Posts Tagged ‘learning’

The Decline of Public Education

September 11, 2016

Long time readers of this blog may recall I have written numerous articles (see “education”) about the decline and eventual fall of the public education system in this country. Here is one of the tens of thousands of excellent articles I have read on the subject. Nearly all of the articles lamenting this trend are written by teachers; in the meanwhile, the politicians and private industry moguls who control the system just keep smiling all the way to the bank.

This article sounds like when I went back to the Oakland (CA) School District to apply for a job. I was told there was this scripted curriculum, so I asked how I could accommodate individual learning styles and promote interest. I was told, “Well, that’s difficult.” Needless to say, I said thanks, but I’ll go elsewhere.

That is one of the biggest differences between high performing schools and low performing schools. None of the high performing schools I’ve taught at limit what additional materials the teacher can introduce, nor discourage personal teaching styles designed to appeal to individual students.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/8-things-the-us-must-do-now-to-save-public-education_us_57d4af40e4b0273330ac42f5?fb_action_ids=1258265067541383&fb_action_types=og.comments

A Response to a Reader’s Criticism of My Articles on “Truth” – Part 2

May 8, 2012

One reader who very kindly responded to my posts on “What is Truth” a few weeks ago brought out some very interesting suppositions contradicting my assertion that there was no such thing as a “universal truth”. For an in-depth explanation of this, please read those two blogs.

A quick refresher from those blogs: There are certain facts, that is, things that can be proven over and over under all circumstances, but I claimed that “the truth” is what you believe it to be, simply because your personal truths are the guiding principles in your life.

Here is her comment: “The pursuit of/yearning for love is a universal truth. The desire to know a higher being/consciousness is a universal feeling and therefore truth; that fear motivates one way and love motivates another way is a universal truth; the desire for security is a universal truth; the need for self-esteem is a universal truth; that men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth.”

In my first response, I only dealt with the topics of love, fear/love motivation, security, and self-esteem. Because that “higher being” topic, and the last comment about “wisdom”, were much more involved and subjective, I said I would write an answer in another posting. Here it is.

A Higher Being/Consciousness vs Philosophy

While there can are many definitions of this, I’m going to try to simplify it a bit so that this article can actually get finished. I absolutely concede that all monotheisms (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are searching for a “higher being”, as are all polytheisms (although, to my knowledge, the only strong polytheism still in practice is Hinduism, with Shinto, Taoism, etc., comprising very small populations).

One of the problems westerners have in conceptualizing Eastern life philosophies (as opposed to such Western philosophies as existentialism, nihilism, and others that are blatantly atheistic) is that they assume (incorrectly) that all Eastern philosophies are religions. In fact, all of their definitions and texts list Confucianism and Buddhism as religions, when they are nothing of the sort.

Confucius taught that when societies operate under laws, people are punished by authorities after having committed illegal activities. People generally conform to the laws, often without necessarily understanding the rationale behind them. He promoted a different way: to internalize behaviors so that actions are controlled beforehand. Because relationships are central to Confucianism—particular duties arise from one’s particular situation in relation to others—people will then behave properly because they wish to avoid feeling shame and want to avoid losing face. In theory, the result is a reduction in the number of coercive laws required for smooth functioning of the society. “Social harmony — the great goal of Confucianism — therefore results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order, and playing his or her part well.”

You will notice this is actually a philosophy of social behavior, having nothing to do with a being more supreme than the head of state, and nothing to do with a world consciousness. While Confucianism does not necessarily negate religion, most adherents do not find religion necessary to attain this “proper” behavior toward others.

But Confucianists are a pretty small group, so let’s move on to Buddhism. According to buddhanet.net, the generally agreed minimum number of Buddhists is estimated at around 350 million (6% of the world’s population).  The numbers range up to 1.5 billion. By any reckoning, that’s a significant amount. So what is Buddhism?

Between 563 B.C. and 483 B.C. a man named Siddhartha Gautama lived who taught that life is suffering, and that we must each find our way to ultimate enlightenment, at which time we will also become a Buddha. While it’s difficult to summarize Buddhism succinctly, moral conduct is an important part of the beliefs because it promotes harmony with all living things. Karma, a concept that states that a person’s actions have consequences over him/her in the future, is an intrinsic part of this morality. A person’s basic essence (the “soul” for you monotheists) can experience either rebirth or reincarnation (not the same), which gives a person the opportunity for attaining enlightenment through meditation, loving kindness and compassion towards all human beings.

http://www.ehow.com/info_8198007_major-beliefs-buddhism.html#ixzz1uDtQIzPM

Note two important factors: nowhere is a supreme being/consciousness mentioned. The first Buddha was a man; he never claimed to be a god or even a prophet. Further, every human has the potential to become a Buddha. Second, there is no heaven, hell, or life other than on this planet. The phrase “one with the universe” is very literal, in that every little dust mote is a particle of all others, which is a very scientific concept, not one given much credence by any monotheism. While Buddhists chant, perform meditation, and do other activities that Westerners perceive as religious, they are actually contemplating their own flaws, attempting to focus on what they personally need to do to improve themselves as a person. Yes, they often do these things in a group with a ritual, but the same could be said about political parties, social organizations, and even sports enthusiasts. That doesn’t make those things a religion. Well, with the possible exception of the Green Party, but that’s another story. If there is a “supreme being/consciousness” in Buddhism, it is the potential enlightenment each person might achieve for themselves, with the ultimate goal of reaching such perfection that will make them into a Buddha.

Is “The Search” Universal?

In my personal studies of religion and philosophy, it was this belief in the potential enlightenment of each individual—including myself—that attracted me to Buddhism. As I cannot accept the concept of rebirth or reincarnation of the “life essence” within each person, however, I ultimately rejected that philosophy as well. However, I was not searching for a god, I was searching for a way to make myself a better person.

Therefore, I will give you all the monotheists and polytheists. I will even give you most of the agnostics—after all, being “in doubt” means the person is searching for something. Many agnostics say they are “spiritual” (which often means some flavor of pantheism), although they don’t subscribe to any formal religion. However, I suspect a lot of people who identify as agnostic are hedging their bets, and many who identify as theistic don’t want the social stigma (especially in the United States) of admitting they are atheists.

Nevertheless, there are a lot of people in the world who openly state they are atheists. In fact, in many countries they are the majority! Look at these figures: http://www.adherents.com/largecom/com_atheist.html

It’s very difficult to estimate, but combined I would say at least 15 percent of the world’s population are openly not hunting for any supreme being/consciousness. Never mind that any child born into a religious household is instantly indoctrinated into that religion and only emerges from that life-long submersion if they are of a very strong mind and willing to do a lot of “seeking” (see my blog on Holy Smoke). But let’s just use that conservative figure.

On March 12, 2012, the US Census Bureau estimated that the world population exceeded 7 billion. That would mean more than a billion (1.05) people are in no way deistic. The search for a supreme being is a “Universal Truth”?

On a somewhat separate note, I find it highly ironic that these two major Eastern philosophies, which are truly founded on the concept of “moral” behavior in the sense of society, have never as an organized force waged war. They have never used any form of force to convert others to their beliefs. On the other hand, every single monotheism has a history rife with physical coercion. (While Judaism never to my knowledge forced conversion, since escaping bondage in Egypt they have never shrunk from killing those of other cultures and faiths. They still have a pretty damn good military force.) Therefore, being a highly religious person does not necessarily make one a “good” person, in the sense of being tolerant, considerate and compassionate to other members of the human race.

Ignoring “The Truth”

The second point I wanted to address was her comment that “men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth”. This is an argument that goes back at least to the Persian Empire before Greece became united, when the Persians claimed that their religion was “the truth”, and all other people ignored this truth because they were not wise enough to recognize the obvious. To sum it up: “I know the TRUTH, and if you don’t believe me you’re an idiot!” This is almost too smug, self-serving and ludicrous to address. But I will.

How do they know the truth? Because their holy book (Torah, Bible, Qur’an) tells them what the truth is. Never mind the book was written by the hand of mere mortals. They were all “inspired” by god, weren’t they? In the case of the Prophet Joseph Smith, a resurrected Moroni visited Smith and kindly delivered engraved plates to him (The Book of Mormon), which he simply had to copy before they made their way back up to heaven. And every single one of the books is the absolute truth.

But, because I’m a little skeptical about this divine inspiration—or at least which version to believe—and am indeed searching for my own “flawed philosophy” based on truly being kind and considerate of others rather than killing them in the name of god for being unbelievers, this makes me stupid. Okay, I can live with that.

I believe in the theory of evolution because there is a tremendous amount of scientific evidence in support of it, and more comes in every day. It’s still a theory. Every single religion throughout the history of Mankind has developed a creation myth for both the universe and for man. Yet there is not one shred of evidence, in spite of every religion looking for that proof, which supports creationism.

Who is being wise here, and who is ignoring wisdom (i.e., logic based on evidence) in order to cling to their terribly flawed beliefs?

Why Polytheism Was Replaced by Monotheism: A Very Brief History of Religion (Part 3)

April 21, 2012

Part 3: The “god-man” mythology, and the rise of Christianity and Islam

Most significantly, the Jewish religion predicted the coming of a messiah who would “save” all of Mankind. While this was definitely not the first myth (or story) of a “God-man” (god in human form as a savior figure; the first usage of the term God-man as a theological concept appears in the writing of the Christian Apostolic Father Origen in the 3rd Century AD; Baldwin, 1901), it became the genesis for a cult that would change the Eastern and European world.

Perhaps the most ancient God-man figure is Baal (or Bel) of Phoenicia/Babylon. A 4,000-year-old tablet now in the British Museum depicts much of his story. Baal is taken prisoner and tried in a hall of justice; he is tormented and mocked by a rabble; he is led away to a mount; he is taken with two other prisoners, one of whom is released; after he has been sacrificed on the mount, the rabble goes on a rampage; his clothes are taken; he disappears into a tomb; he is sought after by weeping women; finally, he is resurrected, appearing to his followers after the stone is rolled away from the tomb. (Pratt, 2001)

The Egyptians created the sun god (god of light) Horus, the son of Osiris (whose name is a Greek transliteration of the Egyptian Asar), who was the Egyptian god of life, death, fertility, and the underworld. In 3000 BC, Horus was born on December 25 to a virgin, and three kings followed a star in the east to observe and celebrate his birth. At the age of twelve he began to teach others about his father, god, and at the age of thirty he was baptized by Anup to begin his ministry. He had twelve disciples, and went about performing such miracles as healing the sick and walking on water. The sun god battled every day with Set, the God of Darkness, who lived in the dark bowels of the earth. He was called truth, the light, god’s anointed son, the risen savior, the lamb of God, etc. After being betrayed by Typhon, he was crucified and arose again after three days.

Attis of Phrygia (in modern day Turkey), celebrated in 1200 BC, had the same basic characteristics. Krishna of India, in 900 BC, was very similar. Even more closely aligned was Mithra, the sun god of Persia, a messianic figure worshiped around 600 BC, with Sunday being his sacred day of worship; Dionysus of Greece, circa 500 BC, first turned water into wine. Some of the other nicknames for these deities were king of kings, god’s only begotten son, the light of the world, the alpha and omega, and so on.

This is where the story, especially the time sequence, becomes even more muddled. According to Christian tradition, Jesus of Nazareth was born approximately 2,045 years ago. For the first few hundred years after the birth and death of Jesus, the majority of Jews not only denied that the savior figure had actually been born, the name of Jesus is not even mentioned in any of their countless historical writings. The Jews and Romans who did convert to Christianity were few, and were pretty much a persecuted sect. This began to change during the medieval period in the societies controlled by the Roman Empire.

Thus, another question arises: since Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism (as is Islam), why are there such striking similarities between Jesus and the pagan God-man figures who existed in older polytheisms? And why did Christianity overcome its Jewish origins, as well as all of those pagan religions, to become dominant?

Oddly, the rise of Christianity really started with Saul of Tarsus, not the twelve apostles. Saul was born a Pharisee of the Jewish tribe of Benjamin. His father was so wealthy that he bought Roman citizenship, so Saul was free to travel throughout the Empire. Saul was a fanatic about his religion, and was zealous of the traditions of his fathers. At the height of his fame, Saul was known as the greatest persecutor of Christians, which was encouraged by Rome. Saul imprisoned and punished the assembly at Jerusalem, and was responsible for countless deaths in his ambition to exterminate Christianity, which offended the Pharisee community by claiming the savior had come.

One day while traveling to Damascus, so the story goes, a bright light from heaven blinded him and he heard a voice say: “Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?” When he asked who was speaking, the voice said: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting”.

Talk about your original “born-again Christian”! As much of a fanatic as Saul was as a Pharisee, he became even more vehement about preaching the word of the savior’s arrival, including marching into the tabernacle and berating the Pharisees for not believing. As the world has seen with other fanatics, the power to persuade can be immense. Where Christians had been a small, persecuted cult, the newly christened Paul helped this new religion to expand quickly.

By the 5th Century, the entire Roman Empire was in political, military and religious upheaval. Its holdings were shrinking, and Italy itself was being attacked by invading forces from all directions. Within its boundaries, emperors rose to power and were deposed or killed within a year, and the three primary religions — paganism, Judaism and Christianity — vied in equally bloody battles for supremacy. Then in the 6th Century AD, the Emperor Constantine sought to reunite the empire. He embraced Christianity while incorporating many of the accepted pagan traditions, hoping that eventually they would blend into one. He succeeded, but upon Constantine’s death, the Roman Empire degenerated once more into the many warring factions he had briefly reunited. However, while that highly militaristic version of the Empire may have fallen, it gave birth to a new Phoenix: the Holy Roman Empire, which gradually regained most of all the old territory, but was now controlled by religion and supported by the still powerful military force, in combination driving the new kingdom of heaven.

However, even as the Christian religion was overcoming both paganism and Judaism as the primary force, a new monotheism was rising in the east that would soon challenge it for the loyalty of the faithful, and utterly establish the hold of monotheism. Muhammad ibn Abdullah, born in 570 AD in the Arabian city of Mecca, began preaching his new religion at around the age of forty-three. The Qur’an gives credit to all of the Jewish patriarchs/prophets (including Jesus) as inspiring Muhammad to found Islam, an ultra-fundamentalist, ultra-patriarchal religion that took on the most conservative tenets of Judaism. In the 6th and 7th centuries, Muslim armies conquered the Sassanid (Persian) Empire and most of the Byzantine territories, or Eastern Roman Empire.

Without the prohibitions of “defiling the flesh created by god” of Catholicism to inhibit it, Islam was free to pursue the sciences, most especially medicine. Perhaps because Catholicism was so repressive, or perhaps because Islam was young and vigorous, Islam has grown tremendously while the Christian faith was irreparably split in the 16th Century by Martin Luther. Nevertheless, with the distinct exception of Hinduism in India, all of the polytheisms of the world have shrunk considerably or died altogether.

As science continues to answer the questions that have plagued Mankind since the first sentient being looked up into the heavens and wondered what, why and how, the influence of religion on the human race continues to erode. Perhaps that is why Islam is so virulently fundamentalist: Muslim leaders know they must insist their followers believe absolutely, without question, in the existence and power of god, or they also will eventually lose their hold in the world. If the power of rational thought and expanding knowledge are allowed to grow, the history of religion will become exactly that: history.

Why Polytheism Was Replaced by Monotheism: A Very Brief History of Religion (Part 2)

April 20, 2012

Part 2: Why monotheism, and why Mesopotamia?

Regardless, the history of the creation of monotheism takes us back to those questions: Why change from many gods to one? Why Mesopotamia? And why at that particular time after millennia of polytheism? There are many possible reasons, but what I personally believe is the reason is the advent of science. Here are just a few examples:

“Archaeological research covering a 6,000 year period in the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys, shows that the classical high cultures of the ancient Near East demonstrated some of the earliest and most fundamental examples of systematic observation of phenomena and prediction, unsurpassed until the European Renaissance, and practical engineering, unsurpassed until the 19th century. Though clearly an advanced technological society, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq, with imperial influences in Syria, western Iran, and southern Turkey) left records on cuneiform tablets that indicate the society had an advanced capability in mathematics. The people … moved from the hunter-gatherer way of life, which had proved effective for hundreds of thousands of years to a more settled Neolithic village lifestyle, based on the domestication of plants and animals about 12,000 years ago.” (Blake L. White, Strategic Technology Institute 2002)

“The Assyrians depended as much upon artificial irrigation as upon the periodical rains. They were skillful in constructing machines for raising water, and their vast system of canals was as remarkable as a monument of well-directed labour, as for the knowledge of hydraulics which it displayed.” (Layard, as quoted by White)

“In addition, village life facilitated new forms of technologies, such as metalworking, pottery, stone carving, and new forms of social organization. Mesopotamia shows evidence of being the most advanced technological society of its era. Over a 6,000 year period, Mesopotamian technology included advances in carpentry, glassmaking, textile manufacture, leather-working, perfume-making, farming, food preparation, irrigation, flood control, canal-building, water storage, drainage, brewing, and their tablets also provide detail on the economics of various industries.” (Roaf, as quoted by White)

“Perhaps the most impressive engineering achievements of ancient Mesopotamia are the series of ziggurats found throughout the region as early as 2100 BC in Ur, 1900 BC in Babylon, and 900 BC in Assyria. In addition, the Assyrians of Nineveh under the leadership of Sargon II (722-670 BC) and his son Sennacherib dominated the Near East with its iron-equipped armies, battering rams, and horse-drawn chariots.” (Derry, as quoted by White)

To sum it up, research tells us that the Mesopotamians had an older and even broader knowledge of science than ancient China. It seems quite likely that, as the sciences progressed rapidly in Mesopotamia, more and more “lesser gods” fell by the wayside as the actual causes of natural phenomena were understood (to some degree). With the loss of faith in polytheism, humans still needed some higher power to believe in, so they created a single, all-powerful god that defied the answers of science–well, up until modern theories regarding the origins of the universe and mankind. While the people of China were very advanced in many ways, their science (especially technology) was not quite as all-encompassing, and culturally they leaned more towards philosophy than an increasingly conservative religion. Thus, India remained predominantly Hindu, which is a polytheism approximately 5,000 years old, while China moved towards Buddha, Confucious, et alia, which are philosophies. In the meanwhile the Western World became predominantly monotheistic.

Next: The “god-man” mythology, and the rise of Christianity and Islam

Why Polytheism was Replaced by Monotheism: A Very Brief History of Religion

April 19, 2012

Part 1: The shift from polytheism to monotheism

How did the world come into existence? How did mankind rise from the primordial ooze to dominate the animal kingdom? How do the forces of nature work? Throughout history, all cultures have wondered about these and many other questions. They have all created explanations for both natural phenomena and metaphysical mysteries, mostly from their vivid imaginations rather than from any scientific evidence or logical ruminations. We call these stories they made up to explain the mysteries of the Earth “mythology”. In simple terms, then, the purpose of mythology is to explain the unexplainable. Just because we label religions that were created before the births of Abraham of Ur or Jesus of Nazareth or Muhammad in Mecca as “mythology”, that certainly does not mean they are the only religions that were founded on myths.

As early as the Upper Paleolithic era, some 250,000 years ago, various tools and iconography demonstrate that primitive religions were practiced, and possibly existed up to 250,000 years before that (Campbell, 1988; Gimbutas, 1991; and Jelínek, 1975). All of these religions, as far as we can determine from that evidence, were polytheistic. So, after a quarter of a million years of humans investing supernatural powers to a wide diversity of gods and goddesses, why did most people begin to believe in the existence of a single supreme being? When and where did this transformation happen?

According to Jewish tradition (Rich, 1998 – 2011), Abram (or Abraham) was born in the city of Ur in Babylonia (Southeastern Mesopotamia) in the year 1948 from Creation (circa 1800 BCE, although this does not necessarily mean that Judaism believes the universe has existed for only 5,700 years as we measure years). At that time, the Mesopotamians were still highly polytheistic, worshiping idols. Abram was the son of Terach, an idol merchant, but from his early childhood, Abram questioned the faith of his father and sought “the truth”. Abram came to believe that the entire universe was the work of a single creator, and he began to teach this belief to others. Abram tried to convince his father, Terach, of the folly of idol worship.

One day, when Abram was left alone to mind the store, he took a hammer and smashed all of the idols except the largest one. He placed the hammer in the hand of the largest idol. When his father returned and asked what happened, Abram said, “The idols got into a fight, and the big one smashed all the other ones.” His father said, “Don’t be ridiculous. These idols have no life or power. They can’t do anything.” Abram replied, “Then why do you worship them?”

Eventually, as the story goes, the one true creator that Abram worshiped called to him and made him an offer: if Abram would leave his home and his family, then god would make him a great nation and bless him. Abram accepted this offer, and the b’rit (covenant) between god and the Jewish people was established.

Of course, the irony of this story seems to be lost on both the Jews and other religious believers: if the “gods” exist only in icons, and have no power that has ever been truly demonstrated to humans (well, except for the handful of “chosen” witnesses and prophets), what difference does it make if you pray to one or five hundred? They are still idols, creations of the imagination of Man. But such is the power of “faith” that logic can be ignored for the sake of whatever belief makes you happy.

Next: Why Monotheism, and Why in Mesopotamia?

Our Failing Public Schools, Part II: Politicians

April 12, 2012

Section 2: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Prior to the 1970s, local politicians and school districts had control of both budget and curriculum. Because these people had to answer directly to the local voters, the people generally got the educational system they felt their children deserved. While it is undeniable that more and more authority over the public education system has been given to the legislators by the voters thanks to both public lawsuits and the passage of funding bills, much more has also been appropriated by the state and federal government. There will be a lot more on this, including Serrano vs. Priest and Proposition 13, in Part IV of this series.

A couple of examples that spring to mind are former President Bush and his alleged “No Child Left Behind” policy, and former California Governor Schwarzenegger with his massive budget cuts in education and opposition to Prop. 98. When wielding that power, politicians should bear in mind that education is not their field of expertise (unless they were teachers before being elected), and should therefore tread cautiously when enacting legislation or determining policy that impacts the public school system.

Unfortunately, it seems that most of them really consider themselves experts in the field. When I was in private industry, it was exactly the same attitude with many businessmen. The attitude was: “We went through the educational system. We graduated from college. We’ve read a few articles, talked to a few educators. We understand it perfectly.”

Well, I studied history, government and a little political science. I’ve been governed and otherwise impacted by politicians all of my life. During my years in business, I talked with a number of politicians, some as high as the senate level. I still read and hear reports on the goings on of our government and the politicians on a near daily basis. I’ve actually read many political tracts (not counting “The Prince”), from theory to practical application. Therefore, I must be an expert in politics, and could start my career as a politician tomorrow, right? Of course not. Not any more than the average politician should consider him or herself an expert in education and presume to dictate the inner workings of the public school system. So make policies, be a “watchdog”, but don’t micromanage education.

It’s bad enough that many politicians seriously interfere in the educational system without really understanding how it operates or what its mission should be. What is infinitely worse is that many of them do not care. For many politicians, education is simply a “platform issue”, something that cannot be ignored during election time, but gets short shrift once they are in office—especially when determining budget. When they do become involved, it is often “politics as usual”, a tit-for-tat approach either brokering their vote in exchange for a pet bill of their own or writing some piece of legislation that will appease one of their powerful constituent groups—or, even worse, one of their wealthy lobbyist groups. In the worst case scenario, they support changes in the educational system that will financially benefit publishers, contractors, consultants, or other business concerns that make a profit from the school system. From looking at most of the impacts on how teachers are credentialed, textbooks are chosen, curriculum is developed and how programs are instituted, the last people many politicians seem to care about are those for whom the system was actually intended: the students.

Case Scenario: In the 1970s, English teachers commonly had one textbook for grammar and punctuation, and a lot of literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Some would augment their curriculum with newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. While academic presses were very big in colleges because professors tended to write their own texts, K-12 teachers used the primary texts that the local school board deemed fit.

After the money shifted from local districts to the state, academic publishers got really interested in producing “classroom packages”. These packages include a dozen or more texts (main text, grammar book, workbook, teacher’s guidelines, variations for different reading levels, etc.) as well as CDs to do all of those things on the computer, as well as accompanying videos, test generators, etc. These packages were different for each grade level, and each cost the district thousands of dollars. If you taught English to three different grades, you got three different sets for you and your students. Most of these materials were so “overkill” that none of the teachers used them. Are the teachers of today more stupid than those of fifty years ago? Nonsense. A good teacher could still pick up a newspaper (if there are any print editions left…) and create a lesson plan for virtually any subject.

However, now that the decision making process has been centralized, it’s easier for the big houses, such as Houghton-Mifflin, Pearson Prentice Hall or McGraw-Hill, to approach the state board of education and a few key legislators (those who serve on education-related committees) to, um, convince them to buy their units, than it was to approach every single board of education in the state. Because they have such a huge investment in a package they had to produce before they could try to sell it, guess how much more they spend wining and dining the decision makers to choose them above the declining competition?

I will leave the last word on this blog to Jennifer Marshall:

“The Constitution does not provide for a federal role in education, and public schools have traditionally been under the jurisdiction of local authorities. Washington’s intervention seems to have brought out the worst in education governance. It has led to ever-increasing spending and bureaucratic bloat while undermining schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers. Federal intervention also creates a compliance burden, sapping time and money (an annual price tag to taxpayers of $25 billion) that could be more effectively deployed to achieve educational excellence.” Jennifer Marshall, “Freeing Schools from Washington’s Education Overreach”, The Heritage Foundation, April 6, 2011

Next: Our Underfunded School System

Our Failing Public Schools, Part II: Politicians

April 7, 2012

Section 1: If Only it Were a Perfect World…

In a perfect world, we would not need government, and hence no politicians. Everyone would be able to govern their own emotions, their own actions. We would find a way to resolve our conflicts. We would find a way to share our wealth, our resources. If this sounds like I’m talking about socialism, I’m not. I’m talking about each individual achieving a state of complete self-responsibility, and understanding that he or she is impacted by the condition of every other person in the world.

Of course, in a perfect academic world, everyone would be an Abraham Lincoln or a Siddhartha Gotama, a dedicated seeker of knowledge who takes care of their own education. Hence, we would need no formal teachers. After all, “teachers” are really just guides, people who facilitate the learning process. Each individual must decide, consciously or unconsciously, what information they will actually absorb, and thus what they will “learn” and believe. A person cannot be forced to learn, although they can be coerced to memorize.

But Man is only one step removed from the lower animals, and it’s probably not that big of a step. We are, in general, self-centered, greedy, lazy, and complacent in our ignorance. Hence, we need people to ensure that there is structure, order, and some viable financial way of making the wheels go ‘round for our society. Thus, the need for government. And thus, the need for a more formal system of education.

The trick, of course, is for those people who have been placed in positions of authority, or responsibility if you are an optimist, to understand their limitations and try to stick to them. Perhaps it is because we teachers have very little power, or perhaps because the primary motivation of most sincere teachers is to help others, but I believe most teachers have come to grips with the fact that they are not demigods and should stick to their duties. On the other hand, having observed politicians both directly (when I was in business I had the pleasure of working with a number of local and state politicians) and indirectly through the media for a number of decades, it is my considered opinion that most of them veer wildly in the other direction.

Section 2: Who Should be Held Accountable?

Because teachers are in the classrooms with the children, and have direct responsibility for education, they are held accountable for the performance of the students, including the standardized scores of those students. However, in many cases, the teachers have no control over the curriculum, and are also very limited in the styles of teaching they may use. (This is especially true in the Oakland Unified School District, where the District, through state direction, has mandated specific materials and methods of teaching into a “guided curriculum” where every teacher is to read the lesson from a manual and be on exactly the same schedule every day as every other teacher in the subject.) Thus, the curriculum of most low-performing schools is controlled by the district which, in most cases, takes its orders directly from the state (see the SAIT process).

Therefore, ultimately, the politicians have direct control not only over curriculum, but certainly over the Teacher Education Program. While the Board of Education fills in the details, the legislation sets all of the standards and parameters for how future teachers are trained. Therefore, how can the politicians claim the primary problem with the public education system is poor teachers, when for many years they have had full authority to create the teachers into exactly the mold they want them? If the teachers are supposed to take responsibility for student performance, even though in many cases they are hamstrung by what they are allowed to do, shouldn’t the legislators take responsibility for the performances of the teachers, when the legislature has complete control over every aspect of how teachers are trained and credentialed?

Next: Section 3: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?