Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Arming Our Students with Knowledge

By teacher Nancy Salvato

When I was in Junior High School, I remember my mother complaining to me that the athletes at school received all the attention but if you were smart the only public accolades were having your name listed in a paragraph of very small print letting the community know you received Honor Roll or that you were a National Merit Scholar. She thought the priorities of our school system were all wrong. Apparently she wasn’t alone in her beliefs back then because I recently had the opportunity to read an article, “The Adolescent Society” in the winter 2006 edition of Education Next, in which James Coleman (“The Coleman Report”) essentially said the same thing. Interestingly he wrote his piece in 1961, a year before I was born and about 15 years before my mother made her personal observations in our kitchen during a conversation in which she was referring to my brother’s unheralded academic accomplishments. It was Coleman’s suggestion that in order to generate social pressure to excel academically, there needs to be intellectual games; group competitions to change the norms and values to encourage academics. Well, its 2005 and I can honestly say there is at least one program doing this, and I might add, doing this very well.

I recently had the opportunity to judge at the Illinois Hearings for the Center for Civic Education’s “We the People: the Citizen and the Constitution” which took place on the campus of McDonalds Corporation’s Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Illinois. Teams from 6 area high schools competed against each other for the opportunity to represent our state at Nationals. I must say that I was extremely impressed by the apparent time and effort put in by each group of students in preparation for the unit questions which they would have to answer with a prepared statement and for the follow up questions they would have to answer, without referring to notes or discussing their answers with teammates.

I listened to the various statements put together by 6 sets of students, explaining our system of federalism and what differentiated it from other forms of government. They then answered questions posed by us judges about such things as how federalism enters into NCLB and Hurricane Katrina. In their statements and answers were references to historical cases illustrating precedent for the more current situations we’re facing today, as well as pertinent quotes from the founders and framers of our country.

I was so very proud of each student because from what I could tell, they had put hours and hours into learning about the federal system of government in such depth that they made it look easy to have an informed discussion about what was happening in our country today. I could only imagine how nervous they had to be drawing on that reserve of knowledge to pull out the most compelling facts to convince us of the correctness of their opinions and illustrate that they were brilliant enough to earn the coveted spot at Nationals.

Although only one team, Maine South High School, won the Illinois competition, all the students were truly prepared to take on the responsibilities of citizenship and leadership which the framers believed are necessary to maintain the rights and privileges guaranteed under our Constitutional form of government. As for Maine South High School, their team will represent Illinois at the We the People: National Finals, a three day academic competition in Washington, D.C. April 29-May 1, 2006. More than 1200 students will demonstrate their knowledge of constitutional principles and their relevance to contemporary issues in a simulated congressional hearing before panels of judges composed of constitutional scholars, lawyers, journalists, and government leaders from across the nation. The ten finalists with the highest scores, based on the first two days of hearings, will compete for the title of national winner on the final day in congressional hearing rooms on Capitol Hill.”

I left the hearings with hope for our future; hope in the knowledge that future generations understand the importance of arming themselves with the information necessary to take care of this country which we inherited from our forebears so long ago.


Freedom of Education: A Civil Liberty

One of the most amazing things about the many organizations and individuals who designate themselves “civil libertarians” (with the ACLU, naturally, being the most emblematic) is the utter absence of educational liberty from their shared agenda. It’s not even a blip on their screen. Why? Because it’s not explicitly mentioned in the Bill of Rights? These activists have no problem defending as civil liberties such phenomena as sexuality and abortion, neither of which is explicitly enumerated. So why not defend educational liberty with the same commitment given to, say, religious liberty?

There’s an even better question: Why defend religious liberty? No one asks it nowadays because we consider it a settled matter: “It’s in the Constitution!” But that’s not the way it was at the beginning, when people wanted to hear reasons—independently valid principles—that would explain why involvement with religion was not among “the rightful purposes of civil government” (Jefferson). And our Founding Fathers, notably Jefferson and Madison, provided those reasons—a good many. We should never forget what these reasons are, nor fail to consider their implications for (and thus application to) matters other than religion—such as, indeed, education.

First, however, we must consider what the Founders meant by religious “liberty.” The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . .” Religious liberty includes both the freedom and the non-establishment of religion. Thus educational liberty would include not only the right of parents to determine the education of their children, but also the absence of any “public” (government) school system and its apparatus of compulsory attendance and taxation. Or as many describe it: the separation of school and state, on par with the separation of church and state.

Now, with that said . . .

Competition Improves Performance

In his “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” (1777), one of the three achievements (with the Declaration of Independence and the University of Virginia) of which he was most proud, Jefferson argued that by forcing a man to support (via taxation) “this or that teacher” (of religion), he is denied “the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions” to one of his own choosing. This guaranteed funding in turn eliminates the incentive (“rewards”) for such teachers to earn their wages through “earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind.” Furthermore, such government funding constitutes the “bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments,” of these teachers, which tends “to corrupt the principles” of their profession—with the government itself corrupted by its part in this bribery. Here is a critique of state cartelization equally applicable to all teachers—theological, academic, and otherwise.

In his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments” (1785), written in response to a proposed bill for a tax to fund Christian denominations in Virginia, Madison echoed Jefferson on this point (as he did on many others). He invites us (Point 7) to observe that establishment, “instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy” of religion, has had the opposite effect: “pride and indolence” and “ignorance and servility.” He wryly notes that if one asks people when Christianity “appeared in its greatest lustre,” they will invariably “point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy.” Yet if one then suggests a return of the church to its status in that earlier epoch, “many of them predict its downfall.” Similarly, while no one could seriously fault the supply and quality of private education in late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America,* many today believe that privatization would destroy education for all but the wealthy.

Government Support Not Necessary

In his “Memorial,” Madison noted (Point 6) that Christianity had “both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human [that is, political] laws, but in spite of every opposition from them. . . . Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established [socialized] by human policy.”

The state did not invent the church. It did not invent the school. Education, in a myriad of forms, existed before government and often in opposition to it. A recent example of the latter (in addition to private schools) would be parents who, at odds with the look-say, or “whole language,” reading methods used in the socialized schools, purchase the many commercial teach-your-child-phonics programs. Madison also warned that establishment would “foster in those who still reject [Christianity], a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.” We ourselves might wonder why the advocates of “whole language” (or any other pedagogical approach) are afraid “to trust it to its own merits” in a free market of education.

At this point we should probably address the many who from the beginning have been thinking, “But Madison and Jefferson supported public education!” True. However, Madison’s concerns about the future of education proved to be unfounded for a reason that he himself (in a March 19, 1823, letter to Edward Everett) understood in its relation to religion: “[T]here are causes in the human breast, which ensure the perpetuity of religion without the aid of the law.” The same “human breast” that provided its children with churches and bibles, provided them with schoolhouses and primers. The point is, just because the Founders didn’t connect every dot in their political philosophy, doesn’t mean we can’t. Not many of the civil libertarians who fairly worship Thomas “Wall of Separation” Jefferson would care to recall his views on “sodomy.”

Much 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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