What Can We Do About Our Schools?

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Everyone agrees there's an Education Problem, but What's the Solution?

Now it seems, more than ever, the topic of school performance and the education of the nation's children, is a major focus of the media, policy makers and politicians. Among the suggestions are shorter school days, longer school years, more homework, raising teacher pay, smaller class sizes, school choice vouchers and even ending public education altogether in favor of privatising schools. 

 

Two stories in the December 2010 news cycle included Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott calling for school vouchers for all and a raises in teacher pay and tenure. The other story was the rising rate of military service applicants who were being denied entry because they didn't have even the most basic reading and math skills. 

 

 

In reference to the study, U.S. Education Secretary Ame Duncan told the Associated Press that "Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career — and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces. I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America's underperforming education system."  
 
 
One commenter to the story made an astute observation:
 

VancouverTom
I don't think we rank very high as well up here in Canada. The issues aren't specifically with the schools themselves, it's just that we have a completely differrent culture and mentality with respect to the importance of education and learning in comparison to those top ranked countries. The comparison is like day and night. 
 
 
 

Marshall Barnes speaks to students at Grandview Heights High School for National Lab Day

Marshall Barnes has been not only a participant in the American education system but also an ardent observer. Not one who considers himself a professional student or even an academic, but a person who learned early the value of knowledge and learned how to acquire it on his own at a very early age. As a product of the first Arts Impact program and selected by the Arts, Education and Americans panel chaired by David Rockefeller Jr. as the prime and best example of the good that the program could do for students across the U.S., he benefited from and promoted innovative education programs as a crucial aspect of public education. But one area that he has watched disintegrate, to the point of negatively effecting public education, has equally been ignored in the debate over improving education. That area is society itself. 

 

In a fascinating article from the Washington Post an 8th grade test from 1931 was found and it was determined to be far more difficult than any tests given 8th graders today. In fact, most adults are said to have flunked it. Most people use this as an example of the failure of today's schools but one commenter on the site saw it differently 

Interesting. I like the questions in the Civics part:

-Show how good home life tends to decrease the need of government.

and

-What does the family do for the education of the children that the school cannot do? What does the school do that the family cannot do?

What? Families have responsibilities in education? How refreshing. Here I thought the school was supposed to do everything!

Posted by: rrap1 | November 23, 2010 1:30 PM | 

 

 

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Marshall's position is fairly straight forward:

"Look, the bottom line is that this society has pervasive subcultures that don't focus on what's good, what's cerebral, what is enlightening or even positive. They promote the most trivial and pedestrian values and amusements. In fact, in some cases, the pursuit of knowledge by children is looked upon with downright disdain and those that pursue it are persecuted by their so-called peers. I watched as how academics in the early 70s worked to legitimize improper english as specific "dialect" and then nearly 20 years later saw that dialect promoted as legitimate speech. As a result I was not surprised when Bill Cosby had his encounter with the young girl that he couldn't understand, that launched him on his current crusade. 

"This situation is the result of social engineering. People have made the conscious decision to, on one hand, promote, create and legitimize everything from improper speech, to improper role models, negative lifestyles, etc, and then on the other hand people have accepted this promotion, legitimatization of these things like it's either OK or there is nothing that can be done about it, or worse, doing the wrong thing about it. You could have the best "school", whatever that is, and unless the students come from a social environment where learning has value, they aren't going to learn. All you have to do is look at the times when students who were really desperate to learn did so, even under the worse conditions. There are students in jungle schools who have better grades and know more than some in American schools, so clearly the school, or what is being taught there, is not entirely at fault."

 

Marshall points out the vicious cycle that begins when the parents of students don't insist on the highest standards for their children and expect their children to meet those standards. Then over time, teachers and administrators begin to believe that the students can't perform to those standards and so eventually the standards are dropped to just get those students into the next grade. Eventually all grades have dropped their standards and then you have graduates who can't even pass the Army entrance exam or fill out a job application. This happens against the backdrop of a culture that promotes violence, sex, criminal behavior as being glamourous. The values are skewed completely in the wrong direction while educators, parents, politicians and teachers argue over school funding, "teaching to the test" and vouchers. The children of parents who really care will go to the better schools leaving the others in schools ill equipped to deal with the burden of the worse students. The problem hasn't been solved, only an escape for part of the population. Those that remain will continue to drop-out or graduate below their grade level and become part of the ever growing criminal class which threatens the structure of society and ultimately the security of the nation. 

As Marshall says, the solution is to address the negative influences in society and change the culture. For those who say it's not possible, his reply is "You just don't know how, but I do. Give me a chance and I can get it done..."  

 

 See Marshall interviewed by talk radio hostess Phyllys Ransom about the issue of schools and the current education situation in the video below... 

 

 
 
 

 Below is an episode of a feature of NBC's, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. This feature is called "Jaywalking" at has Jay Leno ask people questions on the street that one would expect would be common knowledge. This bit of comedic theater works because, sadly enough, there are people of all ages that don't know these answers. This is an example of the dumbing down that Marshall spoke of in the interview above. In this particular video clip high school students are featured. When Marshall mentioned that the "dumbing down of America has happened all across the board" and that "some of the dumbed down work in some of the top companies in America" he's talking about people like these students who are adults making decisions at companies that have no frame of reference concerning the fields that they are in beyond the most immediate information that they need to function. The best example of this is the Apple corporation. Steve Jobs himself talks about how the personnel at the app store overlooked how their policy against defamation could effect political cartoons. The problem is that defamation is usually only a problem if it takes the form of libel or slander and both of those involve statements that are untrue. Jobs' contention that they overlooked this because they make mistakes due to the fact that "no one has ever tried to set rules for 200,000 apps before" which is indicative of what Marshall wryly calls "cyber stupidity" which is when a person gets so solely focused on computers, IT and web oriented issues, that common sense and awareness of information that exists outside of the cyber orientation is either non-existent, lost, or was never there to be begin with. In this case (see 5:33 in this video), the problem shouldn't have existed in the first place because they're not supposed to be coming up with rules for 200,000 apps, they're supposed to have just created one set of rules that covers any app that anyone could ever create. It's done for web sites and other platforms all of the time. For Steve Jobs to make that statement shows the dumbing down that already exists at Apple. 

 

 

 

Below is a video from the founder of ImproveEducation.org that awards Jay Leno the Educator of the Year for 2008 for his Jaywalking feature. However, the point must be made that those featured on it are not indicative of any failure of the schools in general. Did no one in Brittany's class no the answers to the questions she missed? We're sure that is not the case. What is the case is that Brittany was so focused on other things during her schooling that she probably only absorbed that information long enough to get a passing grade on her homework or test and then completely forgot about it because such material has no real frame of reference for her. What countries make up Great Britain or what language they speak there, is meaningless to her because her focus is in what is happening now in the trivial world of pop culture and entertainment, and that is solely the responsibility of her parents and not the schools. Before she had left for the first day of school in her life, the importance of school and education should have been explained to her, otherwise why go off and leave her home when she could stay at there and play? The problem starts and ends in society.