Rebuilding the American
Natalia J. Garland
There are some things we can do to improve American education which
will not cost the taxpayers one penny. It is just a matter of using
common sense, evaluating past failures and successes, holding public
schools accountable for imparting knowledge and spending tax monies
wisely, and expecting parents and students to participate in the
educational process. Below are some of my ideas on how we can rebuild
Rebuilding the Educational Process
- Appraise the success and failure of "No Child Left
Behind" in an honest and impartial manner.
- Review the development of American education and culture since
Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty."
- Re-define the concept of multiculturalism to include intelligent
judgment and moral discernment.
- Re-consider the idea of competition as a motivating factor to
learn, and consider balancing this with the practice of cooperative
- Eliminate textbooks that teach or imply anti-Americanism.
- Re-write textbooks with historical and cultural accuracy.
- Re-introduce the Great Books of classical education.
- Re-introduce the teaching of civics to a post-Civil Rights and
post-9/11 student body.
- Reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance in schools that have abandoned
- Reinstate a "Moment of Silence" in schools that have
abandoned this practice.
- Re-evaluate the necessity of student confidentiality: re-consider
the benefits of posting papers/tests with good grades and rewarding top
students with prizes or other recognition.
- Enforce zero tolerance for cursing and name-calling.
- Enforce zero tolerance for intimate hugging and kissing between
students on school grounds. Re-introduce the practice of protecting
girls because they are girls (i.e., sexually vulnerable).
- Maintain strict interpersonal boundaries between teachers and
- Role-model adult maturity and the love of learning.
- Extend the practice of school choice to include teacher choice.
- Offer parents the option of placing their children in same-sex
classrooms (i.e., all boys or all girls).
- Accept alternative certification paths for retired professionals
who want to become teachers in their area of expertise.
- Empower war veterans to become teachers.
- Empower parents who prefer homeschooling for their children.
Successes and Failures
If we had an objective
study of the history of student programs back to President Johnson's
"War on Poverty," such a study would likely prove that lack
of money is not currently, in most instances, the major obstacle to
getting a good education in the public schools. If politicians,
teacher unions, university professors who train teachers, and state
credentialing offices really cared about education, then they would
support an honest study of the dynamics of educational failures and
successes. Such a study would also have to include the impact of
illegal immigration on public school systems and on expenditure of
Why does the American
public school system continue to deteriorate despite the investment of
money? Some schools in other countries are able to do more with less.
If we rule out money and resources as major obstacles, then we must
focus on improper or improperly applied teaching methods and techniques
(cooperative learning, multiple intelligences, student-centered
teaching, portfolio development, open book tests, etc.), an extreme and
distorted multiculturalist curriculum which has edged out most of the
Great Books, revisionist textbooks which emphasize America's historical
faults, and a distaste for the instillation of good citizenship.
Improve the School
Reciting the Pledge of
Allegiance and observing a Moment of Silence (in lieu of prayer) are
positive ways to establish the tone and mood of every morning. These
two actions unite students and teachers, and signify that school is a
special place for a special purpose. These are patriotic and
introspective practices, promoting a sense of belonging as well as
self-respect. If teachers take this seriously, then the students will
follow. How much does this cost the taxpayers? Not one penny.
Teachers also must be
assertive and confident in establishing interpersonal boundaries
between students. Whether we like it or not, whether it is fair or not,
girls are more vulnerable than boys. When teachers see a boy and girl
'necking' in the hallways, they should not assume the girl is a
voluntary participant. Girls can be pressured and/or threatened by
boys to do things they do not want to do. Teachers must intervene and
tell the students to break it up and go to class. Teachers must also
use good judgment in determining whether either or both students need
to be referred to the counsellor or principal.
School Choice and
Parents, many of whom
pay taxes to support public schools, should have the right to decide
which schools their children attend. This decision is too important to
be based on the geographic zoning rules imposed by school districts.
If parents chose their children's schools, then schools with good
reputations would attract motivated students and concerned parents.
Schools with bad reputations would either self-extinguish or undergo
reform. Likewise, parents should be able to meet and/or read profiles
of and choose their children's teachers. Teacher choice could be
based on criteria such as the teacher's methods and style of teaching,
grading scales, homework policy, etc.
Parents should also have
the option of placing their children in same-sex classrooms. This
could be especially helpful for immature or slower-developing teens,
as well as for motivated students who enjoy learning and do not want to
be distracted. Energetic boys, for example, might do better in an
all-boys classroom taught by a male teacher. Likewise, shy or quiet
girls might gain confidence to participate in discussions if they were
among other girls. Parents could place their children in some same-sex
classrooms and some mixed classrooms, depending on each child's needs.
Teachers could likewise teach both same-sex and mixed classes as part
of their normal routine.
Although school choice
and teacher choice would require some re-organization of transportation
and class schedules, the results for the students could prove to be
academically and behaviorally successful. How much would this
changeover cost the taxpayers? Probably not one extra penny. Some
monies might have to be channeled toward the popular schools to
accommodate any influx of students but, if the deficient schools closed
down or underwent reform, then it would all even out. The real issue
might be the transporting of kids from their home to a school in a
different zone. This could be partly resolved by use of both school
buses and city buses, and by car pools.
Most teachers have
graduated from college with B.A. or B.S. degrees, and they have taken
required courses in teaching methods in order to be eligible for state
certification. There are very few 'alternative certification' routes
(I think 'diverse certification' is a better term), and not all states
or local districts accept alternative certification. What this means
is that many teachers are products of indoctrination education as
imposed by America's politically-correct university systems.
Not only is the current
certification process unfair to people who want to make mid-life career
changes or avoid unwanted retirement, but it also perpetuates
government control over the teaching profession. If only the university
preparation route is acceptable, this means most new teachers start
their careers at approximately the same age and then remain working in
public school systems with other teachers who followed the same route
with them, before them, or after them. This might make the hiring
process easier for school districts, but it robs the students of
encountering qualified teachers from different backgrounds.
There are well-qualified
retirees who have much to offer young people. A retired lawyer,
architect, journalist, or veterinarian already have areas of expertise
and do not necessarily need more college credits to be able to teach.
Alternative certification programs facilitate getting these
professionals into the classroom where they can teach as well as share
their lifetime of knowledge and experience. What does alternative
certification cost the taxpayer? Not one penny.
We can only imagine how
differently the educational process might proceed if, for example,
Iraqi War veterans were encouraged to teach history or political
science. We can only speculate how they might react to revisionist
textbooks. If there are billions of dollars to be allocated to
improving the public schools, some of that money needs to go to a
scholarship fund for war veterans and/or their families. Returning
veterans have the potential to upset the anti-American attitudes which
seem to dominate many universities and then trickle down into the
Parents should be
empowered to pursue homeschooling for their children if they believe
that is the best for them. Perhaps the real objection to homeschooling
is that it is the most powerful form of competition to the public
school and state credentialing systems. Parents who choose
homeschooling are removing their children from government control,
ineffective or inappropriate teaching methods, and the negative
influence of student behavioral problems. Homeschooling sends a strong
message to schools that their performance is regarded as inferior.
Parents must provide
supervision at home and not become overwhelmed by the negative aspects
of American culture. Boycott the television. When the ratings fall,
the producers of television shows and their advertisers will make
positive changes. Parents themselves need to role-model maturity and
create a nurturing home environment. Children must be taught
self-reliance. Students must accept some level of responsibility for
their own advancement when stuck in a deficient school system. It is
not easy. But, even in the worst school, there is probably an
excellent teacher who shines a light to show the way forward.
During the proofreading
stage of today's essay, I happened to pick up an old textbook on social
work theory. I came across a paragraph that seemed relevant to some of
our current educational problems. See if you recognize the following
quotation. It was written nearly 40 years ago.
Social casework, in its
very nature (i.e., in its focus on the individual or the
"case"), expresses a valuing of the individual in his
difference and a belief in his capacity to use help extended through a
human relationship to solve problems in a self-fulfilling, socially
constructive way. A present tendency on the part of many social
workers is to view individuals and groups as "victims,"
helpless in themselves, needing "advocates" and radically
changed social conditions before anything can or should be
expected of them in the way of responsible, productive behavior. Can
this attitude go so far that social work as a profession may contribute
to the weakening of individual initiative, responsibility, and power
for self-realization in socially constructive ways? Is it possible
that social work may have a significant role to play in keeping alive
and furthering the profession's and society's appreciation of the
individuality of the person and of his power for self-realization
at the same time that it takes an increasingly vigorous part in
working toward the improvement of social conditions and the increasing
of social opportunity for disadvantaged individuals and
[End of quote.]
That paragraph was
written by Ruth E. Smalley in 1970. Smalley was a proponent of the
functional school of social work, an approach which most people
nowadays regard as being of historical interest only. Nevertheless,
Smalley's remarks seem prophetic. If we replaced the words social
work with public schools, Smalley's concerns then become
applicable to the deterioration of the American educational process.
In the provision of money and resources, and in the development of
teaching methods and conducive environments, have we lost a belief in
the student's capacity for self-propelled curiosity and intellectual
discovery? This is something money cannot buy. (Written 08/18/08: bibliography available.)
Until we meet