Saturday, October 22, 2005

Children Left Behind

An opinion piece in today's New York Times states:

The Bush administration responded characteristically this week when it put a positive gloss on national math and reading scores that were actually dismal - and bad news for the school reform effort. Faced with charges that his signature reform, the No Child Left Behind Act, was failing, the president played up the minor positive results. He should have seized the moment to acknowledge the bad news and explain what it would take to make things right.

He should also, of course, have reminded the nation that as long as it fails to take school reform seriously, American children will fall further and further behind their peers abroad.

Public Education just isn't one of those sexy issues. You know the issues I mean--the ones it's so much fun to get all worked up over and scream at each other: war, scandal, indictments, criminal neglect after hurricanes, and all manner of corruption and dirty deals.

In fact, instead of addressing our kids' crappy science scores, we're debating teaching the Intelligent Design speculation* in our science classes. Because what the heck? It's not like we're actually teaching science very successfully anyway, right?

"A 2004 study by the National Science Foundation found that the United States ranks 17th in the proportion of 18- to 24-year-olds earning science and engineering degrees, down from third place in 1975." (Houston Chronicle)

Ironically, Congress cut the National Science Foundation's budget in 2004.

Figures, huh? This is the same party that wants to yell about family values and prioritizing, yadda yadda yadda.

We better get our heads out of our asses pretty soon and start educating our children, though.

I was talking with friends who have a toddler. They've started the application process to get her into a good private school. Apparently, there's quite a waiting list. Also, it's quite expensive. It made me wonder what the heck happens to kids with parents who just can't afford to do that? They go to public school, of course. They get an education that might--if they're lucky, bright, and motivated--equip them to fill out W*l-M*rt applications.

For the record, I don't blame teachers for this situation. I think the whole system is broken. I think far too much of the money we spend on education gets syphoned off into administrative bureaucracy, and far too little gets spent on things like books, computers, and lab equipment.

Also for the record, I could care less whether people believe in a supreme being who designed the life with deliberate intent. I do think that supreme being might have put a bit more effort into designing more efficient backs for bipedal primates who walk upright. . .

Which only further reinforces that ugly gap between haves and have-nots, doesn't it? Right now, we're building what America will be for the next generation. Why, for heaven's sake, can't we just once show a little forethought?

*I refuse to refer to ID as a "theory" because, in fact, it is NOT a theory in the same sense and definition of the word as the theory of evolution. No amount of referring to it as such can make it so. The media has been treating the word as if it means the same thing when applied to either evolution or ID--which is either ignorant or intellectually dishonest, but certainly inaccurate and misleading.


Mark Pettus said...

Public education is a funny thing. We view the failures on a national scale, but see success in our own living rooms. I can't help but believe that every fix I've witnessed in the last 40 years has caused more damage than it repaired.

I suppose I am more locally focused than most people in this debate. I don't want America to have more engineers, I want my son to develop a desire to learn that will continue long after he has left public schools.

As for intelligent design, I don't care what they discuss in our schools, as long as it is a discussion. Discussions never worry me. Lectures, on the other hand, seem to be the norm in primary and secondary education...

p.s. I like your blog.

Anonymous said...

As far as intelligent design-I believe in God. There's nothing wrong with it being discussed in schools either. Go right ahead and say the Pledge of Allegiance, and keep God in it!! Yeah, Mac, this topic gets my engines going :)

Separation of church and state, uh-uh. Founding fathers wrote in freedom of religion so as to no longer tie us to the church of England-the separation thing is a modern fabrication.

We get so caught up in catch phrases that we overlook what is really important. Education and leaving no children behind? How about doing the right thing and pay the dang teachers what they're worth!! The future of this country depends on the kids aspiring to other careers outside of pumping gas, etc. Not gonna happen unless the teachers are earning above poverty level. It's a disgrace how our teachers and other public servants are paid. Not to mention, it's disrespectful. Teachers can't even afford to live in the school districts where they work-anywhere in this country! I'm going to take a breath now...

Mac said...

Mark, thanks--I'm glad to see you here.

JM--I'm about to make a very rare religious statement. *smile* I believe in God. I don't even pretend to comprehend the nature of God, though. I also believe we evolved, and I don't think that presents any conflict with a belief in God, Creation, or Intelligent Design.

Like Mark, I think discussion in schools is a good thing--but we've so tied the hands of teachers that they can't stray from approved curriculum because someone's gonna sue the school district, if they do.
That's a big problem.

I firmly believe that we should never, ever allow our system of government to even approach a place where any one version of any religion assumes legal superiority over another.

That said, I don't have any issues with "under god" in the pledge. (Although it was a 20th century addition) I don't have a problem with Christmas plays--although I'd like to see other traditions, Hannukah for example, discussed and celebrated as well.

Ms M said...

I get a bit wary of this type of sensationalist reporting on the failures of education. First of all, what do these global tests really tell us about anything. I'd like to ask a few teachers how meaningful they think they are. I also think they create a perceived mandate for politically inspired educational reform. Of course, we should be focusing on 1/improving the educational system all the time, and 2/increasing the status of teaching by recognising professional value through pay levels but I wonder if these reports actually result in many parents fleeing from public education in a defensive response which ultimately doesn't do anything for developing either of the goals mentioned above, but certainly does help the private school system.

Lori A. Basiewicz said...

I have a problem with putting Hanukkah on the same level as Christmas. Mainly, because doing so attempts to create a one-size fits all celebration regardless of religious affiliations without actually acknowledging the differences in those religions or what is and is not important in them.

The thing is, in the Christian tradition, Christmas is one of the two largest holidays of the year. The other being Easter. In the Jewish tradition, the High Holy Days (the holidays everyone goes to temple for regardless of whether or not they attend the rest of the year) are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday.

If people truly want to be fair and empower all religions, it is important to ackowledge what is important in those faiths, not to just try to find equivalent holidays and elevate those celebrations to the same status as the largest Christian celebrations. The modern practice of attempting to find equivalent holidays and give them equal time is just a continuation of how the early Church's practice of converting pagan holidays for their own means.

Dawno said...

My take on education is that the problem is with the 'one size fits all' approach. We don't necessarily teach to the lowest common denominator in the US but to some kind of a middle ground.

The very bright children struggle against boredom in a majority of their classes only awakened to learning by a teacher who understands how to make the subject alive to them.

The challenged children struggle to keep up. Their parents are told to work with their kids but aren't given real tools to work with or their family circumstances make it extra difficult to provide the help the kids need.

Then there's this problem, does your child have a special gift for art, drama, music - or maybe it's mechanics or carpentry? Standardized tests tell you how little the system values those talents.

Given a chance to learn a valuable trade, to apprentice at an early age and become a carpenter wouldn't the kid who loves to work with their hands, with the wood, want to excel in that vs. bag groceries or flip burgers? And by the way, that work is available and pays a hell of a lot better than the local burger shack.

In order to be accepted to a state college for my English degree I had to pass a certain number of courses in math. I barely scraped by. Nobody really thought too hard about how to teach math to to people like me. I did eventually teach myself all the skills I needed to get by, and yes, if I hadn't gotten the basics (in grade school) I wouldn't have had the tools to do that. But there comes a time when the basics are learned and focus should be on learning how to learn with an emphasis on the type of learning that works for the individual (and it's not like theres one for each person - about 5 types does it).

I would have gone deeply into debt to get my kids into a school for the arts in my area - one that appreciated the talents they have in abundance and helped them get the other skills they needed as well, but in an accepting atmosphere that didn't scream "if you're not in AP classes and headed to Stanford you're not worth the trouble".

I couldn't find one here and couldn't afford to move somewhere else. My son got so frustrated with school he ended up getting a GED instead. He's in retail now. He hopes at 21 to be accepted into a police training program. He once wanted to go to the San Francisco Academy of Arts. What heartache I have to see that dream has died.

My daughter managed to graduate with a High School diploma, but it was touch and go. Thank goodness the administration loved her and fought to get her credit for all the theatre work she'd done and not been given acutal course credits for.

I get frustrated when the subject of education comes up because I know that there are many bright children, like mine, who aren't being 'left behind' in the sense that they don't complete an education, it's just the one they got didn't give them what they really needed, a life long love of learning and a way to make what they love to learn something they can use in the future.

shannon said...

Now me, I'm a believer in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Mac said...

Ms. M--I'm wary of these tests as a means of measuring, too. The problem is, our funding is tied to these test results.

Lori, I wasn't at all suggesting elevating Hannukah or any other holiday to the same level as Christmas--I'd just like to see other cultural traditions discussed and considered, as they come up.

Leap_b4, I hear ya! *grin*

Dawno, yeah. My little sister had a much harder time in school than I had, not because she was less intelligent, but because she just wasn't as interested or stimulated.

Tish Grier said...

hey Mac,

From my vantage point of two blogging conferences full of high-level "bloggers" (because most attendees aren't bloggers at all), I was more than ever before convinced of the rapidly increasing divide between the haves and have nots: all these highminded folks sitting in fancy conclaves talking about The People and yet there were absolutely no People (other than yours truly) in the room!

Regarding I.D.: in private schools, there's no discussion of Intelligent Design. I.D. is considered part of a belief system and one can hold the belief just as one is getting an A in science.

What also infuriates me about the I.D. arguments is indeed that so many proponets claim scientists believe it--but as a *private* belief, not as something that impedes their ability to dismiss scientific theories or principles.

But that part of the whole I.D. thing is conveniently left out--and The People are too stupid to know otherwise.

How, though, do we try to stop this chasm between the haves and havenots from growing?? I have no clue because we seem to be in a time of increasing intolerance with a high appreciation for ignorance. Nobody wants to acknowledge the celebration of ignorance because it is touted as a celebration of common sense and good old fashioned family values--and it helps to keep all those other folks firmly entrenched. Argh! It is wickedly frustrating!

Anonymous said...

Well, you sparked a great is troubled, but the problem is complex and so not easily solved and very much hindered by the kind of assessment demanded by "No Child Left Behind." The teaching of ideas is subordinated for teaching to test formats and only in the tested areas of instruction...The original post here that indicated the Bush admin. should look at the data, admit the failure and figure out what the next steps to success are...are you kiddin' me? They can't look at the blood and guts of a military operation gone bad and admit it went could they ever mangage to look something as elusive as test scores and be knocked back by reality?

As bad as things seem, there are many aspects of public education in America that are very good...but alas...this is not my I'll comment when they come up!

The problem with I.D. in schools is that it is not going to be discussed in a way that is balanced and sytematic...can you imagine the adults who don't believe in evolution as a result of I.D. or otherwise, allowing their kid's teacher to give the cons of I.D.???? The people who want it taught in pub. school want it in there as God's word, no questions asked.

TillyLost said...

*displays cultural ignorance*
Is R.E. (religious education) taught at all in U.S. state schools? I know that there is a constitutional division between religion and state, so I'm a bit unclear on this.

Dawno said...

Tilly Lost, I don't think Religious Education is taught in any of the public schools in the US (i.e., the ones paid for by taxpayers). In colleges and universities there are Religious Studies departments, even the state funded ones.

One might talk about religion in other classes as it relates to the topic - in social studies or civics perhaps, maybe in literature when it comes up as pertinent to the reading material. I don't remember talking about religion at all in class back in the dark ages when I went - perhaps because it was just part of the conversation and not memorable.

Tish Grier said...

Stephen Prothero of B.U. is giving a lecture on 11/2 (I think) on how Americans are wildly ignorant of religion and of belief systems in their own country. (

Part of this is because of a very weird quirk of political correctness that allows others to talk about their diverse beliefs, yet does not allow us to speak about ours lest we once again become Colonial Oppressors.

A few years back I did a study of historic houses in Massachusetts--it included the houses of Emerson, Thoreau, Wm.Cullen Bryant, and some other historical figures. When docents were asked to, say, explain Emerson's transcendentalim, or if Bryant was raised Puritan (as his ancestors came over on the Mayflower) none could explain either. When I recommended to the site administrator of the house I worked at that it would be a good idea to give the docents a working knowledge of the owners' beliefs, I was told that there was the possibility that if I brought up their beliefs, and there were Buddhists or Hindus in the group, that they might be offended by the discussion. Which is b.s. As I learned, even alot of highly educated Whities know so little about religion that they can't distinguish between proselytizing and a simple explanation.

TillyLost said...

Thanks for the explanation :o)
R.E. is normally taught in the U.K., and while I understand the need for the constitutional division in the U.S., it might be helpful to have something like this. We studied Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, and I think some others, and also looked at Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Gandhi etc. Although I went to a Catholic school, and the exam itself was heavily rooted in Catholic doctrine, it was a state school, and the syllabus itself was similar to other non religious state schools. None of this was indoctrination, it was straightforward teaching of what different religions believe.
My daughter is at infant school. She's been learning little bits about Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism so far. I think this is a good thing.