Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Wonder-ful Education

I can only surf through Joanne Jacob's blog when I'm in a really good mood. Most of the time, the articles she posts there point to a truly chaotic future for education in this country, and my poor stomach just can't take it.

Take this whopper, as an example. Peter W. Cookson, Jr., dean of the Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education, opines that the entire educational system in Oregon is currently disconnected. K-12 is disconnected from higher education, private education is disconnected from public education, and so forth. He also states, correctly I believe, that education is a life-long experience requiring both formal and informal opportunities. So far, so good.

The rest of the article, however, begins to sound less like a call for educational reform, and more like the rantings of a corporate total quality initiative - all jargon and no substance. He speaks of creating "dynamic partnerships" (but, between whom?) and enabling Oregonians to be "culturally competent" (but, by whose standards?). He calls this a "cooperative model" utilizing all of the state's resources (all of them??). "Accountability," he says "is one of the current buzzwords in education..."

My "natural work team" at the office could have come up with this stuff, and there's not a PhD in the bunch.

Most ironic, however, in this article is his invoking of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson, while a great proponent of having an educated citizenry, would likely be quite alarmed at the extent to which modern educators will go to avoid educating anyone.

Jefferson was well educated as a youth, and entered William and Mary's by age seventeen. By the time he left, he was already well on his way to becoming one of the great minds of the eighteenth century. He read law after leaving school and was called to the bar in 1766. I wonder if Mr. Jefferson would qualify in Mr. Cookson's mind as being "culturally competent," or even "accountable."

Of course, no modern call for reform would be complete without the standard NEA plea for quality educators who will stay in the system longer than five years. I'm assuming here that this can only be satisfied by raising everyone's taxes, since money alone will draw new talent into the pool. They certainly can't do anything more with the money they're already receiving, can they?

This kind of talk usually percolates whenever a report surfaces stating that kids are doing poorly on their test scores again. Once that kind of thing gets out, the incriminations run rampant. The reasons will always dwell on one or more of the following points:

a. Class sizes dilute the available face time any individual student can have with a teacher.

b. Standardized tests discriminate against our particular ethnic mix, and are therefore evil.

c. Slimey politicians (usually the conservative ones) are trying to tie educators' hands by limiting their funding and preventing them from teaching kids about (pick your favorite controversial social issue).

Never once will you hear reference to the idea that perhaps, just perhaps, education needs to return to the basics that have been taught for many generations. Until mine, that is.

No, whenever we dare to ask them to raise the bar on a subject like math, educators cry foul and say that we're discriminating against inner-city or immigrant children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds and therefore can't keep pace with the other students. We need to level the playing field, they say. This is double-talk for "we can't get anyone interested in math because we've made it so complicated that even we don't get it."

I find it amazing that in the face of faltering test scores, teachers will suddenly go to great lengths to make sure they're preparing their students to take those tests. They seem to instinctively return to the basics that make up the same kind of classical education that Jefferson himself received. Reading (comprehension above all), writing (well-formed and well-reasoned), arithmetic (required in nearly every facet of life whether we care to admit it or not), history (lest we doom ourselves to repeat it), and classical philosophy (studies in reasoned discourse and critical thinking, as opposed to the diluted humanism we teach today). Amazing how the old stand-bys come through when the chips are down.

I wish Mr. Cookson well in his search for a cooperative model. In the meantime, my wife and I will teach our children at home, lest they form what Mr. Jefferson might call "entangling alliances" with public education victims.

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