August 14, 2000

Education as an Artform

A short course in the three "P"s: Politics, Politics, Politics ...

There was a time when little Sally and Jim finished their morning chores, grabbed their primers, and walked three miles through the driving snows to the one room schoolhouse. There they learned the skills essential to survival, with a bit of culture and refinement thrown in for good measure. Actually gaining something from this daily ritual was not optional Ė an occasional good smack or two with a ruler from the teacher assured their attention. The majority of graduates from this system proceeded to become gainful and useful members of their society.

Are we talking about the same planet? Our current educational system pukes out a graduating class annually that seems incapable in most cases of picking their own noses much less successfully contributing to our speciel heritage. This same system gloats over the major improvements in a curriculum that now boasts a 15% (qualified) rate of students having achieved basic adult skills either during their senior year of high school or shortly thereafter. I assume the bean counters include special education received during incarceration in the final tally.

It may be that our continued exposure to environmental hazards and constant bombardment with cosmic rays from space and cell phones has diminished our ability to learn. It may also be that the amount of information we need to absorb to successfully integrate with and advance ourselves has become too much to bear. It would in fact be a relief to somehow be able to pin our failures in education on something we have little or no control over. We do need to consider, however, the possibility that we ourselves are the problem, accept the blame, and come up with a reasonable alternative.

We can no longer ignore the fact that our current approach does not work. High school graduates canít read or write and are incapable of functioning in an increasingly complex work environment. Basic social skills are lacking as evidenced by the mayhem in our schools and on our streets. College applicants are barely housebroken as well as functionally illiterate. Professional educators dare not hold back a student who doesnít make the grade without facing substantial criticism from the bleeding hearts who would accuse them of crippling the educationally disadvantaged. Surviving that attack, they then face civil lawsuit from the outraged parent who feels the system has let them and their children down. Itís a lose lose situation.

The current crop of gurus who profess to know the solution sing the praises of charter schools. The theory seems to be that the additional incentive provided by these alternative educational systems will drive the quality of public education to sufficiency if not excellence. The public school bureaucracy will have no choice but to improve or face dissolution. As originally proposed, the concept seemed sound. It was only after tweaking and fine-tuning ad nauseum that the great minds were able to pervert the system to the point where it is now as cumbersome and unworkable as the original system it was meant to replace. The public schools are now even less capable of providing for their students than they were, due in large to decreased funding available since state and federal funding once intended for their exclusive use has been redirected by some strange slight of hand to support multiple educational systems where there once was one. The latest twist is the requirement now under consideration in some states that charter school students be allowed to represent the public schools they have deserted as members of their sports teams. The students remaining now face reduced opportunities as athletes along with lower budgets and the brain drain of qualified educators migrating to the private sector.

It may be too early to tell if this grand experiment will result in a better education for the next generation of adolescents. It seems obvious that diverting state and federal funds for alternative educational systems is a recipe for disaster for public schools. We need to seriously reconsider the public support of what are essentially elitist private academies if there is to be any hope of improving the educational opportunities affordable by the masses. Private and parochial schools will always be available for those parents who are that strongly opposed to the public schools. They may reasonably expect financial support from their peers - To expect such from the general public is asking too much.

The key to success lies in improving the existing system, not gutting it and attempting to replace it with a myriad of conflicting and overlapping schools that answer to no one but their own. Make the public schools more accountable by all means, but by the same token, remove the restraints that do not allow them to use their available resources efficiently. Allow the teachers to teach by once again assuming our roles as responsible parents. It is not the teacherís duty to teach basic social skills. If we must provide alternative educational systems, provide them for the incorrigibles who disrupt the system and refuse to allow those who wish to learn the opportunity to do so in peace. Itís time to get back to the three "R"s and leave the rest to the parents and churches.

Posted by NIFAIRIOUS at August 14, 2000 06:43 PM