Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Jeff Jacoby says:

Three recent dispatches from the education battlefront:

* Kansans have been debating how the development of life on earth should be taught in public schools -- as the unintended result of random evolution or as the complex product of an evolution shaped by intelligent design. The board of education held hearings in May, and is to decide this summer whether the current science standards should be changed. Kansas is just one of 19 states in which the Darwinism vs. Intelligent Design contest is being fought. Emotions have been running high, as they often do when the state takes sides in a clash of fundamental values and beliefs.

* In Massachusetts, the Boston Globe recently reported, a father named David Parker found himself in a war with his local school board when he objected to a kindergarten "diversity" curriculum that depicted gay and lesbian couples raising children. Parker, a Christian opposed to same-sex marriage, showed up at Estabrook elementary school in Lexington to request that he or his wife be notified -- in keeping with state law -- when homosexual themes were going to be brought up in their 6-year-old's class. School officials wouldn't agree to do so and "urged" Parker to leave. When he didn't, they had him arrested.

* Luke Whitson, a 10-year-old at the Karns Elementary School in Knoxville, Tenn., liked reading the Bible with his friends during recess. But when a parent complained, the public school's principal "demanded that they stop their activity at once, put their Bibles away, and . . . cease bringing their Bibles to school." That language is from a lawsuit Luke's parents have filed in federal court, where they are asking a judge to rule that school officials cannot prohibit religious expression during a student's free time.

Once there was a solid consensus about how the nation's public schools should be run. In 1911, the Encyclopedia Britannica could assert with confidence that "the great mass of the American people are in entire agreement as to the principles which should control public education." But as the battles in Kansas, Massachusetts, and Tennessee -- and countless others like them -- make clear, that day is past.

From issues of sexuality and religion to the broad themes of US history and politics, public opinion is fractured. Secular parents square off against believers, supporters of homosexual marriage against traditionalists, those stressing "safe sex" against those who emphasize abstinence. Each wants its views reflected in the classroom. No longer is there a common understanding of the mission of public education. To the extent that one camp's vision prevails, parents in the opposing camp are embittered. And there is no prospect that this will change -- not as long as the government remains in charge of educating American children.

Which is why it's time to put an end to government control of the schools.

There is nothing indispensable about a state role in education. Parents don't expect the government to provide their children's food or clothing or medical care; there is no reason why it must provide their schooling. An educated citizenry is a vital public good, of course. But like most such goods, a competitive and responsive private sector could do a much better job of supplying it than the public sector can.

Imagine how diverse and vital American education could be if it were liberated from government control. There would be schools of every description -- just as there are restaurants, websites, and clothing styles of every description. Parents who wanted their children to be taught Darwinian evolution unsullied by leaps of faith in an Intelligent Designer would be able to choose schools in which religious notions played no role. Those who wanted their children to see God's hand in the miraculous tapestry of life all around them would send them to schools in which faith played a prominent role.

Rather than fight over whether reading should be taught with Phonics or Whole Language, parents who felt strongly either way could choose a school that shared their outlook. Those who wanted their kids to learn in single-sex classes would send them to schools organized on that model; other parents would be free to pick schools in which boys and girls learned together. Some schools might reflect a Christian or Jewish or Muslim philosophy; others would be quite secular. In some, athletics would have a high priority; in others, there might be an emphasis on music, language, technology, or art. And no doubt many parents would stick with schools that resembled the ones their children attend now.

With separation of school and state, the roiling education battles would come to a peaceful end. Robust competition and innovation would dramatically lower costs. Teachers, released from their one-size-fits-all straitjacket, would be happier in their chosen profession. Children would be happier, too -- and, perhaps best of all, better-educated to boot.


Beginning in September next year, English grammar school children will again learn to read using "synthetic phonics." They will be taught the sounds and letters of the alphabet within the first 16 weeks of school. In recent years, teachers were told to encourage children to memorize words by their shape and guess at them by their context. The results were disastrous.

As in America, phonics in England was abandoned in the 1960s in favor of "look and say." That this approach produced kids who couldn't read, or read up to their grade levels, seemed not to bother education "experts" and bureaucrats who refused all appeals for returning to the old, successful method.

A recent Scottish study found students taught to read with phonics three years ahead of their peers. Politicians are now mustering the political will to roll back the failed "progressive education" approach to reading. It helps that a prominent figure in the pro-phonics movement, Andrew (now Lord) Adonis, is Prime Minister Tony Blair's junior education minister.

Prince Charles has announced plans to set up his own teacher training institute to "fill the gap many in education believe has existed for too long." School vouchers are now debated here, as in the U.S., because of dysfunctional public schools.

It has always been a peculiarity that human beings seem discontent with what works and feel compelled to change, or "improve," what for centuries produced desired results. The English, as well as Americans, managed to successfully instruct generations of children using proven principles. They also believed it was not enough to feed knowledge into someone's head, unless his or her heart and soul were also nourished.

Were parents surveyed and did those surveys reveal they did not want their children educated the way they and previous generations were taught? Who decided that the basic and classic knowledge taught to William Wordsworth and his classmates was not as good as that acquired in our modern age? Who concluded the wisdom of the ages had expired like a "don't sell" label on perishable food? No one did. It was forced on English and American societies by tiny elites who thought they knew better than everyone else.

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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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