Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Liberate us from the Educators

The state’s monopoly on education is perhaps the worst thing that has ever happened to children in America. From the earliest days of the republic, education was provided by parents, churches, and local communities. The first proposals for state-supported schools were merely calls to address an absence of schools in isolated pockets of rural poverty. No one suggested that parents could not or would not be responsible for their own children’s learning — in fact, throughout the discussions of school funding it was always understood that the group targeted by such funds was only a minority of the poorest children.

Over time, the education bureaucracy — particularly teacher-training institutions — and affiliated interest groups began to lobby for a greater role for the state in education. Despite claims that public schools were established to serve the children of the poor and working class, it was not uncommon for people within those groups to resist such measures, for they feared the effects of allowing “elitist” interests to control their children’s learning. These elites were often very explicit about their desire to use the schooling establishment to mold children like “pieces of clay” to serve the interests of the state.

John Holt, a radical proponent of school reform and children’s rights, writes in his excellent book, Freedom and Beyond, that “universal compulsory schools are not and never were meant to be humane institutions, and most of their fundamental purposes, tasks, missions, are not humane.... There is one prime, legitimate, humane mission or function of the schools,” he continues, and that is “to promote the growth of the children in them.”

Holt spent years teaching in both public and private schools in Colorado, Massachusetts, and California, and found that most people’s definition of “education” is far from this ideal. Schools are seen essentially as giant cookie cutters — and children are the dough. We’ve locked our children in a giant bureaucracy where they and their parents have very little, sometimes absolutely no, say over their own development and learning....

Carlisle Moody, Ph.D., a professor of economics at William & Mary College, wrote in April 2003 that “in Virginia, the average per pupil expenditure in the public school system is approximately $7450, of which the taxpayers of the Commonwealth pay 86 percent. So, it costs Virginia taxpayers roughly $6400 (.86 x $7450) to educate one child for one year, not counting the capital costs of the buildings.” And that does not even include hidden costs. For example, if all of those who currently homeschool or privately educate their children were to instead send their children to a public school, and those who have no children were to have children and send them to public schools, the public school system would have to raise taxes radically to maintain this per-pupil expenditure. In short, education officials depend on taxes extracted from those who do not even use their system — and even with this windfall they cannot seem to make ends meet. They are hiding the true cost of their system from taxpayers.....

Most important, there’s the cost that cannot be measured in dollars. Students face a one-size-fits-all approach to learning that they must endure whether they like it or not, whether it is good for them or not. The grades he receives from this system will haunt the student throughout his academic life....

If many children have nothing better to look forward to in life, as Holt feared, than “pointless, stupid, stupefying work,” then the public schools are an excellent preparation for this eventuality. For 12 years, children are force-fed a diet of subjects they often neither understand nor care anything about, but must digest in order to avoid the wrath of their teachers. Schools are typically unresponsive to the most basic needs of students (except perhaps to label the child a problem and administer the appropriate behavior-modifying drugs), and, despite claims that they foster individuality, they instead demand rigid uniformity.

Holt describes “the business of the schools” as being “to make Robert MacNamaras at one end and Lt. William Calleys at the other. They are, each in his own way, perfect products of schooling: the one unshakably convinced that his cleverness and secret knowledge give him a right to exercise unlimited and godlike powers over other men; the other, ready at an instant to do without question or qualm everything, anything anyone in a position of authority tells him to do.” Doesn’t this sound a little bit like the typical teacher-student relationship? ....

It is time to liberate parents and children from this system. Government officials and large segments of the population are often quick to denounce so-called monopoly business practices, yet somehow tolerate a government that has monopolized the most precious of spheres — the growth and development of the individual child. Let’s get government out of the education business and let parents and children chart their own course in the learning process.

More here


Arizona state senator Thayer Verschoor emerged as an unlikely hero to many Arizona high schoolers this week, announcing his intention to dismantle the state’s AIMS test, an accountability measure that essentially acts as an exit exam for potential graduates. Verschoor, a Republican who favors school choice and private school vouchers, is being embraced by many parents and teachers’ union officials who have alleged that the test is unfair and even discriminatory. Standardized tests are anathema to school bureaucrats loath to be held to account for the quality of education they provide.

According to the Arizona Republic, Senator Verschoor believes that graduation requirements “should be a local control issue,” stating, “This should not be mandated by big government and a state school board. To me, we are saying that we don't trust our teachers." Senator Verschoor is correct, inasmuch as our responsibility for providing public education should not fall under the auspices of the federal government. Indeed, the best thing we could do with the U.S. Department of Education would be to turn it into a parking garage.

But the Senator’s claim that administering high school exit exams implies that we don’t trust our teachers misses the point. Tests such as the AIMS exam are implemented by many states precisely because we often cannot trust many of our public school teachers and administrators, who have methodically dumbed down academic standards over the past few decades through their condemnation of fact-based instructional methods and student discipline.

Similar outcry erupted in 2003 over Florida’s FCAT exam, when some 13,000 high school seniors failed to pass the test that year and were in danger of not graduating in the spring. Amazingly, students only needed the relative equivalent of a 40 percent to pass the FCAT -- a benchmark that was originally set higher, only to be lowered to save about a thousand more students from failing.

Overnight ideas like high school exit exams are nothing new. Education reformers have tried for years to convince taxpayers that standards in America's schools are not disastrously low. For instance, syndicated columnist Thomas Sowell has written that several years ago Virginia required its students to pass a state exam in order to retain its accreditation. When 93 percent of all students failed to pass, the requirement was waived.

It is counterproductive to lower standards to the point where our children fail to gain the knowledge that society demands. Only when we focus more on instilling academic values in students instead of worrying constantly about hurting their feelings or damaging their almighty self-esteem, will our schools finally begin to recover ground lost to the specter of low expectations. Doing so will do more to account for increased standards than any exit exam ever could.

More here


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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