Thursday, November 16, 2006

Public Schools are NOT Broken

During this election season I have saw numerous articles, news videos, and blog entries about "the need to improve our public schools". The problems are seemingly endless, as are the proposed solutions:
more standardized testing, elimination of standardized testing, smaller classrooms, longer school days, longer school years, more computers, PDAs, a laptop for each student, new books, no books, self-esteem assessments, vocational training, multi-cultural awareness training, cultural appreciation, grades-based graduation, exit examinations, outcome based education, open classrooms, school uniforms, armed guards, metal detectors, arts-based curriculums, mental health screenings, physical health screenings, school based "health clinics", routine social service counseling,
and on and on in dizzying array.

Some of these proposals have things in common, while others are complete opposites. Some address the appalling lack of academic prowess in American public schools; others take aim at various societal woes. In reality, however, all of these programs are the same.

The base philosophy of all "fix the schools" programs is that if you just give the schools enough money, they will fix themselves. No matter what it aims to cure or how it aims to cure it, every program promises that the schools are just a few dollars away from turning everything around. They all proclaim that THE BIG FIX is finally here - if only you will fund it.

Most people know this isn't true. They know it, but they don't say anything. Instead, heads are blithely nodded at school board meetings, and names signed on to participant lists. They are discouraged by past failures, but harbor secret hopes that perhaps this program will be different. Conversely, handfuls of the eternally optimistic will enthusiastically jump in, head first, excited that everything they have been hoping for is finally going to come to pass. Smaller numbers of the realistic, some would say cynical, just shake their heads and go home. They know it will fail, but feel powerless to do anything to stop the failure, or offer up a better solution.

All of these are good people, but they are deluded. They are deluded into thinking that the public schools are failing, that they are somehow broken, that they need to be fixed. But they are wrong.

The public schools are not failing. They are not broken. They do not need to be fixed.

In forthcoming posts, I will show not only that public schools are not broken, but that attempts to fix/improve them will always be fruitless and wasteful.


Blogger Michael Swartz said...

Actually I disgree with one main premise of your argument:

"The base philosophy of all 'fix the schools' programs is that if you just give the schools enough money, they will fix themselves."

Well, I should say I disagree unless this turns out to be a contrarian argument that follows that "(t)he public schools are not failing (and) do not need to be fixed" because we throw enough money at them and the answer lies outside the realm of financing.

11:13 AM  
Blogger caterina maria said...

Michael, there are many dollars spent per head in public classrooms. So it's true, throwing more money at a system that creates self-satisfied dopes isn't going to turn it into a system the creates thinking men.

As I see it, with two children now in the system, one of the problems is that they aren't held to standards of grammar or composition in English. After the fourth grade, their grammar goes uncorrected. And they no longer write, or are taught how to write, essays. They write short answers on work sheets. This reduces them to thinking in slogans. No critical thinking is every expressed in an extended argument in written form, submitted and then graded for form, content and mechanics.

Math is taught adequately but not reinforced enough. It's mainly the deficit in English that is hurting our children. They grow up to be inarticulate, sloganeering sheep who resent efforts to prod them to better expression and critical thinking. I know because I teach at the college level and see the fallout from our public schools.

The solution would be to have the English teachers teach composition and then take the time to grade what is submitted. But they are unwilling to do this very time-consuming work. This, and the teaching to the test, are responsible for the decay in English and critical thinking in our society.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Michael Swartz said...

You should move the comment you made to a post as the follow-up to the first. Very good points.

I'm a big advocate of educating the three "r"'s, to which your response translates out as 'riting. Having read a LOT of books as a child, that helped me when it came time to write for school, and hopefully helps me now. I even write my IM's in complete sentences.

10:15 PM  
Blogger caterina maria said...

If you take care of the little things, such as punctuation and forming complete sentences, that discipline helps prod you on to better writing overall. Reading is a great help to learning how to write as well. Where the schools fall down is in teaching what used to be called the "Trivium", grammar, rhetoric and logic. If we were to return to that in English (and note that in junior high school in Wicomico county, it's not even called English, it's called "RELA", an acronym for "reading and language arts") we would have more citizens capable of seeing past political sloganeering and analyzing situations for themselves. No matter whether you're a Dem, a Republican or what-have-you, it can only raise the political level in this country and probably civility will improve as well. Inarticulate people tend to shout obscenities when frustrated, whereas educated people can resort to complete sentences and trying to understand another point of view.

11:34 AM  
Blogger AvatarMJV said...

Someone on the Catholic Answers podcast yesterday was talking about how his homeschooled kids, when put into public school for 5th grade, were being taught math at the same level they were teaching for 1st grade homeschool.

My father-in-law is an engineer-turned-teacher. He will point out one of the biggest issues is the lack of holding back children. For example, if someone fails math, they still pass the fourth grade. They just have to take a remidial math class in fifth grade along with normal math. (This is in Montana). They don't fail them because it would be "emotionally damaging" not to continue on with your classmates. The real reason seems to be though that if you fail them, you don't make your stats, and you lose federal funding... ;)

But what happens is that you have these kids in grades they shouldn't be in, and they end up slowing everyone down.

But I would agree with you that the public schools are not broken. I'm interested in what your next posts are going to be. My argument would be more of a broken family structure that just rears its ugly head in the schools. Gotta attack the root of the problem. :)

10:11 PM  

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