Education takes another Hit

Once upon a time in America, every child knew how to read and write music.  Every child knew who Achilles, Juno, Zeus, and Apollo were.  Every child knew who Tesla (not the rock band), Edison, and Morse were.  Every child could read and write poetry, play an instrument, and spell vast numbers of large words.  They could also read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in their original longhand form.  They could read Shakespeare, Shelley, Darwin, and the Bible without a study guide.  They were taught to think for themselves and to reason things out.  Why?  Because it was taught in school.

As if the current educational system of teaching wasn’t bad enough, schools are now planning to drop cursive writing from the curriculum.  We’ve already lost Grammar, Civics and Music, three vitally important subjects, the lack of which is leaving our children floundering in our society, and now we want to dump cursive writing.  Why is cursive writing important?  For the first hundred and seventy-five or so years of this young country’s existence, cursive was the medium employed for virtually all of our important documents.  Letters, written by our own great grand-parents, grandparents and parents will be completely meaningless when handed down to this new generation of school kids.    Cursive will become as mystifying to this generation as runes are to us.  Colleges will have to institute special courses to teach specialists in cursive to read and interpret important, old documents.  Does that even make sense? 

Now, I may seem to be picking on our educational system, but the fact is, that a public school education was once thorough enough for anyone to get any job they wanted quite easily, simply by gaining entry at the ground floor level and working one’s way up.  College was only necessary if one wanted to specialize in health care, law, or engineering.  Now, without a college education, one can’t get an entry level position in a lot of great jobs.  Why?  Because a high school education is incomplete.  It has become a requirement to go to college to finish learning what should have been taught in elementary school and high school. 

I am a collector of textbooks.  I have math texts, literature texts, science texts, and history texts that both predate and postdate my education including college and grammar school texts.  If you want to see how education has changed, read the ‘ancient’ texts and compare them with the modern.  To say that you would be shocked would be an understatement.  A wealth of knowledge has been lost to this generation.  It simply isn’t being taught anymore.  Check out an old McGuffy reader and ask yourself how your child would ever be able to read the kindergarten primer even by the second grade.  Read a history book written in the 70s and see how much background information—vital information for context—is missing today.  Look at an old ‘50s literature book and ask yourself if your kids could even read it today.  It’s a shame what has been lost to this generation. 

We wonder why there is a lack of good music on the radio without considering that most of it is written on a computer by people with no real knowledge of music.  There was once a time when music was an essential part of the school curriculum.  Everyone knew how to read and write music.   Imagine that for a moment.  Everyone knew how to compose a simple song and play an instrument.  Have you noticed that the best music is written by the bands that were influenced by the artists of the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s, when music was taught in schools?  The Beatles didn’t go to college to learn to write music.  They learned it in grammar school. 

Our children cannot afford to have any more core curricula removed from the educational system if they hope to compete in the world today.  Right now, the best colleges are still looking for the best written essays, and the best jobs will still go to the person who can speak and write with articulation.  If we do not train our children to compete in the real world, we are letting them in for some hefty disappointment and worse, bitter unemployment. 

For all of our talk about focusing on Math and Science, we are woefully behind the world in those subjects as well as Reading.  “In mathematics, 29 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed the United States by a statistically significant margin…,” “In Science, 22 education systems scored above the US average…,”  “In reading, 19 other locales scored higher than US students…”  These figures are derived from PISA (Program for International Student Assessment—2012, the last time the test was administered).  In a quote from NPR who reported on the PISA results: 

“Remember the movie Groundhog Day, where the main character wakes up every morning and realizes nothing has changed? He’s reliving the same day over and over again. Well that pretty much sums up the latest PISA results for 15-year-olds in the U.S. Their scores in reading, math and science have not changed since 2003.”

Here is what Harvard Professor Jan Rivkin had to say:

“While the U.S. spends more per student than most countries, this does not translate into better performance. For example, the Slovak Republic, which spends around USD 53,000 per student, performs at the same level as the United States, which spends over USD 115,000 per student.”

In other words, throwing more money at the problem is not going to change anything.  What needs to happen is a return to the basics and a cooperative environment between parents and teachers to inspire students to do better.  In addition, we must remove the distractions from education that teachers are forced to deal with on a daily basis.  School is a place to learn, not a place to park a child for the purposes of babysitting.   Schools do not belong in the psychology business or the policing business.  It is time to stop psychological assessments and put children squarely in their seats for one purpose—learning.  If they don’t want to learn, they should be removed.  Dumbing down an entire class for the purpose of allowing one child to keep up is ridiculous.  Likewise, the concern over the psychological impact of marking a paper with red ink is ridiculous.  Hurt feelings aside, the purpose of grading is to help the student to learn.  All written work should be graded on form as well as content.  Otherwise, we are only hurting our students.

I have many friends in the teaching business.  I hear constantly of their frustration because they are so limited in how they can teach their students.  They must always cater to the slowest member of the class, and they must accept the work turned in by students without regard to spelling and grammar.  Kids who misbehave must be assessed, labeled and possibly drugged.  Is this any way to run a classroom?  Not every kid is college material.  A student who cannot perform on a path to college should be encouraged to learn a trade.  That’s the way it was done when I was in school, and the fact is, those kids now make more money than I do.  When did we introduce shame into the curriculum?  There was never any shame in staying back, going to summer school (I did a stint in summer school myself), or going to a trade school when I was younger.  I had many friends who were kept back at one time or another.  It was a fact of life and a great motivator for those of us who wanted to get out of High School on time so that we could start college or get a job.  The very idea that we could ‘just slide by’ was unheard of and unpalatable to a generation that was taught that when we don’t do the work, we only hurt ourselves in the long run.

None of the ‘improvements’ made to education in the past thirty years have proven to be helpful to students.  Quite the opposite in fact; there is no longer an incentive to excel.  Oh sure, there are AP classes for those who exceed expectations, but in a broken system where expectations are already low, how much can Advanced Placement mean?

I suppose I will be railing and ranting about this subject for another 40 years (if I live that long) because too many people are invested in keeping education the way it is.  It has become a platform for politicians to run on, each with his own ‘new solution’ and promises to provide more money for teachers, books, and computers.  No one wants to talk about suspending students, keeping them back or putting them in a slower class if they are unwilling or unable to sit still and learn.  No one wants to talk about ending tenure, giving merit raises to excellent teachers, or firing bad ones.   No one wants to talk about vouchers and school choice.  That would be bad politics.  Our children are simply caught in the crossfire between politicians and the teacher’s union.   The issue has become as firmly entrenched in politics as Medicare and Social Security.  No matter how badly it’s broken, no one really wants to fix it.