Monday, July 14, 2008

"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” - Will Durant

With Will Durant's quotation, defining "education," I'm making my first attempt at blogging as opposed to the chaotic futility of arguing on forums.

This essay started with a comment on a forum supposing proselytizing couldn’t be stopped without infringing on the First Amendment’s guarantees:

Freedom of speech is granted by the First Amendment to the Constitution insofar as it doesn't infringe on the rights of others. That's sometimes a subjective measure, and most who are outspoken are accused of or subjected to various forms of suppression.

The Supreme Court has held that students do not have an absolute right to freedom of speech in school if it interferes with the rights of others to get an education. Given this subjectivity, teachers tend to seek a balance between individual versus group rights. Discipline-first teachers and meddling administrators tend to be oppressive, seeking order and uniformity at the expense of freedom of expression and critical thinking skills. Proselytizers have their own religious agendas which also tend toward the oppressive, as opposition is discouraged and the tyranny of the majority squashes dissent.

Without discipline, chaos prevails, and no student's interests are served. The idea, then, is to seek that balance; the trick is to actually find it.

Where it's NOT is the modern political arena. No Child Left Behind is precisely the form of federal intervention our forefathers seemed to want to prohibit with the 10th Amendment that would leave such issues to the states.

With this libertarian goal, President Reagan sought to abolish the Department of Education at the Cabinet level, but instead, he expanded it with ideologue William Bennett mouthing platitudes and hypocrisies (The Book of Virtues).

Following an inconsistent, but increasingly influential path, we get former Superintendent of Schools in Houston, Texas, and Physical Education major, Rod Paige. I've attended speeches where he seemed unable to frame a grammatically correct sentence. He fits the stereotype of an Uncle Tom appointee whose mere skin color curried favor from the Left (esp. Ted Kennedy).

He did have one good quote that I appreciated, however, when he spoke of "the soft bigotry of low expectations." I will argue that this is a hypocrisy, however, in light of the numerous local school districts (including HISD) whose emphasis is in having students merely pass rather than raising academic standards.

Now we have the more articulate Texan, Margaret Spellings. Though smarter, she's still a bureaucrat, apparently more interested in the perpetuation of the Department of Education than improving the overall level of American public school education.

The hotly debated School Voucher issue seems to have polarized into a simplistic debate:

The Right wants vouchers, a theoretically sound concept likely to be subverted into just another welfare program, this time for private schools. It's virtually impossible to believe this concept can work on a national scale without leaving millions of children behind.

The Left seems to be in control of public schools with its unions and apparent control of educational philosophy. I would argue that what much of this amounts to is The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America. (You can download this entire provocative book free), in which Christine Iserbyt, a Reagan appointee, sees the current public school institution as a drive toward socialism. A strong case can be made for that position.

This Cabinet post opportunity to lead by inspiration, to lend assistance without mandates, fell into a political football game in which neither side sought real improvement, only political advantage. No Congress is likely to supply enough money without "strings attached" to equalize educational opportunity. Anything less than that is a political pander.

What is needed first is a strong local consensus, then a national rethink about what should be taught in schools. Personally, I find E.D. Hirsch's books on Cultural Literacy to be most edifying and comprehensive, but as was stated earlier, no one person has identified the panacea that will fix all, or even most of education's problems.

Certainly a child's parents are ultimately responsible for their school performance, but when parents fall short, the mis-educated and ill-informed offspring become society's problems (and often criminals). Effort spent just pulling them into social compliance is less time and energy spent instilling work ethic and promoting excellence. It's a trade-off that varies according to teacher and school.

As much as I'd like a heftier salary, I can see why people are loathe to give schools more tax money given current SAT/ACT results. Accountability issues and a less-than-transparent administrative system tend to muddle the picture.

I would say that vague criticism should be ignored from afar, that those taking potshots at the system have no real desire to learn about it, only criticize it.

Only those who volunteer, who encourage community service and are willing to expend time doing so should have a say in system reform. It's not until one becomes personally involved with a school, observes it for awhile before inputting, and actually does something with students or teachers to effect small changes that he/she can understand the magnitude of the problems facing us in public schools today. Only then can they speak to an issue with any authority or any hope of improvement.

“Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern but impossible to enslave.” - Baron Henry Peter Brougham

“Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one.” - Malcolm Forbes

No comments: