Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Disheartening education, Part II

Gator Wife has gone to work this beautiful Wednesday morning. She had taken Monday off because she felt poorly, but spent yesterday in relative ease to prepare for her part time job today. So she’s off. I mentioned a beautiful Wednesday morning because it is one. The weather people tell us it’s going to be a great day.

I discussed yesterday some of my thoughts on a couple of disturbing items from the Maine Department of Education. The DOE, as reported in several Maine newspapers and on several radio and TV stations, announced the nearly 80% of eighth graders did so poorly on last year’s writing prompt on the Learning Results test that it is being tossed out. Students in the fourth, eighth and eleventh grades are tested on a variety of subjects each year to be sure they are meeting standards set by the state and the federal No Child Left Behind act. Those reports also indicated that nearly 38% of our schools are deficient in various educational categories.

I offered some personal observations yesterday on the math and English portion of the test. You can read about those observations in the post right below this one. Today I have a few more thoughts.

When most of us were in school, we were taught literary classics, those pieces of work that have withstood the test of time and teach a truth about life. I must admit that when I was forced to read works by Shakespeare, Dickens, Aristotle, Chaucer, the Bront├ęs, and a whole host of others too numerous to name here, I hated every minute. I saw absolutely no relationship between Shakespeare and my current life. To quote the Bard in Julius Caesar, “It was Greek to me.” Once I got out of school, or perhaps once I got a little age on me, I re-read many of the stories and this time they really came to life. I found that previously missing relationship. I could now enjoy them only because a caring teacher had taken the time introduce me to them earlier.

I understand those classics are no longer required in many schools. What a loss to our students! Rather teachers are picking stories they like about current issues. I can’t name any of the authors or stories as they simply won’t last. “What about Stephen King?” some will ask believing they’re putting me on the spot. They won’t be. Fifty years from now, perhaps even as soon as 25, the answer will be, “Stephen who?”

By not reading the classics, today’s students are being deprived of learning about universal life truths.

I wonder how many of today’s students have read the Constitution of the United States. I wonder how many have been taught or understand the Bill of Rights. Or even what the Bill of Rights is. It’s been more than a half century since I learned, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish . . .,” but I bet I could come darn close to reciting the whole sentence. Do today’s school children even know what it is?

Can today’s students explain the Emancipation Proclamation? “Four score and seven years ago, our forefather brought forth, on this continent, a new nation . . .” is what famous speech? How about the purpose of the Monroe Doctrine? Just how much American history do they study today, including causes and effects of such events as the American Revolution, the Civil War, the two World Wars? Do they know honest facts about the history of this country? Or even the world? Or our place in the world?

Simple geography is also unknown knowledge to today’s youth. There are many who live in this state who cannot point out Maine on a map. Even many of those who can would be hard pressed to find, say, Kansas. How about Zimbabwe? (Hint: it’s not in the United States.)

And whatever happened to teaching kids how to fix a lawn mower or build a box? This little piece could go on seemingly forever and I’ve not included so much more than I’ve said here that I should be ashamed. But an end must come.

Can all this be changed? Yes. One thing is the simple solution that no one will want to read: return education to “the good old days” when teachers really taught and students were held accountable. The banner was set high and both our teachers and parents simply expected us to reach it. No longer. Children can do no wrong. So-called self esteem which parents want for the children comes from accomplishment, not pandering. Make those Learning Result tests meaningful. Make school promotion and graduation dependent on proof of accomplishment.

There’s a lot more to my solutions, but I suspect you get the idea, just as I think you get the idea of my perception of the problem facing education. Just pouring more money into education isn’t the answer as year after year the system itself proves that money isn’t the answer. Resolving what I might call this education crisis requires accountability for everyone connected with education. That includes students, teachers, administrators, and school boards, and the Department of Education alike.

I said yesterday that I have no studies to which to point to back up my statements. I have only my personal observations and feelings. I suspect my solution, or any honest solution, will still be being sought long after I’ve left this Earth.


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