The Fundamental Problem with Public Schools

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu11/4/15
While visiting The American Spectator today, I came upon the following article by Dr. Thomas Sowell: “Ignoring the Obvious“. I spent some time as a substitute teacher in one of the better school districts in Texas and was both pleased and disappointed with the doctor’s piece.

I was pleased as his is the first article that I have seen, by a nationally known and respected pundit, which points out the single most important reason for our failing schools. I was disappointed for the same reason. As Dr. Sowell notes, the facts are obvious yet nobody until now seems to have been willing to call a spade a spade.

How bad are things? Within one week of my becoming a substitute teacher, I could see the main reason for the failure of our public school system was the lack of discipline in schools. I will be generous and estimate that only about 70% of the problems within the classroom would be solved by reinstating strict rules. Now I am not saying that there were not disruptive students in my day, but schools had a number of different sanctions, which are not available to today’s educators.[pullquote]Basically, teachers have no real power of sanction and the students know this.[/pullquote]

During my junior and senior high years, I can remember hearing the school intercom being switched on, followed by a light tapping on the microphone to be sure it was working. The principal or assistant principal would then recite something like the following: “Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention. This is what happens to those of us who decide they are above following the rules.” A pregnant silence was then shattered by a loud, whack—– whack—– whack. This would be followed by the principal thanking us for our attention and signing off. This broadcast always had a certain edifying effect on the student body.

Not only the principal and assistant principal could administer justice, so too could the gym teacher who had his own wooden paddle. I suppose he had a special dispensation as boys are apt to get somewhat over enthusiastic in a gym setting, with fights breaking out every now and then.

There was no accumulating demerits before one had to stay after school. There was no “sub-school” to which delinquents were happy to be sent, as they wished to avoid class. Retribution was swift and memorable. If a student was disruptive enough, suspension and then expulsion would follow.

Today, it is unusual to even throw a disruptive student out of the classroom as it is more like a reward than punishment. Some teachers are able to force their will upon classrooms, but even they can be hobbled by the all-too-common lout who is dim and looking for attention. Basically, teachers have no real power of sanction and the students know this.

Those who I hold most responsible for this fact are the school administrators who too often wish to avoid any and all inconvenience or controversy. More often than not, the administrators do not have the teacher’s back. Such policy inevitably leads to the lunatics running the asylum. It is therefore not surprising that those teachers, who still have energy, pick and choose their battles, while many (probably most) simply give up and try to put in their time. Not surprisingly, many come to the conclusion that the prize is not worth the battle and go on to other fields.

The reasons discipline has disappeared in our public schools are many and this piece is too short to go into them. But there is no doubt in my mind that this is the single biggest problem facing the future of American education. Nothing else comes close to it, not boredom due to rote teaching, not a lack of creativity in students, not the problems with teaching to the test, not over reliance on computers and other tools which allow too many students to avoid thinking. And I should also state that the gross relaxation of discipline and overall slide in academic standards are clearly related. I am not sure which has more influence on the other, but there is some sort of negative synergy at work.

Until this problem is clearly acknowledged, and discipline is reinstated in the public school system, the U.S.A. will continue to be badly served. (Everything else is just nibbling away at the edges.) Public schools will continue to spew out functional illiterates who over-estimate their abilities and under-estimate their ignorance.

American public schools are turning out generations of ignorant egotists who do not have the first idea of the past, are lost in the present and will have a very bleak future. Unfortunately, the nation and world will suffer mightily as a result.


Kung Fu Zu is a conservative prognosticator who has traveled widely and lived outside the United States. He was last seen at the Conjunction Junction. • (1918 views)

Share
This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to The Fundamental Problem with Public Schools

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Looking back, there’s no doubt that the most effective teachers were the ones who were not disciplinarians, per se, but who kept an effective order in their classrooms. There’s no need to be a Dickensian authoritarian character or caricature. And this assumption is one very big reason the Left has been able to erode discipline. Discipline has too often been written off as “stifling” when it was, properly and thoughtfully administered, the very thing that sets classrooms free…free to learn, I might add (a goal that seems often to be forgotten).

    My worst teachers were not those who had lousy, 20-year-old textbooks or outdated teaching techniques. They were the ones who were lax. Even good students (including yours truly) will quickly degrade under these conditions. Dear, sweet Mrs. Krom in 5th grade should never have been near a classroom. It’s lucky that most of us were fundamentally decent kids or much worse could have happened than just goofing off and time-wasting.

    Mrs. Irons (4th grade) remains my model for the perfect teacher. I learned a lot in that year. She was friendly but set clear limits. She could be chummy with the kids (she was no cold fish) but that didn’t buy you any privileges in terms of getting away with stuff. We respected her and liked her. And I suspect the latter is not possible without the former.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      A little discipline thoughtfully applied can go a long way to keeping order in the classroom. One does not need to be a martinet. In fact, that is probably counter-productive. But the students should have no doubts who is in charge.

      Students are notorious for giving subs a hard time. They wish to find out how far they can push, thus it is important to disrupt the “disrupters” before they get started.

      To give each student a clear picture of who was in charge, I generally started each new class with a speech which went something like the following:

      “I’m not your father, I’m not your mother, I not your brother, sister, bro, blood or friend. I am Mr. Kung and I am here to teach you. Your parents pay a lot of taxes for your education. Whether or not you wish to avail yourself of this opportunity to learn is up to you. If you do, fine. If you don’t, I don’t much care, but you will not be allowed to interfere with those students who do wish to learn.

      I will treat you as adults as long as you act like adults. I understand that everyone fouls up every now and then, so each of you will have one free strike. After that you are out of here.

      I hope I have made myself clear. But if not I will answer any questions you might have.”

      You would be surprised how many students were a little shocked at my speech, but clearly got my meaning and followed the rules.

      Except for the thugs and louts which are always with us, I believe most children like a fair amount of order in the classroom. And it was always my philosophy that if I couldn’t handle most of the kids, I didn’t belong there.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    At Ursuline (the Catholic school I attended my first two years in Greece) they gave conduct grades (which they considered more important than the academic ones). I usually got a lot of mediocre ones, which did NOT please my father. But I don’t recall the usual punishments other than that. At Fort Campbell High School I was paddled a few times, though it certainly wasn’t broadcast throughout the school. (Of course, my worst punishment was the day they had to inform me of my father’s death — and that, of course, was not technically punishment at all.)

    In Mugger Blood, Remo visits a local school to find out why students aren’t learning proper behavior, and encounters a teacher who ignores the uproar in her class (helped by earplugs). It turns out that she had tried to do a good job when she first came there, including handing out accurate grades. But the parents complained and the administration refused to back her up, and she finally gave up.

    • Rosalys says:

      Many, many moons ago, when I was student teaching, a teacher I became friends with, told me how the principal would routinely direct teachers to pass failing seniors so that they they could graduate.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    San Bernardino Unified School Dist. is probably the biggest employer in bankrupt San Bernardino, Ca. By its own admission, the district is a “special education” entity, what with so many Spanish speaking and illegals that have flooded into the region.
    Teachers can make 80-100k with senority, and even the subs make 127.00 per diem for what can be as little as 3hours and 45 minutes worth of work. But don’t be deceived, this amounts to battle pay.
    But there are a few little springs of refreshment amidst the parched wasteland of trickle down mediocrity. There are several middle schools that bind the parent and student into a contractual obligation to perform satisfactorily both academically and conduct-wise. These schools are not even that rigorous academically, since you can stay in with a D+ average. The scores at these prep academies are generally over 900, which is astronomical for the neighborhood.
    The one thing that bridges poverty and ignorance is desire, but such desire must be balanced by accountability. Although some students can’t make the grade due to a cornucopia of problems, nearly all of them want to be there. Truancy is unknown and absences are scarce.
    Injecting accountability into the system addresses the elephant in the room—-poor conduct and marginal effort on behalf of the parent-student equation. By now, we should have realized that a significant education can not be just handed out like candy, but it must be pursued, dreamed over, and laid hold of with both hands. An education must be worth something in order to be valued. A general raising of the bar is the only answer, especially when that bar is laying on the ground.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      There are several middle schools that bind the parent and student into a contractual obligation to perform satisfactorily both academically and conduct-wise.

      These schools are doing God’s work. Even if they do not turn out stellar students, they are teaching discipline and helping children learn the need for and, hopefully, the reward for effort. Moving up in small steps is still moving up.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      An education must be worth something in order to be valued.

      That really brings us to a central problem of public education and everything socialist: Anything “free” (yes, there are taxes, but the cause-and-effect is sufficiently blurred) is not valued. “Free” housing tends to get trashed by its occupants. Is it any surprise that “free” education should hold so little value?

      The reality of public education (and please, I hope all libertarians are sitting down and/or are not holding a sharp object) is that it is a societal means to coerce people into behavior deemed good and necessary for a decent society. We need educated people. I agree with that necessity. But the means has been corrupted by bureaucracy, politics, centralization, and all the integrity-destroying ills of Cultural Marxism.

      But I have no problem with the coercion. Little Bradley, left to his own devices, probably would never have learned to read and write. I don’t object to a Plan, per se. I object to the purpose of the plan and who carries it out. A rational people would instantly come to the conclusion that a good education is necessary but the current system is not a good vehicle for it because of: unionization, centralization, political instead of academic goals, etc.

      But rationality is in short supply. Good luck finding any of the fishies swimming in the current Progressive culture who will be able to see the polluted water they are swimming in. For many, public education is already fulfilling what I think is the #2 point of public education, those points being:

      + Union or government employment
      + Daycare
      + Indoctrination into Progressivism
      + Reading, writing, and arithmetic.

      And considering how poorly many schools are doing at #4, I may have it set too high in the hierarchy.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        In The Terminal Man, Michael Crichton has the psychologist in charge of the operation, when asked about “mind control”, answer by asking, “What do you call compulsory public education through high school?” This is even more explicit in some foreign countries, such as France and Germany (hence the ban on home-schooling in the latter). And it’s very explicit in totalitarian countries.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          In my Little Red Book of Conservative Utopia, every parent makes it his or her concern to see to the education of his or her children for the purpose of empowering those children to make use of their God-given talents. This not only aids them in their quest for happiness and meaning but makes them a productive member of society . . . a maker instead of a taker.

          Schools would not be glorified day care centers so that mommy (in particular) can pursue a career, unfettered by maternity. Schools would not be bastions of union job-creation where the point is a guaranteed job, no matter how incompetent the teacher.

          In the Little Red Book of Conservative Utopia, parents would expect that is was their task to teach values to their children and that the school’s job was to teach them how to read and write — in a safe and healthy environment. Parents would not stand for foolish and faddish notions being indoctrinated into this captive audience by nefarious teachers and others who value some esoteric “social” goal rather than valuing little Johnny or Janie learning how to read.

          Not every parent would be up to this task, of course. Therefore the additional burden (as it always has been upon good people) would be to add some peer pressure to bring the slackers into line. The subsidiarity principle would mean that schools would be run only by the people in the community. There might be state legal standards that such schools had to meet. But there otherwise would be no state education establishment, and certainly no national one. Local communities would do the job.

          And if this sounds impractical, it’s worth remembering that there are failing schools in New Jersey and elsewhere that spend over $10,000 per student. We know from experience that a handful of dusty, but reliable, textbooks, a little picket-fence schoolhouse, and a liberal amount of elbow grease is all it takes to produce learning. There are so many bells and whistles and distracting “theories” of education that this simple fact is routinely forgotten. We don’t lack the means. We lack the will. If there is some podunk community somewhere that honestly cannot afford to build a schoolhouse and hire a teacher, then decent people with the clear goal of education could make an accommodation.

          What we lack, however, throughout society at all levels are these decent, clear-headed people who know what the purpose of education is and ought to be.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            The problem isn’t that schools fail to teach good values, but that they try to teach bad ones. Perhaps it’s just as well that they do such a poor job of teaching given what they try to teach.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I would prefer schools teach good values that are wafted to the little skulls-full-of-mush like second hand smoke. I want teachers to teach children how to read. And by using techniques of discipline, hard work, honesty, effort-equals-reward/slacking-equals-penalty, and even creativity, students absorb these values implicitly. Contrast that with the ideological child rape of getting classrooms of children to write Congress regarding instituting some left wing position or another.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Did you see that video of a bunch of spicky-boo kids (I think the opprobrious term is justified for such people) making their obscene denunciations of Trump? Someone who actually has a sense of decency (unlike most liberals) would call this child abuse by their parents, their teachers, or perhaps both.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Have you ever stuck your face in a fan just to see what it feels like? Well, that partially explains why I’m almost done watching the third season (all that is available on Netflix) of the Danish series, “Rita.”

    But I doth protest too much. Many of the characters and the stories are quite entertaining. But the liberalism is rampant, sometimes laughably so (well…if you heard my impromptu comments to the cosmos as I’m watching this, you’d surely laugh…my brother does).

    The series is set in a public school. Rita is a teacher, and a popular one with the kids. But not so much with the adults. It’s generally considered that Rita is a child in an adult body. (How this kind of serious introspection could make its way into a libtard series is part of the fascination. What’s next? Realizing that “global warming” is a hoax or that Islam isn’t a religion of peace?)

    The setup of all this is to tell you that I don’t think I’ve yet witnessed any classroom scene (and this is set in a school, so there are many scenes in the classroom) where the teachers are actually teaching an academic subject. You know, something like reading, writing, or arithmetic. Nearly every single lesson the kids are involved in is about socialism them. The last project was getting every kid from the class to visit every other kid’s home to “see now other people live.” Not all of this socialization is bad, per se. But is this the purpose of public schools? And should they be doing this at the expense of academic subjects? (No. No. No. Sorry for the rhetorical questions.)

    Granted, this is a TV series, not necessarily reality. And yet I suspect this is all too often the reality in public schools now all over Western Civilization. And — ironically — Rita is now the temporary principal (the other is on medical leave for stress). And national tests are coming up and Rita has asked the other teachers to prepare their students for them.

    And the teachers object. One says something like, “Rita, weren’t you the one last year who objected to rote learning and refused to prepared for the national test?”

    Well, as far as I can see, “rote learning” is all well and good, national test or otherwise. It just depends upon what you’re learning by rote. If part of the “rote” learning for the national test is knowing a little about William Shakespeare, naming the seven seas, knowing a bit about the history of your own country, knowing how to spell, knowing how to write….then there is no problem with “rote” learning.

    But I haven’t seen these national tests (whether those from the TV or from “No Child Left Behind”). These test could be full of dumb things to rote learn. Or they could be full of things that any student should know by heart. But I can’t put the fault at “rote.” And “rote” has become a talking point by the Left to evade academic subjects and thus real learning.

    I suspect that at least some of the people on the national level in government prescribe such tests in order to try to circumvent the unionized teaching staffs, to prompt them to actually have to do something other than to teach people how to be world citizens. And obviously things such as “Common Core” are not about this. But I suspect some efforts in regards to national tests are attempts by folks of good will to try to force teachers to quit wasting time on baloney and actually teach kids meaningful and useful academic skills.

    And going by the show, “Rita,” there is a need for some kind of reform. Certainly no conservative believes in the Dept. of Education or nationalizing the education system. But there is indeed something rotten in Denmark.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I thought you might be interested in some more information regarding European education.

      I saw only today that the German Minister Thomas de Maiziere has put out the following idea. (My translation from Die Welt)

      “De Maiziere sees, in the face of increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, the necessity for more improvisation. ‘Germany can hardly maintain its standards in schooling and job training. That doesn’t mean there will be a permanent lowering of standards, rather it is an improvised way , with good human understanding, toward solutions.'”

      Does this eunuch sound like he has the interests of Germany’s students and future at heart? He sounds amazingly like our American politicians who lie to our faces while they destroy the country?

      If you have any doubt that the influx of illegal aliens has not damaged the overall education system in America, you are dreaming.

      But I guess we should be happy because it means Germany will be a weaker competitor in the not-too-distant future.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        That sounds like Rush Limbaugh’s argument, a few decades ago, that the way to weaken our competitors was to export liberalism to them. Of course, in Europe, it’s already there.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Oh, god save us from the postmodernists and other scoundrels. “Improvisation” is a word for dumbing-down just as “immigrant” is the European euphemism for cultural invader.

  5. Actually, I think the main problem with education is that the best it can do is display the culture that produces it. Principals can’t hold tight standards because parents won’t put up with it. Teachers can’t hold high standards because the principals don’t want to deal with the parents. We are in the scary position of needing the schools to fix a problem that they have no control over.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Parents certainly complain when stern standards ensnare their children, and administrators (and therefore teachers) give up those standards. But I’m not sure that this surrender is necessary — or represents the preference of the majority of miseducators.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I would go further and say that school boards do not wish to deal with bitching parents, which is where the problem starts. But I believe the basis for this is that many or most school boards do not have the backbone to push back against such parents. Of course, this attitude flows downward.

      How many times have you heard school boards or principals come out and clearly let the public know that many of the children attending schools are disciplinary problems and that the root of these problems too often begins at home? How many actually take a stand against everyday thuggery which one finds in a host of schools across the nation.

      You will note that private schools do not have near the disciplinary problems that public schools have and it is not only because they have better students.

      This is not to say that schools have ever been, or ever will be perfect. But there is not doubt in my mind that standing up to disorderly parents and students would have a salutary effect throughout the country. But too many in the upper levels of public education are primarily interested in maintaining their positions and avoiding controversy. It would appear too few are willing to stand up for real education which is a shame as the future of the country depends on it.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        And of course it doesn’t help when you have to follow the ukases of the Department of Education — such as racial quotas in punishing student misconduct, or forcing schools to fully share transgender delusions.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          True, but it is interesting how quickly schools are willing to harshly discipline kids who pretend their fingers are pistols, who bite off bits of Pop Tarts until the rest looks vaguely like a pistol, who point to the sky after making a touchdown, who carry aspirin, fingernail clippers or small pin knives. Carrying candy cane colored pens during Christmas time is another infraction which has been called out as well as saying “God Bless You” after someone sneezes.

          These and many other “crimes” are quickly punished. Clearly schools can sanction students. Unfortunately, they too often choose to enforce rules which are PC nonsense and contribute nothing to improving education. What they further is the Leftist agenda to turn out poorly educated, confused and too often mind-numbed robots who have little ability to think for themselves.

          • Rosalys says:

            “These and many other “crimes” are quickly punished. Clearly schools can sanction students. Unfortunately, they too often chose to enforce rules which are PC nonsense and contribute nothing to improving education.”

            They go after them because it is the path of least resistance. These parents are generally law abiding, which too often translates into obeying anyone who makes himself an authority figure, they feel they must obey the school “authorities.” The teachers, et al., during school hours, act in loco parentis. They have no jurisdiction after hours, when the child returns home after his day at school; and they have no jurisdiction over parents at any time. If they abuse their in loco parentis status by behaving in a ridiculous fashion, then it is the parents job to call them to task; and if the issue cannot be resolved satifactorily, to remove their child from the school. If parents behave in a ridiculous manner, insisting that their child is above any discipline and therefore disruptive of the atmosphere necessary for any learning to take place, then that child must be expelled. Since the limp wristed cowards in charge of the government schools today prefer the easy way out, then a lot more parents should be removing their children from “public” schools. There are a number much better of options available to families, nowadays.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              This brings up an important point, that strict rules are enforced most stringently on the relatively harmless, because they won’t fight back. It’s much like the Lavender Thought Police never going after Muslim bakers, florists, etc. even when (as happened in a recent experiment in the Detroit area).

              One might also note that most of the victims of these ridiculous actions by public miseducators are white, and thus safe from federal complaints as long as the Obama Gang misrules the country.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                that strict rules are enforced most stringently on the relatively harmless, because they won’t fight back

                It is also a common tactic of the ACLU and other Leftist organizations such as that American Atheist group to go after small school districts and towns, which do not have the funds to go through an extended court battle. The school districts and towns settle out of court and accept the demands made by the ACLU and precedent is established. That is then used to impose the ACLU’s demands on the rest of society.

  6. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    An interesting article on Common Core and education in America.

    http://spectator.org/articles/64578/why-common-core-cracking

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Whatever merit Common Core might have had as a concept (and as a voluntary set of standards to be used as a model, it could have been very useful), its value was destroyed by the simple fact that the standards (and the implicit curricula that went with them) were created by academic intellectuals.

  7. Glenn Fairman says:

    Whenever I teach math to the kids, I use the old methods –owing to their simple elegance. The kids invariably tell me that their parents do the same. Could the incremental enfeeblement of children be the end game—all under the banner of an egalitarian idiocy that prefers the feel of common chains to the dangers of negotiating an individual exceptional life?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      ‘Harrison Bergeron”

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I went to public school. Having been in the system, I think I know some of the good points and bad points. No system is perfect, but I will admit that the general thrust of education back in the 60’s and 70’s (in my area) seemed to be to teach you the three R’s. We had no writing assignments to ask Congress to pass laws regarding global warming. We weren’t spending time every day on side-topics (read: non-academic time-wasters) that perhaps were understandable and worthwhile in Kindergarten but mostly a waste of academic time in later grades.

      Nothing wrong with having a little fun, but I suspect schools are now inundated with this nonsense. Good teachers, bad teachers, good principals, bad principals, old books, new books, large classes, small classes — most of this might be irrelevant because I think the raison d’être of public schools has shifted from sense to nonsense, from learning academic skills to a bunch of “feel good” socializing time-waster skills.

      I think schools have been turned from institutions of learning to Disneyland…where they sing “It’s a Global World After All” over and over and over and over.

      Mr. Kung was making the point that, despite whatever the flaws in the culture, there are private schools (including home-schoolers) who are managing to hold to high academic standards…while presumably having a bit of fun doing so. We can still do this. We have the technology. We just seem to lack the integrity, focus, and will. Corruption is difficult to overcome, especially when that corruption has such “good intentions.”

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I spent a good bit of time in public schools as well, though there were 2 years in a Catholic school in Greece and my public schooling there and at Fort Campbell High School (1964-6) was probably not quite the usual even then. My last 3 yeas were at a private school, and they did a good job. (I started at Purdue with 26 credit hours in math, chemistry, physics, French, and English.)

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          Obviously you are a well-educated person. And here at ST, our education hopefully continues. What we don’t want to ever be in the same sort of bubble-ized insulated isolation echo chamber that the Left exists in. We understand who and what they are. We get it. However, we understand that truly good ideas and principles don’t ever change and need to be espoused over and over and over again because they need to be taught. So an echo here and there is inevitable.

          But I like learning knew things, especially from books (documentaries as well). This has become somewhat of a challenge because the corruption and simple-mindedness of the Left has infected these areas heavily. But we can learn to pick and choose and do so cheerfully knowing that having this freedom and discernment ability is no small thing. Hence one of my favorite parts of the site: book and movie reviews.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *