Friday, October 06, 2006


Compulsory public education: yes or no?

I was going to stay away from this discussion, because my opinion is rather far from most extremes, and I don't know of anyone who both agrees with me and has the chutzpa to implement the ideas.

I'll just throw it out there. Anyone who wants to pick it apart, all I ask is that you come up with alternatives that will work. I don't much care whose idea gets used, so long as it addresses the key issues.

1) Self-esteem. This has become the defacto "family value" of choice in the whole education debate. It is predicated on the worst possible concept: that all children in a given peer group are equally intelligent, equally mature, and capable of progressing at an equal rate. We push them not to do their best, but to do as well or better than their peers. This is the single, most destructive influence in education.

2) Authority. I don't care what else you do, I don't care if you bust all the unions or fire the whole damn faculty, so long as you institute a simple rule and enforce it to the max: if you give a teacher or administrator responsibility, you must give hir the authority to match it.

3) Respect for expertise. Teachers and administrators go to college, take certification exams, and are interviewed by veterans before being hired. Teaching majors spend at least a full semester apprenticed to an experience teacher in a live classroom. Some of them read all the horror stories out there, and still deliberately vie for positions on the front lines. You (general) could have the basic decency and courtesy to believe them when they say a theory, program or approach wiil or will not work, and keep your (general) untrained and ignorant paws off of them while they try to do their jobs.

In general, there are glaring examples of each of the following all over, and sometimes in the private sector as well: desparate need for fiscal accountability (as in, someone is lining their pockets with your tax dollars to the detriment of your children: why aren't you doing something about that?); a small but vocal minority of parents are behind the politicians who are not hesitating to promote their personal agendas on the backs of failing children, with no intention of actually doing something about it; there are good, decent, successful schools out there who are being aggressively and vindictively attacked because they are successful, because they are surrounded by a district that is killing itself and can't abide this glaring and local comparison for their failures...

I am by a long stretch not the first one to say these things, nor am I alone at all in being public about it... but if more people don't start seeing and hearing this message, then I'll just have to take my words and eat them, for all the good they might do.

I know, I've managed to bore you (general) to tears and not actually say a thing about compulsory education. Try reading it all the way through with this thought in mind: if education were actually the way it should be, "compulsory" would be the last word on anyone's mind.

Scattered thoughts...

I've been sitting here for days thinking about this one. :) I think I still hold to my opinion... that there should not be compulsory public education. I prefer the idea of diversifying into private education, homeschooling, tutoring, and apprenticeship.

1. Self Esteem - In this society, children are expected to spend hours and hours each day in the presence of others who have nothing in common but age. I think that grouping kids according to interest and learning ability will make it easier for them to find a sense of self-worth. A non-governmental educational system would be more likely to focus on education instead of all sorts of mandates designed to produce a 'good member of society'.

Schooling used to take place in one large room, with all the grades learning together. I notice that the textbooks in those days are actually more advanced than present-day.

2. If parents feel that they have more control over their children's schooling, they will be more likely to enforce the authority of the teachers they choose.

3. Respect for expertise... I admit I'm not sure where that fits into a non-public educational system in a different way than it already does. I admit that I have seen some bad teachers allowed to stay in place due to "Tenure"... including a college professor that students circulate a petition once every three or four years in an attempt to unseat. Each time the answer is the same: He's got tenure.

..You know what, though, there are some people who disagree with the idea of 'compulsory' education regardless of how 'high-quality' it is. Case in point: the homeschooling families in Germany who are being jailed and still refuse to give up their kids to the State.
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