, there’s nothing wrong with Common Core.  There are lots of models, some going back centuries.  Let’s leave this “one-size-fits-all” model as an abstraction, not public policy.

When a model becomes linked to Federal funds or relief from other mandates it becomes a de facto mandate, a Federal intrusion into education, an area traditionally reserved for the states.  Federal “carrot and stick” intrusion is all about control.  In 1859 J. S. Mill warned against public education being a means to develop obedient citizens who will do whatever the government tells them to and a means to void parental values children have learned at home.

When a mandate becomes intertwined with other mandates it also becomes self-reinforcing.  The increasing demand for standardized testing feeds the demand for a standardized curriculum so that schools and states can be compared.  The test results will them be used to modify the curriculum mandate which in turn will modify the test questions.  This is called a feedback loop, something that works well in industrial process control, but is education an assembly line?  Good teachers don’t like teaching the test, but what happens when the curriculum and test are one?  Kids have already figured standard tests out and don’t worry about them.

When a model becomes loaded with liberal propaganda it becomes indoctrination, not education.  For example, 8th graders must be familiar with gender identity issues.  There’s an English lesson that uses sentences that imply that a president has dictatorial powers and a history lesson that distorts the 2nd amendment.  This is the result of an unholy alliance among Marxist academic leaders, teachers’ unions, and textbook publishers.  Our children are the losers.

When a model seeks to create a national student database containing identifiable student information it becomes an abomination.  This has nothing to do with improving education but everything to do with tracking citizens from birth to death by an ever expanding and more intrusive Federal government.  This is about control, nothing more, and parents should be demanding the right to opt out for their children.

Common Core is focused on the productive aspect of education.  The concept was developed by David Coleman and Gene Wilhoit, but they didn’t have the money to fund it’s development or lobby governments for it’s adoption so they presented their concept to a progressive billionaire.  Bill Gates, through his foundation, has donated over $100 million dollars to the Common Core effort.  Now Mr. Gates has said many smart things about schools, including the facts that children need to learn that life isn’t fair and that the world doesn’t owe them a living. You mean I don’t get an award just for showing up? I believe he is, however, primarily concerned with employment.  One indication is that reading classic literature is being subordinated to reading informational texts

If you were upset with the set theory approach of “new math” and didn’t have enough graph paper around for Medieval “matrix math” you won’t find relief in Common Core math.  For fourth graders to add 7+7, one set of instructions are to “use number bonds to help you skip-count by seven by making ten or adding to the ones.”  That makes about as much sense as our tax code!  Are number bonds like chemical bonds?

There is a history of laws prohibiting Federal officials from mandating or controlling schools’ curricula, including the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the Feds first venture into education), The 1970 General Education Provisions Act, and the 1979 law creating the Department of Education.  The Dept. of Ed. was supposed to serve as an information exchange, not a curriculum administrator.  It has overstepped it’s mission.  Corrective action will be to eliminate the Dept. of Ed. completely or to downsize it to perform it’s original functions and save tax dollars.  Provide Federal education grants to each state but eliminate the “carrot and stick” control strategies.  Return control of education to the states and to the parents and ban any national databases or mandates for interoperable state databases that track identifiable student information..

Face the fact that Federal involvement has not improved education in almost 50 years.  Fifty years ago colleges didn’t run a lot of remedial math and English courses.  Today remedial courses consume expensive college class hours and prevent some students from completing a degree in 4 years.  Fifty years ago employers didn’t complain that new employees lacked math or communication skills; they do today.  Finally, the government has expanded the Head Start program even though it hasn’t proven to be of any measurable long term value.  This doesn’t sound like the right direction to me.

Update 2016: News flash: Grade 12 student math scores falling and language skills stagnant.  All it cost was millions of dollars to “upgrade” to Common Core.  It’s time to end Fed Ed.