Saturday, January 26, 2008

In Denial of the Curriculum

The Friday Jan.25th Detroit News offers an interesting contrast by way of two articles as to what's wrong with Michigan schools. First is an op-ed under Labor Voices in the editorial section by Iris Salters president of the Michigan Education Association (MEA, a teachers union) titled "How Michigan Should Improve Schools." My comments will be in brackets.

Ms. Salters reports on a visit to Chicago where she observed smaller schools within schools and this seemed to be having good results. Then adds:
Regardless of school size, students need a sense of belonging. [No, they need a sense of efficacy, of competence in dealing with the real world] They need to take responsibility for decisions about their learning. [How can a student take responsibility for his learning except by showing up hoping his teacher will teach him something?] In a transformed high school dedicated to building relationships, [What about building knowledge?] empowered staff members learn to share leadership responsibilities, [With whom?] innovative ideas, student profiles and best practices. [What best practices?]
There are lots of feel good words and adjectives in the op-ed but no mention of any desire or plan to develop students' conceptual faculties. No mention of the need to teach kids how to think instead of what to think. It's as if these concepts are totally irrelevant to today's educational leaders. Ms. Salters goes on to use the 'without access' argument so often used by modern intellectuals to explain problems with which they don't know how to deal.
Beyond these areas, all students need a strong foundation with access to solid preschool and kindergarten programs, highly qualified teachers, up-to-date books and technology, consistently high expectations and a safe environment where basics are taught well.
One can see the influence of Immanuel Kant as that entire paragraph is a description of appearances with no mention of how to make them happen. 'Strong', 'solid', 'highly qualified', 'up-to-date', 'high', 'safe', 'well' are nice touchy-feely, who can argue with such desirable images, kind of words. But no mention is made as to how to bring them into existence. I will only add that if teachers are teaching the whole language method of reading and/or the shotgun approach (new math) to mathematics, they are not qualified to teach anything.

The next item is a front page article "Volunteers needed to tutor kids" by News writer Jennifer Mrozowski. It starts:
The United Way of Southeastern Michigan on Thursday launched a new early education initiative to improve dismal reading test scores in Metro Detroit by recruiting and training more than 2,000 volunteers to serve as tutors.

Dubbed Operation ABC, the plan seeks to improve the reading levels of first- and second-graders by joining together school districts, nonprofits, corporations and volunteers. The project is a component of United Way's Agenda for Change.

United Way President and CEO Michael J. Brennan, who unveiled the new initiative at the UAW Solidarity House, issued a formal call to action for volunteers, who will be required to commit one to five hours each week.
You know, we have charter schools, private schools, home schooling, the commercial marketing of "Hook On Phonics" and many others, and now the labor unions and private charities are getting involved all trying to make up for the utter cognitive destructiveness of the public school curriculum of whole language reading. At least United Way understands the importance of learning to read:
"The reason this is so important is that you learn to read up through grade three, and you read to learn from grade three and on," Brennan said. "Third-grade learning is one of the key academic metrics you want to see success on."
But even in this article there is no questioning as to why these efforts are needed, why aren't the public schools teaching kids to read today the same successful way kids were taught 50 years ago? The answer is of course the curriculum.

In reading education articles today, one never sees the issue of curriculum discussed. It's as if the subject is off limits; as if the whole language method of reading is sacred ground not to be questioned in any way. Of course, if the United Way and Ms. Salters really wanted to improve education, they would be screaming at the top of their lungs "Get the government out of it."

The essence of education is developing the reasoning mind. The essence of government is physical force. To mix the two is to eventually force reason out. That is why we have an irrational curriculum in public schools. And it isn't just public schools. Wherever government influence is felt, reason will be subordinated to justifying government policy. Why? "Governmental encouragement does not order men to believe the false to be true, it merely makes them indifferent to the issue of truth or falsehood"--Ayn Rand, and she was so right.

4 comments:

Burgess Laughlin said...

Mike, thank you for exposing these two movements that exist side-by-side in our culture.

I wonder: What will be required to abolish statist schools? In other words, what cultural changes will be required to make that abolition possible?

Mike N said...

It will take a moral revolution I think. If having their kids graduate from public schools unable to read or do simple math didn't wake up Americans as to the problem--and it hasn't--of government controled education, nothing will. Although more and more Americans are looking for private schools or home schooling, that number is still to small to effect any change. Too many Americans have been 'pragmatized' if you will. They only think about what is obviously in front of their noses. If kids aren't taught right then it must be the fault of bad teachers or not enough money or computers, or whatever the latest statist excuse is. My fear is that if the private and homeschooling movements get popular enough, the govenment will crack down and force them to use government 'accredited' curiculum and the crippling of America's youth will be complete.
I think that it's possible for people to conclude that public education is no longer practical, but to answer the question why would require principled thought and that is precisely what is not being taught in public schools and what most adults are incapable of answering. The problem as I see it is anything with the word private attached carries the connotation of self-interest which altruism holds is selfish and therefore evil. At least some principles of rational sefishness need to spread out more in our culture. Then things will change. The influence of Objectivism is helping in that regard but it needs more time.

Bruce Price said...

Fine column. But criticising these people seems to be moral admonitions off a drug dealer's back. Is there any point of weakness? Mike was apparently on the inside. Speculate on what levers might work best: Ridicule. Cutting budgets. More charter schools, etc. Requiring all teachers to major in subjects they will teach...
Judging by the situation in Norfolk, Va. I think one of the big problems is that the typical liberal paper sides with the NEA. This is especially comical as the NEA and Whole Word are destroying the paper's readership!

Mike N said...

Bruce:

"This is especially comical as the NEA and Whole Word are destroying the paper's readership!"

I like that. Very true. You'd think newspaper and magazine people would have more brains than to endorse public education's Whole Word method of teaching reading.

What I think may work eventually is to keep harping--to papers, politicians and others on the futility of Whole Word, the corruption of teacher unions, and the fact that since public education is based on pragmatism, that pragmatism doesn't work. That coupled with the promotion of that which does work like phonics, a hierarchical math, and a system where teachers are self-interested, i.e. where it is in the teachers self-interest to teach. It can also be pointed out that private schools will be more likely to have some discipline.