A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”

This post is based on a column that I wrote for my long-defunct weekly newspaper. The column ran in the March 30, 1977, issue of the paper.

The choice of a topic for this week’s sermon was difficult. I was torn between economists and educators.

Having been raised as a devout economist, I decided not to risk supernatural retribution by poaching on my brethren — this week. But I can’t resist repeating the old saying that a thousand economists laid end-to-end wouldn’t reach a conclusion.

I feel kindly toward teachers, mainly because it’s been almost 60 years since my last involuntary encounter with one. During the interval I have come to understand that the oft-maligned species pedagogus publicus Americanus is a victim of society. (“Society” is an abstraction and doesn’t have victims or do any of the things mentioned here. But this is my blog, so I’m free to blather on about “society” as if I were a demented left-wingnut.)

Through a complex historical process, educators have come to feel that their work is essential to the maintenance of society. Much of society seems to feel that same way, but the feeling is a conditioned reflex.

From the late 1800s through the 1950s, public schools augmented and reinforced the education that most children received in the home — an education not just in the three Rs, but also in how to get along with other human beings.

Many bad things got their start in the 1960s. Among the least harmful are bad hairstyles and terrible clothing. Among the most harmful — in addition to Medicare, Medicaid, and welfare “rights” — is the sharp rise in the numbers of working (outside-the-home) mothers. It was then, no doubt, that most parents came to think (to hope) that education is something that can be packaged and shrink-wrapped.

The fact of the matter is that schools can’t turn out well-mannered, well-spoken, literate human beings if the raw material they’re given to work with is defective. If Johnny can’t read, or if Johnny is a hoodlum, whose fault is it? The natural tendency of parents and school-board members is to blame educators, if not “society.” But that’s the easy way out — like firing the manager of a baseball team because he’s saddled with mediocre players.

Parents are supposed to be members of the education team, too. but how many of them think of themselves as such? (PTA meetings and parent-teacher conference have always struck me as rituals having nothing to do with teamwork.)

If lousy parents could be traded for audio-visual equipment, parents might take their jobs more seriously. Those who aren’t up to the job of parenthood could at least admit to their offspring that it isn’t an occupation that everyone should take up.

How can parents find the time to do a better job? Well, they’ll just have to get their priorities straight, won’t they?

Clearly, some parents don’t have enough time to be good parents because they’re working hard to put bread and Smart Balance® on the table. But they’re in the minority. Most parents are working hard to keep up with the Joneses, who are working hard to keep up with the Browns, who are working hard to keep up with the Smythes. It’s a real rat-race out there, but consider what that makes you if you’re racing to keep up with the other rats.

Anyway, if schools were no longer supported in the style to which they have become accustomed — that is, if the frills were cut off — parents would face lower tax bills. This would make it easier for those who are truly hard-pressed and want to spend more time with their children to do so. (The perceived need to keep up with the other rats is not a valid excuse for neglecting one’s children.)

But I have strayed a long distance from the subject at hand: teachers. There’s no doubt in my mind that teachers — and the teachers of teachers — must shoulder a lot of the blame for the generally abysmal state of “education” in America’s public schools. For one (big) thing, it seems that instead of imparting hard-won knowledge, teachers have become manipulators of “teaching techniques” acquired while satisfying the requirements of various and sundry “education” curricula. I could go on at great length about the failings of public “education” in the U.S. of A., but you can infer the essence of my complaints from the following list of recommended fixes:

Abolish teachers’ unions, which exist mainly to overpay and protect incompetence. (The latest case in point is illustrated here.) Instead, hire and keep (or fire) teachers based on demonstrated subject knowledge, not on mastery of pedagogical techniques.

Eliminate all purely administrative positions, except those that support teachers: secretaries and file clerks (or their computerized equivalents), for example. As with department chairmanships at many universities, the heads of school districts and principals of schools would be teachers who have drawn the short straw and must take up an administrative post for a limited term (no more than two years, say).

Require teachers to take standardized tests that reveal one’s IQ. No one may teach whose IQ is less than 120. That this requirement would eliminate from the ranks of teacherdom vast numbers of certain racial groups would be of no concern if — I say if — the aim of public education were to educate.

Pay teachers according to the market value of their degrees and specialties. (Degrees like B.Ed., M.Ed, and Ed.D. would be deemed worthless.) Thus, for example, teachers of math and science would earn more than teachers of art, history, and English. The latter would protest loudly, and their cries of “unfair” would rend the air. But let them seek employment elsewhere, if they can find it. The objective of such a policy wouldn’t be to penalize anyone, of course, but to play fair with the taxpaying public, and to attract highly-qualified teachers of technical and scientific subjects.

Finally, political correctness and its associated sins would be purged. Evolution, ecology, and other controversial subjects would be taught in a balanced way; that is, the uncertainties would be fully exposed to view. Likewise, there would be no more preaching about the supposed sins of white males of European origin, and a lot less “celebration” of various groups whose contributions to Western civilization have been minimal, when not negative.

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Related posts:
School Vouchers and Teachers’ Unions
Whining about Teachers’ Pay: Another Lesson about the Evils of Public Education
I Used to Be Too Smart to Understand This
Those “Dedicated” Public “Educators”
GIGO
The Public-School Swindle