Getting to the Core

ToTheCoreby Deana Chadwell    1/31/14
It’s a little odd that as a veteran high school teacher I’ve put off writing about this. Teaching is in my blood – sort of a congenital reflex; I learn something new and immediately start imagining how I would present that in a classroom. Teaching is my passion, but the state of American education today is so painful that I’m glad I’m out of it. Our district teachers have one foot out the strike door; Common Core is the latest, and likely the most dangerous of a long line of ineffective educational “reforms;” school shootings seem as much a part of the American high school as homecoming. What is wrong?

What is wrong?! That is a huge onion to peel, and just like American politics, American churches, American culture — it’s rotting from the inside out – schools, their administrators and teachers, are unlikely to be any better than the society that produces them and students are seldom any better than the families that send them off to those schools so it’s a given that the problem is not an isolated issue.

We must, however, begin grappling with educational matters as we begin to turn the rest of society in the right direction; education cannot lag behind. We must have our goals clearly in mind — what do we want schools to do?

The Common Core answer is to prepare every child for college, which is silly and which begs the question; what do we want students (K through college) to know? Isn’t an educated person much more than the sum of his test scores? Well, if students amount to nothing but so much protoplasm, so many neurons, a potential worker-bee or voting block, then, yes. That is all he is – the sum of his scores.

If, on the other hand, he is God’s handiwork, if he has been placed here on this earth for a divine purpose, then educating him is a much more complex and artful process than just filling him full of facts that he downloads onto an exam. Assuming that children are sacred and purposeful and blooming with unique possibilities, then what does an education need to do for them?

It needs, first and foremost, to enthuse children about learning. We don’t need to make school easy, or flattering, or social. We just need to enhance their natural drive to learn – they are programmed to do that, but several characteristics of public schools make it harder than it should be.

• Schools are usually too regimented for individual flowering to happen for all children. We all know how sad it is for the child who learns more slowly and can’t keep up; we know how doomed he is. Rigidity is also extremely detrimental for the kid whose brain is super-efficient – if boredom and arrogance take over then we’ve wasted a miracle, lost a brain surgeon or the possibility of a good president.

• School usually takes up too much of children’s time. We fill kids’ days, their precious childhood days, with too much sitting, too much indoctrination, too little time for curiosity.

• Schools too often employ uninspired, uninspiring teachers. Just one at the wrong stage of a student’s education can tangle a child for years to come, maybe forever.

But enough of the negative – what do we want kids to learn?

• Reading, writing, math, of course, and computer skills (though these days I suspect most kids are born technologically competent). If we do that and leave a child’s curiosity intact, she’ll learn everything else she needs and wants to know. That is truer now than it ever has been. These basic skills are best taught saturated with content – both real and fictional – so that the kids build a frame of reference, a context for all their future learning.

• Speaking of which, they should know something about the marvels of the world we live in. Do they need to feel guilty or worried about our world and distrust the way it provides for us? No. We squander a lot of school time on that, and kids waste a lot of personal time stewing about problems that 1) are not really problems (i.e. global warming) or 2) are beyond their control. I spent 30 years reading their papers; I know these things haunt their happiness.

• No child should leave school without knowing about his roots – about his country and its history and its culture. Students should be steeped in the best we have to offer them in all the arts, in history, in religion. (I can hear the hissing from the atheist gallery. They think they can eradicate God if we lie to enough children about His existence.) We do not need to indoctrinate or propagandize; if we have taught well they will make those political and religious choices wisely – a concept worrisome to progressives.

• We need to teach kids courage, self-control, politeness, virtue, kindness, nobility and respect. They must know about personal responsibility, about the value of work, and about the joy of creativity. We must teach them discernment. Can you test for those traits? No, but they are more important than anything else kids learn. Will it mean that we also must teach them which behaviors are wrong? Yes. And we can’t teach these traits without God. Just teaching “tolerance” and letting it go at that is not anywhere near adequate.

In short, we must open the world for our children. We must give them the skills to make the most of its resources and the intestinal fortitude to stand up to its evils.

Can we teach those things in a public school? I don’t see why not. Public schools have been openly teaching Darwinian, progressive, atheistic, leftist drivel since the early 70’s. My children were exposed to a 5th grade social studies curriculum called MACOS – Man, A Course of Study, a Jerome Bruner program. The course was way too erudite and too amoral to be helpful to the education of a 10-year-old child, but I heard a federal employee explain to the school board that they needed to reach kids at that age so that they would buy into evolution when it was taught. That’s almost a verbatim quote. Indoctrination in all the wrong things has been going on now for over 40 years. Curricula have not been neutral, cannot be neutral, so we need to teach goodness – we’ve tried guilt and degeneration and that got us Barack Obama.

We can demonstrate now that an anti-theistic, anti-American curriculum must be, at least in part, responsible for the alienated 21st century student (and teacher), must be connected in some way to the violence, the sexuality, the rampant recalcitrance of the modern high school. We can start building schools that teach the positive rather than the negative. Can anyone in good conscience be against teaching our children that they matter? That the world has the potential to be a prosperous and loving place? That even if no one else cares about them, God does? That there is pride and happiness in fulfilling our duties? That we are surrounded by the miraculous? Can we not teach joy?

I believe we can. We are right on the edge of knowing more about the brain and how it learns than we’ve ever dreamed of knowing and already pedagogy is responding to that knowledge, absorbing it and applying it. We are developing ways to use technology to allow for student differences in learning speed and interest.

But it will take a revolution of sorts to shrink our schools into manageable sizes, to welcome parents back into our classrooms and shove the government and its attendant bureaucracy out. Our children are at stake here; our country is at stake, and I suspect I’ll be writing about this for a while; it’s a BIG onion and right now it stinks.
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Deana Chadwell blogs at ASingleWindow.com. • (2645 views)

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Deana Chadwell

About Deana Chadwell

I have spent my life teaching young people how to read and write and appreciate the wonder of words. I have worked with high school students and currently teach writing at Pacific Bible College in southern Oregon. I have spent more than forty years studying the Bible, theology, and apologetics and that finds its way into my writing whether I'm blogging about my experiences or my opinions. I have two and a half moldering novels, stacks of essays, hundreds of poems, some which have won state and national prizes. All that writing -- and more keeps popping up -- needs a home with a big plate glass window; it needs air; it needs a conversation. I am also an artist who works with cloth, yarn, beads, gourds, polymer clay, paint, and photography. And I make soap.
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25 Responses to Getting to the Core

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Education today may not benefit the less-educable, but everything I’ve seen indicates that it’s especially damaging to the top students, probably by design. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out nearly 20 years ago, Kurt Vonnegut predicted this aspect of post-modern American education all too accurately in “Harrison Bergeron”. (I read the story about 50 years ago but didn’t remember the author until the WSJ printed a copy. I went out and found a Vonnegut collection that included it.)

    Terence Moore has had a couple of articles this week discussing what he says are actually readings and proposed questions from Common Core, along with his “common sense” questions about the readings (which make a lot more sense, of course). One of the readings involved Much Ado About Nothing (I’ve read a number of Shakespeare plays, but not that one as it happens) — but it was a story about students reading (and reacting to) the play, not an actual excerpt from it. TownHall had the articles on January 28 and January 29, and they can still be located there.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Isn’t an educated person much more than the sum of his test scores? Well, if students amount to nothing but so much protoplasm, so many neurons, a potential worker-bee or voting block, then, yes. That is all he is – the sum of his scores.

    If, on the other hand, he is God’s handiwork, if he has been placed here on this earth for a divine purpose, then educating him is a much more complex and artful process than just filling him full of facts that he downloads onto an exam.

    This I admit to be true. I don’t grudgingly admit it, although it doesn’t completely coincide with what I already believe.

    I believe a utilitarian purpose for schooling is legitimate as well. Let’s teach children the skills, knowledge, and wisdom that will allow them to make their own way productively in the world.

    As Kevin Williamson has rightly noted, it is in the state’s interest to produce little productive cogs in what is inherently a socialist system – our government schools. Productive citizens make for taxable citizens. It’s in the state’s interest to educate the citizens.

    And one could say that as long as the government school system was teaching kids basic three-“R” skills, then all was relatively well in the world. There is no utopia. There is no perfect world. But this world isn’t a horrible one either.

    But then things began to change. Instead of the purpose of government schools being to create productive, independent citizens, the purpose now is to create dependent-minded socialists. The purpose of government schools is to instill a “Progressive” mentality where it’s more important that students believe they are “citizens of the world” than being able to read. The purpose is some fuzzy, dumbed-down “equality” instead of inspiring each child to fulfill his or her gifts.

    Thus the old conservative warning applies: Beware of the benevolent statists and their institutions, for today they may seem benign. But their systems, where power is large and centralized, are always prone to being taken over by statist ideologues who have unwise and destructive agendas.

    That the teachers themselves (as Thomas Sowell notes in “Inside American Education”) tend to be dolts is a part of the problem. But it is the very purpose of education that is the problem. Is the purpose to be to create high-paying, Democrat-voting public employees (as many believe)? Is it to create socialists rather than independent and productive human beings? Is state education merely to be a baby-sister while women chase careers and children are considered secondary?

    What we believe about ourselves matters in terms of the institutions we form. To believe that we are purposeful creatures with our own destinies will create an entirely different system than one that believes we are mere dumb cogs to be molded to fit some naive socialist utopian scheme.

    P.S.: I’m well aware the very point of government schools was to eventually institute a type of Communism. Wilson and Dewey had this as their goal, to basically undermine the family and create a statist-friendly New Man. It just took some time for this to work its way through the system and eat away at the American ethic.

    • I actually agree with what you’ve said here. My point is that if the lying, cheating communists can push education this far left, we can, if we set our minds to it, push it, not back, but forward (pardon the use of that word) into a far more individual, curiosity-centered, inspiring place. This is already being done in charter schools and private institutions all over the country. Simply opening the door to competition, between schools and between teachers would take us a long way. That, of course, take political power — step 1.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        forward (pardon the use of that word)

        LOL. Another word that has been somewhat ruined by the Left. In fact, I can no longer bring myself to “fast forward” on my VCR.

        I like your article and agree with most of what you said. Certainly bringing competition into the picture is a major aspect of reform. But the word, “competition,” is like waving garlic in front of Dracula. The idea of people achieving dissimilar outcomes (aka “fulfilling one’s god-given potential”) is anathema to these “equality”-minded Communists and “Progressives.”

        This is another prime reason why schools have been dumbed-down. It is always so in an “equality”-based system. Achievers are held back, if only so they don’t hurt the “feelings” of the lower achievers. And in this namby-pamby system, it’s “feelings” that count uber alles.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This actually goes back over a century. The Thernstroms pointed out in the first chapter of America in Black and White that one major purpose of segregated schooling in the South was to make sure that blacks didn’t learn their constitutional rights (such as the right to “keep and bear arms”, which the Klan and its allies didn’t want blacks to be able to do). This is why they even kept the schoolbooks for blacks and whites separate. (I first read about that in C. Vann Woodward’s The Strange Career of Jim Crow, which we read in my high school course in US history, and it put a new light on Oswald’s sniper perch in the Texas School Book Depository. But I didn’t know why they did that until I read the Thernstroms’ book. My “favorite” Jim Crow law (i.e., the one most indicative of total racial obsession) was one that forbade blacks and whites from playing dominoes together.)

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    “it put a new light on Oswald’s sniper perch in the Texas School Book Depository.”

    How so?

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    ” students are seldom any better than the families that send them off to those schools so it’s a given that the problem is not an isolated issue.

    It has been my experience that for many, school is simply a cheap babysitter. Not enough parents take interest in their child’s education and those that do often only do so negatively, i.e. scream their heads off if little Johnny in not given an A+ as he is obviously a genius.

    I have noticed teachers are somewhat surprised and pleased that I have shown up for all my son’s parent/teacher meetings. It is clear too many parents don’t and that is something which the school cannot change.

    • steve lancaster says:

      One if the fantasies that government schools live and die with is the idea of parent involvement. Administrators and teachers regularly say that parent involvement is the only way to create good schools, however, an involved parent is the last thing they want to see.

      I would challenge any parent to spend a day in the mind-numbing drudgery that most students are subjected. It is not your fathers or grandfathers school anymore. Most of the teachers when I was in grade school and high school (50’s and 60’s) were products of the depression, WW II and Korea. There were norms of behavior that most did not broach, both for teachers and students. Today the only behavior norm is don’t due drugs in the cafeteria at lunch time and that just for the teachers.

      Yet, a large portion of the middle class is stuck with the local public school, incompetent teachers and administrators and no way to move their children or withdraw them from a toxic environment.

      To this libertarian, the logical solution is to privatize the schools and allow the free market to reestablish norms for both students and teachers. Real involvement by parents means that there is a financial penalty for bad performance, today the school just gets more money the lower the performance. A taxpayer black hole.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        One way to start on the privatization would be to charge those who run public schools with criminal fraud because they take taxpayer money on the pretense that they will use it to educate children, which they have no interest in actually doing. Perhaps we can hope someday that people will learn the lesson in Poul Anderson’s unjustly little-known novel Orbit Unlimited, which (among other things) has a rebellion started because of the imposition of “free, compulsory” public education (of the same sort we see today — but the book was written decades ago).

        As for parental involvement, this is indeed desirable, but it also makes a convenient excuse for the fraudsters. My suspicion is that children need either good teachers or good parents to learn; both is better, but either one will work. So the bad teachers use the lack of good parents as their excuse.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          ” My suspicion is that children need either good teachers or good parents to learn; both is better, but either one will work.”

          I do not believe this is universally true. Good parents are absolutely more important than good teachers as parents have children from the time they are born. A parent’s influence should be immeasurably greater than a teacher’s. Of course, I am talking about the ideal here and not referring to the ABC’s alone.

          Human nature being what it is, too many parents do not or cannot give children any positive education at home. This leaves a greater burden on the schools as the children have learned many negative lessons before crossing the portals of academia. This is something that is merely fact and schools should be ready to deal with it. Sadly, the one tool which would have the greatest and most immediate effect in bringing children around, i.e. discipline, has been jettisoned from the public school system. This is due to a combination of “modern” teaching philosophy combined with the ridiculous incursion lawyers have had in areas which were formerly outside their bloodsucking scope.

          It has been my experience that teachers have almost no power to sanction the rotten apples among their students. I would say this is largely because the administrators (the Bill Ayers of this world) are the “modernists” in the system so they naturally side with lack of discipline. But, it is important to note that ISD’s are afraid of being sued for some breach of a student’s right, real or imagined. The smaller ISD’s are particularly vulnerable to such suits.

          The present public school system, if one can call it that, in the USA is a mess. There is no doubt, a good number of teachers are useless. But the dis-functional nature of education in this country cannot be solely laid at the foot of teachers. Like most other institutions in a nation, the people end up with what they deserve. If you don’t believe this, have a look at the number of people who vote in school board elections. Ask yourselves, how many people pay the least bit of attention to their local schools once their children have graduated.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            I do not believe this is universally true. Good parents are absolutely more important than good teachers as parents have children from the time they are born. A parent’s influence should be immeasurably greater than a teacher’s. Of course, I am talking about the ideal here and not referring to the ABC’s alone.

            I think where parents come in (in regards to compulsory education) is in producing a well-mannered and well-adjusted child for insertion into this system. But the classroom itself is such a unique place, where the personality and skill of the teacher is all-encompassing, that when in class, parents mean almost nothing, apart from the caveats already presented. Children really are in a situation where the may be molded for good or ill.

            This being the case, parents really should be involved in making sure the school and teachers aren’t incompetent (or are very competently filling their child’s head with Leftist propaganda).

            Of course, it is true, as you say, that the ability of teachers to keep order in their classes is limited these days. So, oddly, where school could act as truly a second parent, school too often is just a second lousy parent. I’m not for the schools taking over the job of the parent. But it must be said that a good teacher can be such a positive influence to those children who have a chaotic life at home. It’s just too bad that teacher’s unions and other factors have all but destroyed a teacher’s ability (and that of the classroom) to be that positive influence. I’m sure some still are. And some school districts are vastly better than others. But if I had a child, I would (if I could) send him to a private school or home-school him.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            I would agree that parents are more important than teachers; my point is that good teachers can educate children despite poor parents.

            Discipline is certainly a problem; yet, as is so often the case, schools often seem to combine failure to discipline students who misbehave terribly with a zealous pursuit of those “guilty” of innocuous behavior (such as eating a pop-tart into a vaguely gun-like shape). The former are much harder to deal with and much likelier to claim victim status (particularly if they’re members of a racial minority, as is often the case), which may explain the problem. But recent complaints by the Departments of Injustice and Miseducation about “racially biased” discipline indicate that a lot of schools are still punishing troublemakers.

            • Misbehavior, however, is rare if the teaching and curricula are good. A truly engaging and challenging teacher heads discipline off at the pass. Inspire students and they’ll follow you anywhere.

      • griffonn says:

        “Parent involvement” is really just passing the buck.

        Their educational model is not working, so they increasingly dump responsibility on the parents to “make” the child learn.

        Worse: it’s a one-way ticket. As a parent, I spent years trying to get schools to talk to me. They aren’t interested in listening. They just want you to “fix it”, so that they can keep doing what they’re doing and yet end up with winner kids.

        It’s the same problem you find throughout leftwingland: the policies don’t work, and they reach the point where there is no option but to accept that some sort of adjustment is needed – but that’s ideologically uncomfortable, so instead you just shut down feedback and start relying on force to MAKE everyone give you the results you feel you’re entitled to.

        What other “professional” group would defend outcomes like this? Can you imagine if your doctor had the same attitude that teachers today have? (Obamacare is going to give us just that – with the good ones driven out and the bad ones rewarded – yay!)

  5. steve lancaster says:

    Tim,
    Sounds like a plan.
    Its been decades since I read Orbit and that is a good analogy. My suggestion would Heinlein, Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

    Is it not interesting how much of the 21st century science fiction writers of the 50’s and 60’s got right?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I recently used a Prof quote — “A managed democracy is good for the managers” — in a blog sequence on NRO about the Dinesh D’Souza case (I started with a reference to Ayn Rand, in particular the scene in Atlas Shrugged in which Floyd Ferriss lets slip to Hank Rearden that power- seekers like the breaking of laws because it gives them a handle to use to control people.

  6. steve lancaster says:

    Indeed, May 1988 was a sad day for lovers of quality science fiction. Spider Robinson is one of the few who live up to RAH in terms of quality and serendipity.

  7. griffonn says:

    Something else wrong with today’s schools: the treadmill has been speeding up.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NPzLBSBzPI

    Two things have happened at once over the past few decades: teaching has become more impersonal/factory like and yet more children are experiencing problems at home.

    Yet every time a child experiences problems, he has a harder time keeping up. We have no mechanism other than the highly stigmatized and rarely used “holding him back a year” (which is stigmatized precisely because we put such a huge emphasis on sorting kids by age rather than by ability, as if it would totally kill a kid to be stuck with younger kids in the subject he’s bad at – even if he were the younger kid stuck with older kids in the subject he’s good at. Because we can’t have kids be ashamed just because they’re bad at a given subject, right?)

    The more he falls behind, the faster he has to work to “catch up”. That’s why they say a kid who hasn’t learned to read by fourth grade never will – it isn’t that a fifth grader can’t be taught to read.

    If we didn’t put kids on a treadmill, they wouldn’t “fall behind”.

  8. griffonn says:

    I am so glad my kids are all grown up, and I won’t be dealing with common core.

    It sounds like a real nightmare.
    I am seriously hoping that parents are going to get fed up with how overtly ideological schools have gotten (if they aren’t already).

  9. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Deana, I enjoyed your article at American Thinker this morning. Well done. I agree with you that the quality of the teachers is paramount.

    And there are various causes for the degraded quality. I hope you’ve read Thomas Sowell’s “Inside American Education.” But having been inside American education, perhaps it would be redundant.

    But one aspect that Sowell mentions is that getting a degree in education has become, to put it bluntly, what the less gifted (or less motivated) people gravity to — the equivalent of taking “study hall” instead of math as a class. For whatever reason, the standards for getting a teaching degree have severely slackened.

    And it brings me no joy to denigrate teachers. I look back to four or five of my own in the government school system and understand what fine mentors they were.

    But I must say, the last teacher who I knew personally shocked me by her general ignorance. It was fully apparent that the standards had slackened, to say the least. It doesn’t help, of course, that Unionitis (as you mentioned) makes it difficult to fire bad teachers. In fact, this is the product not just of unions but of the Communist instinct. It’s the idea that “equality” trumps all other considerations…including competence.

    Hurt feelings, rather than doing a good job, are often what seem to be the guiding influence as well. Mr. Starkes’ article of today is another instance of this. Instead of dealing into the reasons why so many blacks are guilty of committing crimes, it’s considered by some insulting to report this. This is consistent with our idiot Supreme Court Justice, Sotomayor, who (as Selwyn Duke reports in his latest article) thinks labeling illegal immigrants as criminals is insulting.

    So there you have it. This “Progressive” or Communist influence is one of the deep rots of our society. It has been declared that results don’t matter, mere appearances do. And, of course, there is that union factor. As Thomas Sowell notes about public schools, they combine two of the worst elements: union control with a government monopoly.

    • Yes, Brad.

      You’re right on. Sowell’s book on education is one I haven’t read. I better to add it to my reading list. He’s right about the lack of prestige in teaching, but that is also the fault of the unions; who wants to join the ranks of “professionals” who have to be assisted by a union?

      I hate the business of putting down teachers, too, believe me. I know so many who are superb educators, and who put in grueling hours on a high-stress job. They are worth their weight in gold. They are swimming upstream through rapids.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Something you might find interesting if you can locate a copy is Dante’s Infernal Guide to Your School by Frank Behrens, which combines the Gustav Dore illustrations for The Inferno with captions linking them to teaching. My favorite is a scene from the rain of fire with the caption, “But healthy sports are to be encouraged, so do not allow minor injuries or inclement weather to upset the schedule.” I picked this up in the mid 1970s, so it’s probably hard to locate outside of my library.

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