Saturday, August 26, 2006

It's the Curriculum...

Sometimes a newspaper can run several stories on the same general subject, each one making a different point, sometimes seemingly contradicting each other. Such was the case in the 08/25/06 Detroit News regarding two news items and one op-ed.

First, the front page article "More Schools Flunk" with subtitle "544 schools fail to make progress." These are Michigan schools and that number is up from 436 last year which was up from 297 in 04. So why are they getting worse?

One of the biggest reasons given is 500,000 more students took the Michigan Educational Assessment Test. So? There shouldn't be any schools failing to teach kids how to read and do math. The existence of such large numbers can only mean that the school system has been failing miserably for some time and the new standards are just bringing that fact to light.

Nowhere in the article is there any mention of curriculum. But there is this:

"This is an eye-opener," said Sharif Shakrani, co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University. "We need to do a thorough analysis of where the problems lie and what we need to do about it."

How much do you want to bet curriculum won't get 'analyzed'? Setting high standards is a good thing, but it means nothing if teachers are given a curriculum that stifles childrens' minds. You cannot stamp your feet and demand that carpenters build a stronger house if all you're going to give them is balsa wood.

The second item of interest is an op-ed by Iris Salters who is president of the Michigan Education Association, a teachers' union. It's titled "Union only improves public education." Boy what bad timing!

Ms. Salters op-ed is partly in response to an ad campaign by the Center for Union Facts which "incorrectly accuses union leaders of irresponsible education spending."
I know nothing about the Center for Union Facts but I will look into them. In any event, it seems even they are not concerned with curriculum but with waste.

Ms Salters doesn't mention curriculum either but claims: "Employee unions have helped to create a tradition of high-quality education." I'm sorry but 544 failing schools is anything but 'high-quality.' Again, it doesn't matter how skilled a workforce is, it can't build a solid structure on a foundation of quicksand which is progressive education.

The third article is a news item titled "Anti-psychotic drug use soars." For me the key quote is:

"The findings augment earlier studies that have documented a sharp rise over the past decade in the prescription of psychiatric drugs for children, including anti-psychotics, stimulants like Ritalin and anti-depressants, whose sales have slipped only recently. But the study is the most comprehensive to examine the increase in prescriptions for anti-psychotics.

"The explosion in the use of drugs, some experts said, can be traced in part to the growing number of children and adolescents whose problems are given psychiatric labels once reserved for adults and to doctors' increasing comfort with a newer generation of drugs for psychosis. Shrinking access to long-term psychotherapy and hospital care may also play a role, the experts said."

And this which appeared in the print edition but not the online one:

"Anti-psychotic drugs also carry risks, and experts said that little is known about the use of anti-psychotics in minors: Only a handful of small studies have been done in children and adolescents.

'We are using these medications and don't know how they work, if they work, or at what cost,' said Dr. John March, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Duke University.

'It amounts to a huge experiment with the lives of American kids, and what it tells us is that we've got to do something other than we're doing now' to assess the drugs' overall impact."

Yes. We need to do something other than what we're doing. That something is taking a look at the crippling effect progressive eduction has on a child's mind and to replace it with a rational hierarchically structured curriculum.

I'm not a epidemiologist. I only know from my own experience that things like ADD and dyslexia were either non-existent or very minor problems back in the 1950s. But I believe that the introduction of progressive education was the cause of the subsequent rise in these disorders. I can't prove it but my theory is that when pro. ed. was first introduced in the 60's and 70s, some teachers were still of the kind that knew how to think and even though saddled with an irrational curriculum, could help students get around or somehow compensate for it.

The next generation of teachers however, would have been products of pro. ed. themselves and did not possess rational teaching skills. The fruits of their labor would show up around the early 90s as the article above mentions. I would like to see statistical studies done to verify the time line of pro. ed. followed by increases in the disorders. If anyone knows of such existing studies, please let me know.
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