Here is something that both sides of the aisle should be ashamed. Public education has been deteriorating for years, and our state and federal elected officials don’t seem to care! We are in the middle of many discussions about the “war on poverty” Lyndon Johnson declared 50 years ago. Both sides of the aisle are talking about that “war” and both sides have differing views about whether or not it worked. That really is not the point. The real point is that poverty is still present in our society. There are a lot of reasons for that, but public education is one of, if not the, major reason for continued poverty.
At one time we had the best education system in the world! People from all around the world were trying to get to America, partly because they knew that their children would receive the best education possible. Somewhere that has all stopped. But why? Why is it that America has fallen so dramatically in educating our children?
I guess it really started with the passage of the Civil Rights bill. Once schools were desegregated, all sorts of “alternative” schools began popping up. These schools were really a diversion from the fact that many white people didn’t want their children sitting next to minorities. Their problem was that these “alternative” schools were all private. Therefore, they didn’t get any funding from the government. That was a problem, because many couldn’t get enough people to pay the tuition.
The next big thing was “home education”. Parents kept their kids home and taught them themselves. Now, if you happened to be a child of professional, educated parents, it may have worked well for you. But, all too often, home education failed the children miserably. Then we started hearing things like “vouchers” for education. Vouchers were supposed to be the answer. You take tax dollars and give it directly to parents so they can send their children to private schools. Sounds nice, but it would have drained the public schools from very needed funding.
There was also a lot of tinkering with curriculum. All sorts of programs were instituted, both at the federal and local levels, in an attempt to make sure every child received a good education. All of these programs were designed around “core or standard” testing. What really became reality was that we stopped teaching our children how to “think” and began rote memorization of “test” material. This really came to fruition when teacher’s performance was tied directly to these tests. Standardized tests have been around for generations. I took standardized test in school. But, they were also used as a tool to see where improvements were needed. Not used just to fire teachers!
The latest “silver bullet” to “fix” public education is the Charter Schools. Rather than spend the money to upgrade public school buildings, hire more teachers, and actually fix public education from the inside, we started “hiring” private companies to run public schools for us. In the beginning, most of these Charter Schools did fairly well in regards to the standardized tests. However, that didn’t last long. Most Charter Schools do no better than normal Public Schools and in many cases do worse.
Yet, both Democrats and Republicans tout these Charter Schools. They keep sending millions of tax dollars to these “for profit” education companies and receive less for the money in return. On top of that, some of the biggest “for profit” companies have seen continuing scandals about their operations. Running from Medicaid fraud to making 5 year olds sit on the bare floor until they “earn” their desks. One company actually sits children in front of computer screens for hours at a time without proper teacher intervention. They put up to 100 children in cubicles and use “instructors”, not teachers to monitor their activity. Many of these Charter Schools are hiring teachers who were laid off from other Public Schools for “poor performance”.
There are also lots of complaints of abuse of children at these schools. There are examples of children being put in padded cells for up to 20 minutes alone. Children being forced to sit on benches wearing signs that read “cretin”. And these are just the tip of the ice burg. A tutor who had worked at a “no excuse” charter school in Boston recently wrote a letter to her former students on the edu-blog site Edushyster. She confessed, “What I saw at your ‘No Excuses’ charter startled me and still troubles me deeply. I was trained on how to discipline you, but not on the best way to help you understand material. I was lectured on how to turn your learning into data points, but was never told who you are and where you came from. Your school forced me to do things that I don’t believe are in your best interest.”
All of this has come about because states are more interested in NOT spending money on education than they are in educating the children. In both urban and rural areas, some schools are still operating that were built in the early 1900s. There has been little or no upgrades to the facilities. Many don’t even have air conditioning for those hot autumn and spring school days. Yet the cry from politicians is to spend less on education, not more. The really weird part of this to me is that these same politicians brag how Public Education helped them get where they are. Yet, they are apparently willing to see to it that no one else can get there by denying them the same education they received.
I remember when public education was pretty close to being on par with private schools. I even remember public high schools that were dedicated to Vocational instruction. For example, Chicago had Chicago Vocational School. This was a public high school that not only taught the basic education curriculum, it taught vocational skills as well. The vocational skills were taught by actual practitioners. Students there could learn auto mechanics, welding, carpentry, etc. It even offered night classes for adults who needed to learn a new skill because they were losing their job. These types of schools have all but disappeared. Now, if someone wants to learn these skills, they have to attend private training institutes that specialize in these fields. But, only after they either graduate or drop out of high school, and at a substantial cost.
Let’s face a simple fact. We have failed our children! By doing so, we have almost made it a certainty that those at the bottom of the economic ladder will remain there. We have stopped teaching our children how to critically think! We have even failed in teaching them basic skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic. I don’t know if it is true, but I have heard rumors that some schools don’t teach cursive anymore. They only teach printing! If that is true, how will they be able to “sign” their driver’s license? We live in a global economy. How can we expect our children to compete with say The Czech Republic when they cannot even point it out on a map?
We have cut the arts to almost nothing. Many schools have dropped extra-curricula activities like theater, science clubs, and debate clubs, but still pump money into sports. Yes, sports is an important part of growing up and I am not advocating dropping them. But so is theater, science, debate, etc. Not every student is an athlete. I believe that it is time to put an end to Charter Schools, and start rebuilding our public education system back up from scratch! Better facilities, good teachers, proper curriculum, arts, language, science, and yes, even geography are all the building blocks to create a promising future for our children.
There is still a lot of work to do in the “war on poverty”. The mish-mash that we see today in our Public School system is part of the problem. It was once said that you needed to teach the three R’s, but it was also agreed that a more rounded education offering experiences in many fields was equally important.
Sorry, but we will never defeat poverty until we give every child in America a good education. Education has always been, and will continue to be, the “great equalizer”. It is time we get back to educating our children, not playing politics and denying them their future!