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Our Public School System, a Government Monopoly…
Posted: 19 June 2006 05:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]  
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Very interesting topic and discussion.

I am a member of a small, but growing, group of “radicals” who are questioning the whole basis of education through the antiquated school system. The kind of education that is given today, whether from public or private schools, is the very thing that is devastating our democratic system. The terrible truth is that we are not producing citizens who can make rational, evidence-based decisions.  Rather we are turning out automotons who “fit” into the industrial-economic (neoclassical growth-oriented, consumption-driven) society.  For most students today, college ed is about the job, not about knowledge and understanding.

A friend of mine may soon have an article published in Academe (American Association of University Professors) that is a veritable damnation of the entire concept of education in the 21st century.  He argues that the evidence for the failures of education can readily be seen in the fact that the US could have the government it does today;  one that censors science publication, mans science panels with political hacks, denies global warming and peak oil concerns, etc.  He posits that this could occur only because the average American citizen is incapable of real critical thought and sufficient knowledge in science to make critical judgements at the polls. In short the neocons and capitalist robber-barrons get by with what they do simply because the average American is not truly educated.  He/she is merely trained to perform an economic task.

The American education system has been responsible for the dumbing down of the citizenry, ironically at the same time that it appears average intelligence (as measured by the Stanford-Binet IQ test) is on the rise! There are a growing number of critics of the education process. And understanding of how students best learn subjects like math have been known since the 50’s (c.f., work by Bruener, et. al.) but never incorporated into the school system in any meaningful way. Many education psychologists are demonstrating that school with classes in subjects is a terrible design for learning.  It is now known that integrated knowledge approaches are substantially better in terms of student understanding and retention of knowledge.  Such curriculum where multiple subjects are combined (as is routinely done with math and science) and the theme of the curriculum invokes topics that are meaningful to students is very difficult to design and deliver cheaply, but it is literally orders of magnitude more effective in terms of getting students to think.  But since the US undervalues real education and won’t pay the taxes need to fund such an education, we get what we pay for.  Workers who will do what they are told and don’t think about subjects outside their little niche of knowledge.

The truth is that we have an antiquated system based on the model of the late 19th century factory system.  It is all about production, not education.  It is all about neoclassical economics focus on efficiency, not on quality.

Another example (my personal favorite) of how really ignorant the majority of the population is today is intelligent design. Ask yourselves: How could a significant proportion of the population (where the norm of intelligence +/- 1 standard deviation = >70% of the populace) buy ID? This is not due to a lowering of intelligence. It is a failure of the education system.

No less a thinker than Roger Shank, cognitive psychologist and artificial intelligence investigator, has publically proclaimed that high schools (in particular) should be abolished!  He is one of many who have had it with what passes in this country as education. Others are calling for a complete revamping of the education process and, especially the way teachers are trained. 

Who knows where this will go.  But it is certain that schools today are failing to give us good, thinking citizens (the basis of any democracy) and we need to do something radical if we are to recover our dream of an educated, rational democracy.

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Posted: 19 June 2006 07:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]  
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[quote author=“veracitatus”]I am a member of a small, but growing, group of “radicals” who are questioning the whole basis of education through the antiquated school system….

The kind of education that is given today, whether from public or private schools, is the very thing that is devastating our democratic system…..

The terrible truth is that we are not producing citizens who can make rational, evidence-based decisions…

A friend of mine may soon have an article published in Academe (American Association of University Professors) that is a veritable damnation of the entire concept of education in the 21st century….

Veracitatus, jolly good show! You’ve finally hit the nail on the head. You hibernate for a month and half, then emerge from your hole with a whole new appreciation on the benefits of the religion-centered education we received in the 19th and 20th centuries.

So, judging by your quotes, you and your friend feel that we should:

- go back to when the bible was taught as science,
- the pledge of allegiance contained the words, Under God
- school prayer was mandatory
- Jesus was regularly mentioned in the hallways as well as the classroom
- Immoral behavior was…..immoral behavior
- Nobody winked at those who lived together without being married
- Evolution wasn’t taken seriously
- Even the science teacher was a Christian

Veracitatus, I heartily agree! We should go back to the 19th and 20th century education systems. Let’s move forward, shall we, tally ho!

And they all said in unison, Praise the Lord!

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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matt 11:28-29

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Posted: 20 June 2006 12:16 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]  
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So, judging by your quotes, you and your friend feel that we should:

- go back to when the bible was taught as science,
- the pledge of allegiance contained the words, Under God
- school prayer was mandatory
- Jesus was regularly mentioned in the hallways as well as the classroom
- Immoral behavior was…..immoral behavior
- Nobody winked at those who lived together without being married
- Evolution wasn’t taken seriously
- Even the science teacher was a Christian

Veracitatus, I heartily agree! We should go back to the 19th and 20th century education systems.

Champ I hope at least some of that was written with sarcasm.  I suspect that it’s not.  If that sort of thinking was followed through in our schools we’d be a nation of backwards, barely-literate, agrarian imbeciles.

I think you represent the guy whose neck I’m going to wring at a PTA meeting one day when my daughter’s old enough to go to school.

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Posted: 20 June 2006 01:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]  
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I guess you could see better results from private schools, but you have to admit they are skewed results.

I agree. I think the public school system needs a serious overhauling. I still think public school is better than private school, but I am not naive to the fact that they both need revamping in the education area, but that’s not the only place.

The one thing I don’t like about private schools is their ability to turn away whomever they choose. I understand it is their right because they are private, but it is very discriminatory.

At the same time, I see the benefit of private school over public in that you don’t have the discipline distractions that you do at the public schools…double-edge sword and all.

What really concerns me is the quality of education in both. I think the curriculum in the private schools that fuses religion into standard classes is very detrimental to the students. Many colleges are not accepting those classes when the students come to college because of that…they say they were not given the proper curriculum to prepare them for the college courses in those subjects, and they are right. It’s BS.

In public school, we have taken one of the most important subjects out…geography. Students who don’t learn about geography are not getting a proper education. This is pathetic. While good students go on to college just fine, those students who aren’t very bright are just pushed on through because of Bush’s BS no child left behind.

Another drawback to both is the teachers. Many teachers in private schools are not certified, nor do they even have a college degree. That is just pathetic as well. In public schools, teacher unions have helped to destroy a once great profession. Now, I know unions benefit a lot of people. But in my experience they protect the weak, old, and lazy at the expense of those with talent and ambition. I’ve got a more favorable opinion of unions and guilds for highly trained groups of workers, and a much less favorable opinion on unions for unskilled labor.

I worked for a school district while waiting for a college position. At times, I noticed that the teachers care more about their union contract than they do about their students. That’s reprehensible. I’m not talking about things that should be major issues, like pay and class size. I’m talking about little things. Last year teachers at one of our elementary schools called in a union rep because the school’s principle wanted them outside after school to help supervise the loading of the buses. A little girl at a nearby town had gotten run over by a bus a few days previous to this, due to poor supervision. Parents needed the reassurance that the extra bodies outside would provide. The teachers refused to do it. Now, their contract states that during the half-hour after school is dismissed they’re to do activities as directed by the school’s principal. Their beef was that this activity took place outside of the school….

Maybe I’ve got a dim view of unions because of crap like that? Anyway, my point is that both public and private have problems, and I’d like to see them fixed.

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Posted: 28 June 2006 04:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]  
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If you want a prime example, Mulaka, of this government run monopoly of education, look no further than the state of Hawaii.  I see no further because we live here and our kids are in the thick of it. 
The DOE here is centralized on Oahu, the main population and government base.  The other islands are separate counties, which could control there own separate school systems and control of their own budgets if the DOE was decentralized, but we are stuck in the final layer of an unwieldy bureaucracy when it comes to getting adequate funds for students, maintenance and capital improvements.  The schools throughout the state, on all islands, are currently looking at a $600m backlog just for maintenance requirements (and our entire state population is only about 1.5m).  The problem is, because the DOE is strictly centralized, the layers of bureaucracy compound and so monies are spent quickly on administration before adequate funds are sent to outer islands.

As a result, there is a broad range of education options that have developed over the last 20 years.  For a long time, private schools have been around, typically founded by the (imiperialistic) missionaries, and have proven to be exemplary, far far above the typical education given and received in the public schools.  I graduated from one of them, founded by missionaries (read: also major property/business owners) in 1842.  In the current day/age, it still stands by its religious roots, but is for all practical concerns, a totally secular college prep environment.  The primary difference has to do with money.  So many original missionary families, who happened to have brought in and otherwise acquired a great deal of wealth, came together and founded their own schools, and with their own money pouring in, they were able to bring in highly qualified teachers and pay them what they were worth—i.e. enough so they didn’t go to any other industry.  That tradition has carried through to the present day, with teacher salaries of course augmented by outrageous tuitions.  The one I graduated from in the early 80’s when tuition was about $3-4K/year, now charges about $13k/year.  There are about a dozen other private schools throughout the state that charge in the same ballpark.  The most expensive, here on the Big Island, is $15k/year. 
This is how they can create an environment here, in private schools, where the level of education is so much higher than in the public schools.  They have the money coming in from the parents, who make a lot of money (typically), who are typically more educated themselves and so have higher paying jobs, and who are also very concerned and so very involved in the schools their children attend.  And with all due respect to the private school administrations and teachers, they almost automatically infuse a very high level of expectation into their curriculum and student body.  Ergo, this is a beautiful symbiotic environment to continually produce better educated students, and the money is a key ingredient.

Others who are so fed up with the centralized poorly funded education system have started public charter schools and these are doing well with totally committed teachers, who are often not in it for the money (thankfully).  The catch is that they are still attached to the public school system and due to, once again, bureaucratic BS, these charter schools receive about $5k less per student per year than the regular public schools.  So, enter bake sales, and auctions and community donation drives, and every other way to gather funds.  Some fail and some survive and flourish, often depending on how long those involved can live on bread and water. 
There’s also a great deal of homeschooling, but the bulk of it here is taken up by parents who have or make the time and feel fit and competent and sufficiently faith-obsessed to want to channel their children’s education away from what they see as poor public education which is otherwise too secular.

A quick set of facts as an example: Our son, who’s now 12, started at age 4 in a Waldorf school here for two years (which I’d strongly recommend for all early education, even beyond—it’s been around much longer and has a firmer grasp of how children learn than this 70-year-old Americanized rote-learning machine).  Then, for K thru 5th (he skipped 1st because of the start he got at Waldorf), he got into the one public school in the state here that has consistently excelled above the rest (in no small part because it’s in a small district where the parents are deeply involved and invested in all aspects of the school and help teachers and admin with thousands of volunteer hours each year).  He then went to a fairly young but highly touted private school for 6th grade, but still found he was more challenged when he was at the public school and so it wasn’t really worth the $9k tuition while they worked out the bugs.  Now, he’s at a public charter school (free, which helps of course) but which is geared primarily to science, enviromental awareness, team-building and responsibilities, and is heavy on accelerated project-based education—geology, geography, solar engineering, ocean thermal energy conversion, marine biology, aquaculture, sustainability, and all of the implicit interconnectedness that warrants addressing and teaching.
Needless to say, my wife and I are very happy that, for our son, geared to the interests he already has, that this school is here, now, and is successfully growing.  It was selected for a $250k grant out of 3300 schools across the nation as one of 20 that Intel and their education partners evaluated as outstanding in science.  We’re also glad he and we won’t be going through the rigomorole of what’s supposed to be taught as “science” in the public schools—no creationism, ID, or other sectarian BS, or with sub-standard expectations.

On the other hand, our 9 year old daughter who has Down’s syndrome would not do well in any other environment than what she gets at the one public school in our area that has consistently excelled in their focus on special needs children.  The staff is typically very devoted and have far more than just the B-average liberal arts degrees and sub-standard teaching certificates.  Master’s degrees are normal.  She’s totally flourishing and we can’t imagine her attending any other school.

So, by way of lengthy explanation, even considering that some of this education environment here might be an anomoly, I think it’s extremely risky to suggest that private schools are typically worse than public or vice versa.  But “typical” is regional.  Definitely some areas of the country are worse than others, but definitely the systemic problems with the federal DOE and the no child left behind testing crap.  It still comes down to money, funding billions on war or education—it’s become one of the other and as a nation we’ve allowed it, voted for it.  The Gate’s and Buffet are taking matters into their own hands, as are so many others in all of our communities, albeit without the same pocket money.

In no uncertain terms, public or private, it’s up to each of us to commit ourselves and our resources—money, time, expertise, whatever.

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Posted: 13 July 2006 01:38 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]  
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kjm,
If you lived here in Dallas you would be complaining along with everyone else about the de-centralized schools. Here in Dallas county with a population of about 2.3 million who are packed into a metropolitan area of 909 sq. mi. we have at least 7 independant school districts. There are a full compliment of superintendents, directors, and administration for each district The superintendent for Dallas alone makes 300K/yr.  Just about everyone in my bible study group is a teacher and they are not happy about the top heavy pay in this area. They would much rather see Dallas County with a centralized district and a fraction of the administrators that the county now employs.

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Posted: 13 July 2006 01:58 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]  
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I agree, HS, I would be complaining if salary discrepancies were that outrageous as in your area.  I don’t think there is necessarily one solution for all school districts in all states.  Specific geography can play a more significant part, like islands removed from each other here, or less.  And how funds trickle or flow down to those who need them will vary widely as well, depending on its management but also how full of themselves the adminstrators think they are from one district to another. 
Decentralization here has been touted as a direct means to get state money immediately and directly dispersed to the areas/schools/students that need it and have it processed using the priorties specific to each need, instead of having priorities generalized at the state level and dictated and meted out without consideration of these specific needs.  This whole monolithic and essentially obtuse process is what has been draining funds rapidly here from the students before they get them.

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