Tumbleweed Talks – The Education Dilemma

Nobel Prize Winning Irish poet William Butler Yeats defined education: Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.

Tumbleweed notes that insanity is often defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the U.S. public education system as currently manifest is total insanity.  It fails us miserably.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some great dedicated teachers and loving concerned parents; it’s just that the system has let them down…big time.

John Dewey is generally regarded as the father of modern public education.  To put modern in context, Dewey lived 100+ years ago.  Yet Dewey is adored even today by liberal progressives.  However, critics blame him for the decline of American education.  Dewey believed that our democracy must be transformed first by a revolution in education, followed by a social and economic revolution.  His idea was to indoctrinate through education to create a more pliable populace for the transformation.  Little wonder that he was highly regarded by and sympathetic to Marxism.  Like the Bolsheviks, Dewey sought the elimination of religion from the public square, especially the schools.  While he was a Communist sympathizer for many years, he eventually recanted, though Marxist influence pervaded his life work and the evolution of U.S. public education.  We can’t ignore U.S. education history without mentioning now U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.  When she was an attorney with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, she expounded regularly on building a massive system of child care in the nation such that wives and mothers would be free to join the workforce.  In a huge way, the public education system served that need.

So, what is this education dilemma?  Tumbleweed contends that today’s U.S. public education system is a system of competing interests representing Federal and state education departments, teacher unions, academia, curricula publishers, education bureaucrats, and politicians.  As John Dewey imagined, this system has facilitated the insertion of revisionist socio-political philosophies into the material taught in our public schools.  It enables the perpetuation of powerful interests in an archaic one-size-fits-all system often referred to as the Prussian model.  It has duped millions of parents into believing that it is infallible.  It subjugates individualism to a government system under the guise of some fallacious socialization for the “greater good.”

Education is huge, a behemoth representing nearly 6 percent of our GDP, one of the highest rates in the world.  Yet, there’s been a broken trust.  In his recently published book Erasing America: Losing Our Future by Destroying Our Past, James Robbins notes that “schooling is necessary to the development not only of a well-rounded person but also of a strong society.  But tearing down traditional history and civics education leaves children weak in these areas.  With the growing intolerance for the exchange of ideas in colleges and universities, basic knowledge of American identity has become confused.  Students no longer know what America stands for, becoming more aware of what divides us than of what unites us.  This thinking begins in the public-school system.

There’s a certain irony here that is actually rather ludicrous.  Just before I joined the board of the school district where I live in in Pennsylvania, it was ranked well into the bottom half of the commonwealth’s 500 school districts.  This in a state that ranked in the bottom third in the nation.  Yet the school had parents convinced it was a top-performing district.  Broken trust?  Most parents are concerned that their children receive a good education that will prepare them for the challenges to be faced in the world.  Parents have an almost totally blind, even naive trust that public schools will deliver that good education, but the education blob leverages that trust to perpetuate its own agendas while wasting billions of dollars on scams like open classrooms or Common Core Standards that mortgage our nation’s future with flawed curricula and excessive time-wasting testing.  Notably, the students who do well in spite of the education system usually do so because their parents care enough to stay actively involved in their education.  Otherwise, they are taught in most cases to the lowest common denominator.  And it serves to frustrate teachers and often chase good ones from the system.  Plus, teacher pay actually declined over the past two decades while per-pupil spending increased by 27 percent.  School districts are saddled with budget-busting debt and profligate retirement systems.  The outcome as Tumbleweed has experienced it is undereducated graduates unable to perform common everyday functions as simple as a signature on a check or credit receipt or reading a tape measure.  Reading skills are at times horribly deficient.  We dare not lose sight of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who said that the sage in the exercise of his governance, empties their minds, fills their bellies, weakens their wills, and strengthens their bones.  Emptying the mind facilitates control.  Dare we refer here to the mindless drivel that passes for education in today’s institutions of higher learning wherein students are unfamiliar with simple civics, unable to name our nation’s leaders, and totally oblivious to the tenets of our Constitution.  Sadly, this is perpetuated by those Federal and state departments of education, teacher unions, colleges and universities, curricula publishers, education bureaucrats, and politicians so they can covet and protect their pieces of the power structure.

            Bottom line, it’s a fraudulent system.  Parents should be outraged, but they mostly stand by benignly as the education system self-destructs at their children’s and our nation’s expense.  For example, in most school districts nationwide, where were parents and Board members when it came time to actually review Common-Core-based curricula page-by page?  I’ve seen that lack of involvement first hand, and we see the result in ever-more progressive socialism-based curricula indoctrinating precious generations of our children.  Equally bad is good teachers being hamstrung by this failed education system, spending inordinate time on standardized testing while scrambling to teach at least some skeletal level of knowledge with the remaining time.  Moreover, under-performing teachers are protected by tenure and receive salary increases regardless of performance. (How many private sector folks would love that?)  The system is a fraud, a total con.  It’s little more than a large, expensive child-care with some education layered in.

So, I’ve framed out the challenge.  Now what?  In my experience most folks from both sides of the political spectrum agree that problems exist.  BUT, how do we solve them?

Let’s first look at local solutions.  We need schools that educate, but throwing money at the problems without achieving true education improvement is a fool’s game.  Without taxpayer largesse propping up their inefficient business model, public schools couldn’t survive.  Academics must be improved and budget austerity must be sustained in an environment of often declining enrollments and ever-lowering tax bases as populations age and dwindle.  (Today’s Millennials aren’t exactly filling the maternity wards.) Progressive-leaning student indoctrination must be squashed, as teachers graduate from colleges featuring overwhelmingly left-of-center political bias.  Bullying must be stopped, and the perpetrators – not the victims – must be punished.  School debt must be eliminated.  It’s imperative to set aggressive agendas for improved academic performance.  STEM and reading programs must be elevated.  Practical labor trades training must be promoted and delivered.  Teaching and learning must feature high goals, give top priority to instructional time, offer ample bonuses for outstanding teachers, and get parents actively involved at ALL grade levels.

Next, let’s consider state solutions.  At higher government levels, states need to end programs like Common Core Standards and associated mind-numbing, resource-wasteful tests, as well as overhaul budget-killing, overly-generous, public-school employee retirement systems to control exponentially rising costs.  These costs cause both school budgets and taxes to increase but not to the direct benefit of students, as public-schools must accommodate those rising retirement system costs.  Budgets must continue to be optimized to meet these concerns without raising taxes that especially impact low/fixed-income citizens and drive them from our communities.  Oh, and the Federal government needs to totally steer clear of education; it’s well above its pay grade.  Best way to do that is to totally eliminate the Department of Education.  It rose to power as part of an NEA voter pact with President Jimmy Carter and has metastasized ever since.  Oh, and do you know any politicians that got elected on a platform of cutting education budgets?  Heaven forbid that we follow the philosophy that it’s not how much money is spent, but how well the money is spent!  Let’s be real.  It’s not about spending more money, it’s about spending it more productively.

Solutions.  In an era of ever easier access to sophisticated technology applications like artificial intelligence or AI based interactive learning, choices in delivering education have grown by orders of magnitude.  Thanks to technology, we can throw away the supposed magic of low student-teacher ratios.  AI-based programs have a 20-year track record of being capable of delivering educational material with 99.6 percent effectiveness compared to a classroom teacher.  Take note of the plethora of online courses available today.  In addition to choices and material customized for individual students, technology has the added benefit of saving taxpayers the expense of brick and mortar infrastructure and large administrative departments.  Great teachers will be able to reach more students more effectively.  And testing students for knowledge retention AS THEY STUDY makes more sense than relying on post-course comprehensive testing.  We might even empower employers to create environments that enable parents to teach and monitor children remotely in both individual and group cooperative environments.  These sorts of solutions destroy the archaic child-care-based public school model and push parents into greater child-rearing responsibility.  We need a radical change in attitude toward education, an openness to new, innovative models.

We must fight back.  Tumbleweed, like many citizens, homeschooled.  My wife and I were nevertheless impacted by public schools as citizens and were concerned about high quality education outcomes.  Our public-school systems are indeed broken but not beyond repair.  The grown-ups must set positive, constructive, adult examples for the students.  Now is when students should truly get to be first.  Boards, parents, administrators, teachers, and students must team to turn back the government public education system behemoth and its legacy of failure.  School choice is an absolute must.  Our children must be prepared to get on in the real world.  We must see that schools deliver practical knowledge for life and careers through optimally educating our children.  If the government education system does continue on its relentlessly destructive path, great alternatives that exist today for parents to fight back include charter schools, home schooling, and private schools.  We just need to get off our collective posteriors and straighten the mess out.  Just sayin’.