Deficiencies in Government Schools

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Dear visionaries,

A thank you to Jonathan for a courteous reception.

And a thank you as well to Thomas for the question. Pardon my non-brief reply. Individual deficiencies in government education that result in substandard service would include, but not be limited to:

1. Rootless experimentalism in teaching methodologies: for example, private schools that use phonics have one hundred percent literacy coming out of first grade. Whole language doesn’t work well at all in teaching kids to read, but it does work in creating a class of kids with learning disabilities. These kids then need a special program. Which, incidentally, needs to be funded.

2. Underestimating the abilities of students: file this under “light a candle/curse the darkness.” In my experience, modern American students have an outstanding capacity to learn, and I have seen many of them excel. There is nothing in our air or water that creates poor performance, but there is something in the schools. We hit where we aim, but we aim low. To steal a phrase from a politician, this is just the soft bigotry of low expectations.

3. Confusion of self-esteem and self-respect: self respect comes from doing a job well. But if everyone gets a participant ribbon regardless of the job done, this simply teaches the children contempt for the praise offered by their teachers and parents.

4. Bureaucratized neglect of the bottom line: because the schools are not in the private sector, they have little or no market pressure to respond to events in the marketplace. In a private school, if a significant percentage of the students go to another school, everyone knows where, when and how it happened within twenty-four hours. But here in Moscow, twenty years ago, less than five percent of the kids in Moscow were being educated privately. Now the figure is around thirty percent, and the government school establishment is speculating that the kids moved to Thailand or something. This is the “poster child” of lack of responsiveness.

5. Neglect of discipline: students are disciples, and this means they flourish under discipline. But since the late sixties, those characteristics which make for good students — prompt, clean, obedient, hard-working, and so on — have been consistently mocked and rejected in our culture. Those who see the value in such things have decided that they can only be inculcated through private association with people who think the same way. Call this the green hair/nose ring issue.

6. Monopolistic arrogance: every institution that does not have to face competition for a time gets fat and out of shape. Then when competition does eventually come, it is not comprehensible to the soon to be ex-monopoly. I mentioned the figure of thirty percent earlier. If present trends continue (as I expect them to), within another decade or so, then government education in our town will fall below fifty percent. Hand-wringing and name-calling on the part of the establishment won’t keep it from happening, and is part of the reason why it has been happening as rapidly as it has.

7. Prickliness: when criticism is leveled at the government schools, particularly when it comes from conservative Christians, the response of the establishment is consistently shrill and humorless, which is why the recent set of dust-ups contained as much humor as they did. Are your schools places where joy is taught? Or are they grim factories that used to manufacture more knowledge than they do now?

8. Religious nature of education: education is one of the most religious things we do. A good education addresses the big questions head-on, with no shilly-shallying. Government education at its best is an attempt to dodge the big questions, in which case the education is deficient. At its worst, government education answers the questions in one way, but pretends that it is not. “No, Suzy, you did evolve from the primordial goo, but we are not saying that your pastor is wrong when he says you didn’t.”

Thanks for the opportunity to post.

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