Archive for the ‘ Education ’ Category

Education's Inconvenient Truths

There’s a new movie out—a documentary—entitled Waiting for Superman. It’s an indictment of what some people call public education. The more accurate name for it is government-controlled education. I haven’t seen this documentary yet, but the director, Davis Guggenheim, is a liberal who directed Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, which will never qualify as one of my favorite movies. This time, though, he has some genuine inconvenient truths regarding the educational establishment. Apparently, there are some liberals who are scared about the quality of education the current generation is receiving. Will this film wake up the general public?

Now we come to the real problem—the teachers’ unions. They have a stranglehold on the educational profession. Part of the problem is the circle-the-wagons mentality that wants to hold on to tenure and make quality secondary. The other part of the problem is the ideology to which the unions are wedded:

As I noted in a previous post about the NEA, the resolutions it passes every year at its annual convention are the essence of radicalism: the focus is on every progressive icon—racism, feminism, environmentalism, homophobia, etc.

When you combine a radical ideology with a mania for job security, you don’t want anything to interfere with your near-monopoly, no matter how poorly it’s performing:

We keep tinkering around with the externals rather than rooting out the false ideologies. We continue to trust government and the teachers’ unions rather than allowing the free market to determine educational success. I remember when Bill Clinton made a big deal about wanting to put an extra 100,000 teachers in the classrooms. What does that really solve if you don’t deal with the more fundamental problems?

And woe to any students who might really want to learn:

Unless we attack this problem at the root, we’ll never find a real solution.

Baneful Effects of NEA-Led Education

Since it’s Labor Day, what better day to talk about one of the largest and most influential unions in the country—the National Education Association [NEA]. This also allows me to continue my intermittent history of American education.

The NEA was founded in Philadelphia in 1857. The ostensible rationale for its creation was to provide a voice for all teachers in the nation to promote the interests of the profession. A statement from that initial meeting said it hoped to one day see a federal department of education. Well, that certainly has come to pass.

The biggest problem with the NEA is that it quickly came under the control of the progressive education movement, with John Dewey as its head. Dewey became a regular speaker at NEA conventions. Willard Givens, who served as president of the NEA from 1935-1952, called himself a socialist [as was Dewey]. It was Givens who gave the impetus to the policy of requiring all members of state and local education associations to become members of the NEA. He also endorsed world government, hoping thereby to eliminate America’s national sovereignty.

Givens said the following about the nature of the education he promoted:

The major function of the school is the social orientation of the individual. It must seek to give him understanding of the transition to a new social order.

The new order Givens sought was a socialist society.

The NEA began active political lobbying in 1961 and was instrumental in passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the first time the federal government got involved in education at those levels.

The Constitution gives no authority to the federal government to legislate on education, but that didn’t stop the NEA.

In 1981, a reporter for the communist Daily World, after attending the NEA’s annual convention, filed this report:

Nowhere in the basic documents of NEA, in their resolutions or new business items, are there any anti-Soviet or anti-socialist positions. … It [the NEA] will increasingly be fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow trade unionists as the class struggle intensifies.

In other words, the NEA was totally in sync with the aims of the Soviet Union when it existed. What are some of those resolutions the reporter identified? The basic ones have remained unchanged for years.

First, it must be understood that the NEA seeks to be the sole voice for American education. It wants to dictate standards for every school, including all private schools and home schoolers. No one should be allowed to teach, declares the NEA, unless licensed by the state and using a state-approved curriculum. If that resolution ever becomes law, all private education will be destroyed.

Many of the resolutions have little to do with education per se. As you meander through them, you discover that the NEA also takes a stand in favor of homosexuality and abortion, and in opposition to the teaching of any religious doctrines. Also on the agenda are national healthcare, radical environmentalism, gun control, and unilateral disarmament.

Sound like a wonderful organization? Keep in mind it’s the leading voice for the education profession in America, and that it’s very difficult for public school teachers to remain independent of it. In some states, they are required to join; in others, they are pressured to become a member; if they refuse, they are ostracized.

And all the while, our education gets worse. It is a union; it is a lobbying organization; it cares little for actual educational improvement. Education is merely the medium through which its leaders seek to impose their agenda on the nation.

Educational History (cont.)

While my mind is on education, let me continue with a little more of the history of education in America. In previous posts, I mentioned John Dewey and his baneful influence. Known as the Father of Progressive Education, Dewey introduced a number of new ideas: no eternal truths; let the child decide what he wants to learn; minimize booklearning and magnify experiences [which can often be divorced from substance]; socialization of children to fit into his vision of a socialist society.

Grand new ideas, weren’t they?

I’ve also mentioned a couple of his disciples; another one I would like to note today is William Heard Kilpatrick. A colleague of Dewey’s at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Kilpatrick also served as president of the John Dewey Society. It has been estimated that he taught as many as 35,000 students during his tenure at Columbia, many of whom became leaders in this new approach to education throughout the country.

Kilpatrick believed that man only existed in society, meaning that the collective was more significant than the individual. He disliked any diversity in education: there should be only one school system for the nation, he declared. To have more than one will lead to disunity. So much for private education.

The function of a school, according to Kilpatrick, was to teach methods of investigating truth, but not truth itself. He said we should teach children how to think, not what to think. If you read that last sentence and said, “yes, I agree with that,” you may not really understand the implications.

How can one learn how to “investigate” truth if no concept of truth exists? Teaching someone how to think sounds good, but that is merely a process. The substance of what we think is essential. There is truth and falsehood, but progressive education, the banner under which Kilpatrick stood, did not believe in any concept of right and wrong from God. Man was to figure it all out on his own.

I believe that real education begins with premises drawn from Biblical principles. Without firm foundations, the edifice collapses. Learning how to think is important, but you must start with some idea of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Otherwise, you are trying to think in the midst of an intellectual and moral vacuum.

I make no apology for telling students that some things are right and others wrong, and that eternal truth does exist. They are then free, of course, to think through what I have said and determine if I am off-base in any way. I don’t have a problem with students asking questions if they are genuinely seeking to know and understand truth. But that desire must have a foundation first from which to question.

I realize that sets me apart from mainstream education. That’s fine. My first allegiance is to God and His truths. I firmly believe that students who are grounded in those truths have the potential to be the best thinkers.

An Educational Primer

I have colleagues who are education professors, and I want to make sure they don’t misunderstand what I will say today. I know their hearts—they are committed to doing the best for the students as they prepare to go out and teach others. They might be in the minority, however.

All too often, education degrees focus rather heavily on how to manage a classroom or on the latest trendy experiments. Now, managing a classroom is important—I know that from personal experience. But if an education degree is too heavily weighted toward the nuts and bolts of classroom technique, it can minimize the substance of what students need to learn:

Take history, for instance: it would be nice if the students actually learned some.

The education field is also all too often fascinated with every new theory, regardless of whether or not it is worthy to be emulated. The past few decades are strewn with the rubble of trendy movements that were all the rage for a while, then disappeared [fortunately]. Yet that fascination with all things “new” is hard to shake:

Real education is the victim. We’ve probably never had so many people enlisted in the struggle to educate children. So why are we suffering in achievement?

Could that be a major part of the problem? How about if we break up that monopoly and allow real competition? That sounds scary to many, but to me it makes eminent sense.

The New Academic Year

I love this time of year. This is now my 22nd year of teaching full time at the college level. When a new academic year begins, I experience an emotional rush. I’ve experienced that for 21 of those 22 years [no need to talk about the exception—that’s history]. Students also seem fresh and ready.

Yes, that early excitement will scale back as the semester wears on, but it never goes away entirely, particularly if you believe what you are doing is the will of God, and that the classroom is another form of ministry.

I am grateful to be able to teach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, a Christian university that is not only very beautiful, but dedicated to infusing Biblical principles into all subjects. And why not? God is the author of all knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

We do face a multitude of problems, though, in modern education. Some of it has to do with ignorance:

Many students who show up for college as freshmen haven’t been taught well. They are especially ignorant of their own country’s history, the very subject I teach. Another big problem is the apathy of parents. They often just shuffle their children off to a school, happy that they can absent themselves from their children’s educational progress:

Parents used to believe they were responsible for their children’s education. That viewpoint seems to be more rare with each passing year.

Even more pernicious, however, is the blatant attempt to alter historical reality. In a recent column, analyst Thomas Sowell makes some incisive observations about what exactly is being taught in many classrooms:

The history of this country is taught in many schools and colleges as the history of grievances and victimhood, often with the mantra of “race, class, and gender.” Television and the movies often do the same.

When there are not enough current grievances for them, they mine the past for grievances and call it history. Sins and shortcomings common to the human race around the world are spoken of as failures of “our society.” But American achievements get far less attention — and sometimes none at all.

Our “educators,” who cannot educate our children to the level of math or science achieved in most other comparable countries, have time to poison their minds against America.

Why? Partly, if not mostly, it is because that is the vogue. It shows you are “with it” when you reject your own country and exalt other countries.

I don’t teach that America is perfect. I clearly point out the racial issues of the past. However, I also note that it is faulty analysis to reject everything about America just because there were some injustices. As Sowell says, where in the world do you not witness injustices? It’s the human condition; it’s called sin. America has done a pretty good job, compared to other nations, in rooting out many of those problems over time.

My perspective on American government and the policies we have followed, particularly in the past century, is often critical, but never in a way that makes students think they live in an awful place. Our Founders provided a system that can be corrected, but it depends on the character and the choices “we the people” make.

More than once, I’ve had students come up to me and say something similar to this: “Every president you praised was presented to me as bad in high school, and every president you criticized was highly praised by my former teachers. You’ve reversed everything and have made me rethink America’s history.”

If I am accomplishing that, I am satisfied. It’s time to continue that quest in this new academic year.

Losing Touch with Mediocrity

As a new school season is upon us, I thought I would be short and quick today in my commentary:

To all students everywhere: excellence is the goal. Try it, you might like it.

These Two Issues Again?

The Arizona illegal immigration controversy and the oil spill continue to dominate the news. That’s enough to make me want to write about something completely different. Well, maybe tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve got some great cartoons to fill the space today—on those two issues.

We’re on the verge of the federal government suing Arizona. How ironic. There’s Arizona on the front lines of tackling the illegal immigration problem, and what does the federal government do? This is a pretty good illustration of what’s happening:

Then, on top of that, we get the news that Mexico’s government is joining the lawsuit:

The upside to that bit of legal chicanery is that Mexico’s involvement will probably make the Arizona law even more popular with American citizens.

Meanwhile, in the neverending Gulf incident, the panel of experts that the Obama administration said supported the moratorium on oil drilling . . . well, not quite:

Those who live by the experts shall die by the experts.

Obama’s most avid supporters are getting disillusioned. They expected more from their savior:

Some disappointments are harder to take than others.

If Obama is able to use this oil spill disaster to push his green policy of cap-and-trade, we’ll be in for more disappointment:

Well, don’t worry. Our education system certainly will save us. We’re undoubtedly raising a generation of highly informed and responsible adults who will turn things around, right? Right?

Weep for a while, then pray for wisdom and strength to continue your engagement in the ongoing battle for America’s soul.