When I taught science in Texas high schools, a principal once asked me how I would prepare my students to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) exams. I told him I would teach the hell out of the science curriculum and give exams of my own that utilized all the learning skills I was taught to include in my teaching. He became somewhat uncomfortable, but wished me good luck - as if he were looking at a condemned man.
The test results were such that my students scored higher on the tests than any other science teacher who were drilling the crap out of their kids for this test. Yes, I'm bragging, but not about being such a great teacher, just one who did what he was supposed to for the benefit of his students.
This essay starts a series I am writing to summarize, as best I can, the issues before us to try to save our children and their schools from the maw of irresponsible politicians, including Arne Duncan.
Some herald the start of a new school year by celebrating the extra curricular ceremonies surrounding athletics, band and cheerleaders. I love all those things too, but there are more important things to discuss. In order to achieve or regain the ideals of Jefferson regarding educating our citizenry, we first have to discover how we lost our way and how our children have been allowed to flounder in the squalor of materialism and self-indulgence.
The task at hand is nothing short of rebuilding our moral compass as a society and a community. Daily activities, known affectionately as the rat race have the rats winning. Our parents are running around trying to keep their personal finances and families afloat in an ever increasing maelstrom of family dysfunction and career degradation. These pressures affect us all whether or not we have children or are directly associated with their education. Teachers all know that they are increasingly absorbing child rearing as part of their jobs. We also see teachers being increasingly targeted as reasons for our children’s failures in school and in the workplace. In some cases that is a valid concern. In most cases it is a canard from those who don’t choose to take responsibility for raising their children or want to pay for their education.
Politicians have been exploiting the structural weaknesses of the parents’ lack of attention and the teacher’s organizations to further this avoidance of responsibility by their voters. The natural tendency for teachers is to put their heads down and go to work doing what they do best: caring for and about the children in their classrooms. The teachers have, therefore, given de facto approval for the destruction of public education by political entities that see it as merely another source of revenue. No Child Left Behind is the culmination of this attack on public education. Its unholy stepchild, Race to the Top, follows to exacerbate the statements associated with the perception of "just throwing money at the problem". I will illustrate for you in this series why that is and what we can do about it to achieve the lofty, yet practical goals necessary to return our nation’s vigor to the top tier.
Thomas Jefferson did point out the need for educating our citizens:
"Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves therefore are its only safe depositories. And to rend even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain extent."
Horace Mann took it one step further:
"Never will wisdom preside in the halls of legislation, and its profound utterances be recorded on the pages of the stature book, until Common Schools ...shall create a more far-seeing intelligence and a purer morality than has ever existed among communities of men."
By the end of the 19th century the rural schools built half-century earlier were deteriorating and the flood of immigrants from Europe overwhelmed the urban schools. The industrialists proceeded to bash the public schools, such as they were, for emphasizing intellectual development instead of preparing these kids for vocational jobs in their factories. Sound familiar? Indeed, in those days, one didn’t need to have a teaching license to teach children. So, politicians placed their cronies in classrooms to prepare the kids for the industrialists.
It wasn’t until the agricultural "revolution" took place in the early 20th century with the advent of artificial fertilizer that more children entered school from rural areas than ever before. This, coupled with the explosion of the industrial revolution created more needs from business and industry for people who knew how to read and write. These series of events came in handy when World War II happened and we had to innovate like never before.
I graduated from high school in 1960, 50 years ago. I would like to see our modern high school students receive the same, excellent education I did before I die. It won’t be as difficult to do as one might think. The model and methods already exist.
It is saddening, in a way, that someone has to write these comments, but it is necessary if we expect to remain a viable nation.