Friday, October 31, 2008

A discussion on education

Received a link to a news article from a British paper The Guardian. It was sent to all my EFM group and generated some valid discussion. One of the members of the group is an ex-pat Brit who now holds American Citizenship.

The link to the article is here. Comments generated have been edited to insure confidentiality but only to that extent.

1st reply after viewing the clip:
This is drivel. The sorry state of public education in the US is directly tied to the rise in teachers unions and the degradation of personal responsibility and we all know exactly who supports the unions (Democrats) and we all know who supports government taking the place of individual responsibility (Democrats and Republicans alike).

Everybody in the education system bitches about the NCLB Act and I am sure there are lots of problems with it but its main purpose is to install some accountability in a system that has virtually none (with the exception of those school systems and/or individual schools that have parents that still believe in personal responsibility and will spend the time and effort to make sure their schools succeed). Add to this, that to climb the ladder in school system administration, higher and higher degrees in Education is the only way to move up. This is madness since it means teachers that could get Masters in one of the sciences or mathematics, etc. don’t because it doesn’t give them any hope of succeeding within the management structure.

I am not sure it’s possible to overhaul the US public school system but one thing is for sure, until it happens, this will simply get worse. By the way, if you listen to many of the Democratic leaders besides Obama, their grammar is completely suspect (try listening to a speech by John Murtha if you want to confirm this).

2nd reply:
We fix a lot of things in this country with focus and attention. See the US military, post Vietnam. Should we write off a corner stone of our country because of unions? That's drivel. I guess we can continue to build private schools for the rich, jails for the rest, and enrich other countries with our jobs

3rd reply:
I appreciate the opportunity to discuss real issues of social consciousness with people whom I know and trust and can know personal perspective. The writer's perspective is not known to me and therefore comments regarding his thesis may be a little off base as we have learned from our EFM studies. I do know, however, the time period and culture about which he writes and, therefore feel comfortable in commenting for the sake of discussion with my friends and possibly making some small impact in our community about this important issue. Education, whether of adults or children, shapes a community for generations and is a process that is both institutionalized and individualized. Although there is diversity in the education in the United States, most aspects of this discussion, and, indeed, the greatest result of "education" in the US is a product of our institutional learning or lack thereof. Although there of some aspects which I must agree with this author sadly, most of his thesis I believe misses the mark. What I can agree with him about is the trend in the past generation and possibly current generation in degradation of importance and respect for education and the expression of education in articulated speech. The pop culture does not give positive attributes to the sophisticated thinker, writer, or speaker and punishes those who appear so in the public community--not only politics but also our judicial system and entertainment industry. I cannot understand why that is so and would disagree with this writer in his postulated motives. Certainly, it is not a phenomenon peculiar to the South as he asserts. The further assertions that Christian fundamentalism and social engineering drive misinformation and ignorance in our schools may have some acknowledgment, but far greater is the fact that our public educational system reflects our bottom-heavy social structure rife with racial prejudice, violence, absence of discipline often coincident with absent parents, poverty, diffusion of accountability, and crippling effect of community unproductive attitudes sustained by entitlement programs. Certainly centralized rather than locally controlled education is NOT the answer since centralization further promotes service to the lowest common denominator and diffuses accountability further. Centralization is clumsier and less responsive and less aware than local control, but there must be empowerment over a broad reach of communities which is greater than the regionalized wealth and there must be an impassioned, educated, and accountable local mechanism. To that end, I heartily endorse you ….(person) and ….(other person) attending and speaking up for education at the next school board meeting. When you and other parents take control of local school boards and become involved in your community in other ways addressing the other social ills regarding equal employment opportunity, support for the core family in parental responsibilities and meeting basic human needs in nutrition, housing, clothing and spiritual direction; restoration of at the neighborhood level of a violence-free and property-respecting community; then indeed we will ALL be closer to the kingdom of God.

4th reply:
I would agree. Involvement is vital but the even greater over riding problem is the bottom heavy-ness as you describe it. In ….(city), for example, the problem is not the schools teachers curriculum or administration. It is the generational poverty we have. The value of education is not valued.

5th reply:
I agree with you that lots of things have been fixed over the years with focus and attention. However, focus and attention in itself is worth little without a clear, realistic plan and the determination to carry it out (see W & Donald Rumsfeld and their failed (no)plan for governing Iraq after the war) and most importantly the willingness to change the plan if it’s not working. Most of these requirements for success are lacking when it comes to public education. I think you and I should attend the next ….(local school) Board meeting. I bet we can decide pretty quickly if ….(school board) is on the way up or the way down by simply listening to what they say (up I hope – and yes I voted for the bond election so we can build new PUBLIC schools that hopefully will help cure this problem ).

6th reply:
I have spent the last 20 years of my life dealing with public education, and certainly I agree with it being in a sorry state. In looking for causes, I can agree that teacher’s unions must carry their share, even though IMHO they have failed their members in some very important aspects. Lack of personal responsibility, as ….(person) points out, is another factor though I am not sure whether this is a cause or a symptom of an underlying causes.
From my brushes with public education, I have concluded the following:
• • Since the 1960’s in this country we have created (unintentionally, I am sure) a permanent underclass marked by entitlement. This social engineering has had devastating effects, including the destruction of traditional family systems, respect for law, and completely distorted values and priorities.
• • By throwing money rather than good thinking at educational problems, we have created an environment in which education is something we do to students, rather than make available to them. In this environment, students (and their parents) rapidly arrive at the conclusion that if a student fails, it is the school’s fault rather than the student.
• • Well-intentioned sub-divisions within schools—i.e. vocational education—have allowed schools to dump students into academic curricula that assume that they cannot learn so rigorous academics are not offered. This has the effect of allowing teachers to conclude that all students are incapable of learning, and has created a massive negative stigma towards those students not in an academically rigorous curriculum.
• • Some of the side effects of social engineering have created living nightmares for teachers, which result in a huge teacher drop-out rate within the first two years of starting to teach. They are subjected to physical and verbal abuse, they are faced with latch-key students who were unable to sleep, let alone study, the night before because of their horrible home environment of drugs, violence and abuse. I assure you that none of this is exaggerated. While ….(local city) has plenty of this, our urban areas reek of it. Talk to teachers, as I do, and ask yourself if theirs is a life that you could stand. Many are highly dedicated but find themselves under stress on all sides. Faced with being asked to test students at every turn rather than teach, many wonderful teachers are getting out as soon as they can, and I don’t blame them. For support on this, talk to any of the teachers at ….(private) Day School who have been in the public schools. Many take a lesser salary to be at ….(private Day school) rather than face the current school conditions.
• • For many reasons, many teachers in classrooms are not qualified. For example, I hear estimates that at least 30% of math teachers nationwide do not have math or teaching qualifications. They teach under waiver. State after state is offering a bounty to qualified teachers if they will move to that state to teach. Some are advertising internationally. You cannot teach what you don’t know.
• • The ethnic mix of our student population has shifted radically over the last 40 years. Interestingly, almost all subgroups of the student cohort—i.e. black females, Hispanic males, etc.—have made progress on standardized tests, but the aggregate average has deteriorated. White and oriental students are scoring as well or better than they ever have; there are just fewer of them compared to minorities, who start way behind whites in performance.
• • Lack of education used not to matter a whole lot. In 1950, 85% of American jobs required basic arithmetic, a 5th-grade reading level, and the ability to drive a car. Now most of these low-level jobs have been exported to where they can be done cheaper. The 85% number had shrunk to less than 15% by 1990. The vast majority of today’s jobs requires higher math and communication skills, along with computer and improved social abilities. Schools simply have not kept up with the needs of employers. At the same time, many students and their parents (who do not involve themselves directly in education reform) continue to be in love with the fantasy of going to college, only to run into the wall when they “graduate” from high school, finding that they have neither the abilities to get into university nor the skills to get a good job.
• • The Guardian is a lousy newspaper, and has been ever since it quit being the Manchester Guardian. I found George Monbiot’s article to be further evidence of this. He is ignorant of our political system. He has no first hand knowledge of our educational system. He believes he is capable of passing judgment on people he has never met, who reside on a different continent, and who have the effrontery to hold different political views than he. Clearly he has no religious bone in his body and little knowledge of religious matters. What more need I say?
• • Like ….(person), I am not sure that the current educational system can be fixed. Perhaps if we eliminated education as a fundamental right and made it a privilege, we would see some change. Perhaps if we gave teachers and schools authority to rescind the privilege, that would help. Perhaps if we denied unqualified teachers access to classrooms—no matter what the consequences might be, that would help. Perhaps if we gave parents and students choice to leave bad schools for better ones, that would help. Perhaps if we had a national consensus of what should be taught and when, that would help students who move from one school to another from falling off the cliff. Perhaps if we forced the different levels of education to work together for the betterment of students, where all levels took responsibility for the success of students at every level, that would bring about change. Perhaps if sports was part of the curriculum for ALL students, and not just a chosen few, we could address obesity and other problems. Perhaps if we valued academics and technical skills as highly as we do sports, things would change. But then again, pigs might fly!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My political screed

In an email from a loved one the other day I was asked:
“The more angry mobs and outcries I see at McCain (and especially Palin) stump speeches and town halls, the more I have come to believe this is not just your typical presidential race. And I am not talking about the candidates honesty here. I think all distort the truth to their benefit (even the "holy one", Obama). However, I do think the Republican Party is walking a very fine line between appropriate and truly harmful behavior. And with people hurting and scared about their future more than normal, I fear they are quickly achieving an unwanted result--that being a angerously divided country. They are succeeding in making up to one half of the ountry, were Obama to win, believe that their President is something akin to an Arab terrorist. Again, not playing politics, I think the coverage I have seen over multiple networks have accurately captured the sentiments of many. What I wonder is just how much I should worry about my fears becoming reality. Specifically, when we look back to times of integration and the Vietnam War (both of which you were witness to in some capacity), is this one of those times? Should we fear the irrational response of an extremist against our president (yes I am referring to Kennedy, but also to Reagan, who was shot at shortly after a period of discontent) or a statesman (like MLK, though I don't know your opinion of him). I hope you can shed some light on how closely you feel this period in our Country's history resembles the others I have mentioned, and what may or may affect whether we reach one of those times.”

Considering the email over a period of a couple of days, I replied:
“I have to preface this reply with the comment: ‘It is my considered opinion that if Obama wins this election it will be as a result of the Mainstream Media's concerted efforts to cause it to occur. I don't know when I've seen more one sided coverage of an election. It seems to me that Obama and Biden are being held to a far different standard than that of McCain & Palin by the MSM, strictly due to the MSM's liberal agenda.’

Now, on to your question. Politics do seem progressively more volatile than in years past. Eisenhower vs. Stevenson (I believe) was very low key. That was followed by Kennedy vs. Nixon and that race wasn't volatile either. The biggest issue of that election seemed to be Kennedy's Roman Catholic faith. Some believe that LBJ was at least complicit in JFK's Assassination, others see it as the Cubans as a result of his botched Bay of Pigs invasion, still others the "Mob" because of Bobby Kennedy's efforts to renege on a campaign promise to them for their support and yet others as the CIA, who he "crapped" on. I won't ever know, but I will die believing that Lee Harvey Oswald was NOT a "lone gunman" who shot the sitting President. Nor was it by disgruntled American citizens. Kennedy's assassination was about POWER, plain and simple. LBJ then ran against Goldwater (a Republican from Arizona who I supported) and defeated him. He (LBJ) later halfheartedly took most of the steps in Vietnam that Goldwater said needed to occur and that LBJ promised wouldn't, following his (LBJ’s) using of Goldwater's comments to scare the country from electing him. He also created the "Great Society" which I feel is a root cause of the current black impoverishment and decline of black society (and society in general). Exclusive of segration (which HAD to end) black society was much more mainstream in the 50's & 60's than it is now, the hatred of blacks towards whites didn't seem to be what it is today. Supporting and enabling a class of society to be poor has encouraged that class to remain so. Crime rates back then weren't near as high, single parent families weren't as prevalent, discipline was far better, etc., etc., etc.

The mid-sixties were a time of quantum change. The first "boomers" reached 18 in 1964 and their parents, who had endured the great depression, WWII, the Korean conflict and "the specter of the bomb" wanted a better life for them. To a point children weren't very rebellious towards their parents and were looking for a cause. They found it in Vietnam War protest & drugs, i.e. "peace, love, dope". Shortly before this was forced integration which was divisive (to be kind) in the deep South. That coincidentally is what cost Martin Luther King his life. He was a great statesman; however, a recollection of him in that period was his failure, much the same as the liberal Muslims of today, to preach directly against the violent proponents of his/their cause. None the less, there have always been and will always be bitter people, and he was shot by one. For the most part it's my opinion that the young people of the era were who drove most of the unrest of the time, looking for change, BTW. The Sixties were an ugly time with close to anarchy in some cities and campuses. But we did get change, though not for the better to my way of thinking. It is also my belief that most of the news media is now liberal and has come of age since the Sixties; hence, they are "pushing" their agenda of the Sixties yet again.

Following LBJ's decision not to run for a second term Nixon ran against Humphrey (I believe). He (Nixon) was elected, ended the war in Vietnam and withdrew. The Vietnamese War was poorly run and the people of the US (much the same as they did towards the end of WW II) grew tired of it. I feel it was in part caused by the one sided reporting of the news media. It also seems the US people have never been much on inconvenience and with biased reporting, grew tired of the investment, real or presumed. Anyway, Nixon had Watergate his second term, he resigned and Jerry Ford took over as Pres. He was a good man and the country was relatively quiet once again until Carter came along. Ford had an assassination attempt on him while President. The Ford Carter race was not terribly divisive, Carter was elected and became arguably the WORST person ever to serve. He was dumped after one term, beaten by Reagan. Again a relatively quiet race and time in history. Reagan, who I believe to be one of our BEST Presidents, unified the Country, brought back a pride in America and ended the Cold War. Reagan was also shot while in office, by a nut case, not really over politics. He was followed by one term of Bush Sr. who was then defeated by Bill Clinton. Without going into my beliefs about the Clinton White House, I concede that the economy flourished and most people were happy to some extent though more conservative folks quickly became disenchanted with the Clintons liberalism and social agenda. This is where it seems that a more vocal conservative base began being heard. Newt Gingerich's conservative "Contract with America" won the House of Reps. away from the Dems. and the fight was joined. From that point forward it seems to have become a case of one upsmanship between the two parties with the American people being the losers. Definitely, progressively more volatile from that point forward. Following the Clintons was Bush II, who WON Florida by all accounts but the Dems. were "pissed" and the war was on for good. It was time to "get even" for all the conservatives actions towards the Clintons. Bush II has not been a good President but I believe there are some things he's gotten a "bum rap" for. As such, we've become a Nation of "gotchas" and it became the Dems' turn to do the gettin'.

Really there seem to be two battles going on simultaneously, that between the two parties (Dems. and Reps. - each one as bad as the other) for POWER and control as well as that between the liberals and conservatives for the direction that America will pursue in the future. The battles have been "pitched", and each side is absolutely vilified by the other. Common sense, as well as any middle ground, has been lost along the way and I fear that the America I was taught to love and honor has long since been set aside.

So in answer, Yes, America is a dangerously divided country, driven to that division by the powers that be to secure their power. Is it akin to those other times, No, I don't believe so; I fear the issues are far more reaching. It is my considered opinion that the U.S. is already Socialist and the true question becomes to what degree will we be so? You know me well enough that you don't need my opinion on Socialism, in any form. I am a Federalist and a Libertarian.

In closing, I commend you to three books. Animal Farm and 1984, both by George Orwell and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. In them I fear I see the direction our Nation is taking and believe that soon the question on thinking peoples minds will be: ‘Where is John Galt?’ Before it comes to that you can/will color us gone.”

Love always,