Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters
socratic

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The only thing I know

Education. What is it good for? It may seem a strange question for someone who has never done anything but school to ask, but I think someone needs to. I don't mean that we should question whether education is valuable, but rather what good we want to come from it. Does it prepare people for working life? Does it prepare them to be intelligent and motivated citizens? Are schools just places to warehouse children? The reason I ask is because I think that depending on the answer our strategies should be different, and finding the right answer to these questions might help us find possible solutions to our nation's educational crisis.

The thing is that at this point I feel like schools are just giant lockers where parents put their kids at the begining of the day and get them out of at the end (that's pretending that parents didn't all get off work at like 8:00 PM and that the kids didn't spend most of the time at home alone or with a nanny. Let's play a LITTLE make believe here why don't we?) and that to me seems like a stupid use for schools. Why not just create child sized prison yards complete with weight room, guard towers with tranquilizer guns and shivs made out of those annoying plastic sporks that the lunch room never has enough of? Actualy that might be safer than some of our schools are now. At least there would be guards. Realistically there will always be an element of warehousing in schools, parents need a place to put their kids during the day and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. But I think that most people think that schools, ideally, are a lot more than kid check rooms.

But what are they?

In my opinion schools should serve two purposes. They should give children the basic skills neccesary for survival in the employment world and/or they should give children the basic exposure to ideas and cultural background neccesary for positive participation in the social/political world. Notice that I said And/Or. I don't neccesarily think that schools have to do both. They most assuredly have to OFFER both, but not every child has the same educational needs/interests. In this country we allow people wide freedoms in employment, living arrangements, and political choice. Why do we only offer one school track? What is so wrong with vocational schools? Sure they exist but they are like the red headed stepchild of the public education establishment. In all the talk about underbudgeting and school vouchers they are never mentioned. I certainly don't think that children should be forced to go to vocational schools if they and/or their parents don't want them to, but what about putting courses about auto-mechanics and spot welding back in the lineup at our public academies? There are a large number of people who simply don't want to learn what public school wants to teach. They are forced to attend anyway and they are disruptive and troubling to the students who do want to learn, not to mention the fact that they frighten and harass teachers. Why not give them more options to explore the things that interest them? I think that widening our definition of what education is would do a lot to help our schools.

Another important element of school that is missing is personal responsibility. Both teachers and students seem to be exempt from the things that THEY do because of how easy it is to blame systemic problems. The fact of the matter is that the system can't do all that much on its own. It's a vast and twisted beauracracy which can barely manage to keep things running in anything resembling order. We can't rely on statewide standards and cirriculum to do our teaching for us. The credit for success and blame for failure should fall to individual teachers, students, and parents. We talk about school systems like they are machines. We speak in demographics and mean test scores. Ultimatly humans are individuals and can decide what to do.

I also think we have to deal with the quality of teachers in our schools and the powers that we give teachers. I would estimate (based PURELY on anecdotal evidence) that 20 percent of teachers are excellent, 50 percent are adequate, and 30 percent are terrible. Now let's assume for a moment that having an excellent teacher increases your love of learning 1 point, having an adequate teacher has no effect on it, and having a terrible teacher reduces it one point. If my assesement is accurate (Obviously it's non-scientific but I don't think it's ENTIRELY baseless) then kids are becoming less enamoured with learning by going to school. Of course this is deductive reasoning because honestly I base my percentages on the fact that KIDS ARE BECOMING LESS ENAMOURED WITH LEARNING BY GOING TO SCHOOL. I had such an experience myself where at my School for the gifted I had a social studies teacher who didn't know that the rio grande is the border between mexico and Texas. She thought it was the border between Texas and Oklahoma ?!? or some such nonsense. Not only did she say it, but when corrected she refused to agree that it was true. I think that a geography (among other things) teacher should be required to know....I don't know...geography. And this was at a special high school which only hires the best. I shudder to think about public schools. Merit pay is not a bad idea, but it isn't the answer. If we have teachers in our educational system who cannot pass the equivalent of a sophomore level college test in their subjects we should require them to go back to school and study or we should fire them. Furthermore we should offer free classes at state colleges for school teachers who want to improve their knowledge in whatever subjects they teach. Teachers are required to have a masters degree, but it's from a school of education and it's pretty common knowledge that those are not competitive with "real" colleges.

Another problem is that even the great teachers find their hands tied. They cannot control the students in their charge. Our schools suffer from an almost universal lack of discipline. There's drug use in the halls, sex in the stairwells, and unrulyness in the classroom. We banned corporal punishment from the schools, which was a good idea, but what did we replace it with? Detention? Come on. It's a 2 hour chat session. Suspension is even more of a joke unless it's in school, and even then it can be better than attending some of the worst classes. I enjoyed being pulled out of Ms. D'amicos horrible english class in the ninth grade to sit with the head of the English department. At least there I didn't have to listen to inane pratter about the ducks in Catcher and the Rye (Loved Catcher and the Rye but thought that bypassing the contraversial bits to talk about the fucking ducks was the Worst Educational Decision Ever). Teachers should be able to impose discipline through real consequences for real actions. Parents should be called in at the first suspension and people who can not control their behavior should be expelled not only from an individual school but from the system as a whole (at least for a certain period of time.) Shuffling expellees throughout the various public schools does nobody any good. Increasing salaries and standards for teachers will only work if they are also given more authority to control the classroom environment. Sure it opens up the possibility for abuses but it's not too hard to put controls in place for that.

I don't know. Maybe my ideas are wrongheaded and shortsighted but I DO think that what we have now from the two establishment camps is a whole lot of ideology and very little in the way of pragmatism. Throwing money at the problem doesn't do anything. Public schools ARE underfunded but it's not like there's a one to one ratio between knowledge and dollars. Vouchers are a crappy idea because they basically promote parochial schools which are the only private institutions that are that cheap, and they don't do ANYTHING to improve public schools. Giving schools to private companies is just insane. Sure the private sector is more efficient but that only works when it has competant competition and exacting standards. Corporate educated children would just be frightening. Teacher unions ARE too powerful but making it even HARDER to be a teacher will just drive qualified candidates away. Allowing principals to decide merit pay will prevent unique and interesting teachers from inspiring children. Allowing tests to do it will lead to teaching TO the test which is just plain horrible. We have to empower teachers AND hold them accountable. The two are not mutually exclussive. We need to build an academic culture that makes going to school essentially a voluntary act even if that means going to a different school than the type we think people should go to. Newsflash, they already AREN'T going where we want them to. Education in this country is falling to pieces around our ears with New Math (It's not important to get the answers right as long as you try? Way to train our next generation of doctors and engineers) and Multiculturast perspectives (Shakespear's "The Taming Of The Shrew" is patriarchal claptrap with no redeeming values. Let's read some of Malcolm X's wonderful teachings) and if I sound like a compassionate conservative well I'm not because I don't think there's such a thing. Being conservative seems to neccesitate keeping things generally the way they are (or were) which is only compassionate if things are already fair and just for everyone, and they are not. But I'm also not a blind progressive. Change isn't neccesarily good. Anyway I know this rant doesn't entirely work but it's my last illogical one before I resume my OWN responsibility for the things I say. So I won't be too upset if someone (not Jing) rips it apart.


Here's some more stuff on how stupid liberals are
http://www.townhall.com/columnists/johnleo/jl20020318.shtml
http://www.townhall.com/columnists/joelmowbray/jm20011129.shtml

And hypocracy abroad

http://www.townhall.com/columnists/rossmackenzie/rm20020307.shtml

And conservative idiocy
http://www.townhall.com/columnists/phyllisschlafly/ps20020206.shtml
http://www.townhall.com/columnists/Armstrongwilliams/aw20020318.shtml

(Check out the logical falacy of claiming that living in homosexual homes leads to more homosexual experimentation and that homosexual experimentation leads to suicide. The first may be true but isn't a bad thing unless you accept the second which is only true because homosexuals are persecuted. Can't get much more loopy than Gays shouldn't have kids because the kids will turn out gay (Being in a homosexual household probably allows children to be more honest about their sexuality) and kill themselves when they realize that they'll never be able to have children (and deal with other persecutions.) I guess he assumed nobody would catch that one)
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