About the public schools, a couple of things that still need to be said and heard

You may not believe it but there are a couple of things that still need to be said about our public schools. Things that while they are being said, not just by me, but by many other blog voices on the internet, are not widely listened to, and certainly not heard by the educational establishment.

First that the educational establishment needs to welcome an injection of common sense into their discussion, that which is not always present when they talk about the schools. For example it needs to be said and heard by the establishment that the schools will significantly improve, student proficiency, student achievements will rise, only when the students themselves simply work harder at their assignments, when they become more responsible for their own learning.

For common sense tells us that student learning, in particular students being held accountable for their own learning, ought to be the centerpiece of all our conversations about the public schools. Instead we talk about other things, much less important, about money, common core standards, the curriculum, testing and student data keeping, and lately, perhaps, most of all, about the importance of the teacher in the classroom.

It’s true that our best and brightest do not go into teaching (if they had we might have avoided Vietnam, and Iraq?). It’s true that the quality of our teachers is not up there with that of the other professions. Why is that?

Is it because teachers are not paid enough? I don’t think so. I would say, much more, that it’s because too many students, and in particular too many of those in our inner city schools, show little interest in classroom learning.

I say “classroom learning” because these students, like all young people are learning all the time, probably most of all out of class and out of school. And, because of their minimal participation in classroom learning, the teacher loses his or her interest in being there.

I know I left the public school classroom myself because my students showed little interest in what I would teach them. At best the best of them wanted to know what they had to know for the test. The others, well if obliged they did for the most part attend my class. Although when I gave them a choice they didn’t and I lost my position in the school.

The other thing, or things, that needs to be said about our schools is simply that the present structure neither corresponds to what society needs, nor to the way kids best learn, and should be abandoned.

I read this early on in my own career in the brilliant writings of Paul Goodman, Ivan Illich, John Holt and many others, who were not at the time, and are still not, alas, listened to by the educational establishment.

I read it again just yesterday in comic form in a Blog piece by Frank J. Fleming, entitled: Why Every Kid in America Doesn’t Need to Be Educated.

Here is the gist of what Frank Fleming says, leaving out much of the humor, and the exaggeration, but with, I hope, the substance of his message:

Why do we spend so much money on education? I think a lot of people would answer, “Because educating our kids is important.” Really? Why? ….

We have 7.2 million teachers in this country and about 76 million students. Children are taught for 13 years in grade school, and many people want everyone to get at least 4 years of college on top of that. And what exactly do we get out of all this? ….

What is our goal? …. The future still needs people to cook, clean, and manufacture goods — and it doesn’t take a decade of education in math and science to be able to do those things. So why are we spending hundreds of billions of dollars to make sure every fry cook at one point in his life knew what a gerund is?

Is there a benefit to educating everybody regardless of actual need? We keep hearing that we’re falling behind the rest of the world in our average math and science scores, but let’s look at some of the countries ahead of us: Finland, Lichtenstein, the Czech Republic. I’m sorry, but did I miss all the huge technological innovations that came out of these countries? ….

Now, obviously some people …need education…. But is the most efficient path to that really to teach absolutely everyone and hope a small percentage actually retain some of what they’re taught? …. why don’t we just focus on what the average citizen actually needs?

Everyone needs literacy, as you have to have some reading skills …. And then we should also teach everyone how to use Google, as that will cover science, history, and math whenever those come up. No reason that basic knowledge can’t be knocked off in a year for each kid…..

So there’s our solution to the education problem: Instead of trying to make a lot of bad education for everyone when most aren’t even going to use it, let’s focus on making the absolute best education to give to the few who will. Everyone else gets to learn useful skills, and as a bonus we bring manufacturing jobs back to our country.

His message, like the earlier one that the students themselves need to be held accountable, is also not new, and also not widely heard. For we go on insisting that if not everyone, most everyone be prepared for college, that which means for lives most of them will never lead.

For example we know early on that not everyone will take the calculus in the senior year of high school but continue promoting a mathematics program that is by and large a preparation for the calculus.

And the same is true throughout the program. Kids, if they remain in school through high school, all but about a quarter of them (and what have our schools done for this quarter?), will take subjects such as math (as I’ve said, a kind of precalculus) and science, language, literature, and history, in a form that is mostly irrelevant to their lives, and for the most part they will not achieve a college ready preparation or readiness in any one of these areas (that which makes it necessary for so many entering college freshmen to do remedial work before, too many of them, dropping out).

And while giving all those years as Fleming points out to not learning anything useful to them, students (better, kids) will therefore not have learned all those really useful things not in the program, the skills and knowledge regarding just about everything else that does go on in our society, the jobs and work and other activities needed by society, all those things they might have learned in school most useful to their own futures.

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