Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Get Rid of the Public Schools

At a park near where I live, every morning there are a dozen or so high-school drop-outs who gather and socialize. They sit in a circle under a tree. They aren't employed, and I suspect probably never will be. Or if they are, it'll be some minimum-wage job. Fast food, perhaps. And if they never end up employed, then they'll live on welfare, which means they're parasites.

These kids may have been "schooled," but they sure haven't been educated.  Schooling is one thing; education is another.

I define "schooling" as the public schools and as such is based on the Political Means, i.e. force and fraud. Education is what you get when you remove the State from interfering in "education." It's voluntary.

Of course sometimes there is education in the public schools. Even they can generally teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Beyond that, though, they start to collapse -- and that collapse has been going on for a long time.

Since "schooling" is involuntary, public schools are essentially prisons (my high school had no windows). For some, boring prisons, which is one out of many kinds of torture. It certainly was for me, which I why I daydreamed all the time and barely did my homework.

I'd have to agree with the late Ray Bradbury on this one: if there have to be schools, they shouldn't do anything else but teach kids to read and write and do arithmetic. He claims math doesn't exist in real life, and for most people it doesn't. How many people who aren't mathematicians ever use algebra in real life? No one, for all practical purposes.

I once had a girlfriend who has an MBA in Accounting and Finance. She had to take a calculus course twice to pass it (she told me it "didn't click" until the second attempt). Does she ever use calculus? No.

I taught myself basic statistics and probability theory. I don't use statistics except now I know when I'm being lied to ("lies, damned lies, and statistics"). I never use the probability theory (and notice that I taught myself both).

For that matter, you can teach the basis of probability theory to a six-year-old, say, how to figure how many possible outcomes there would be to ten coin-flips. ("Well, dad, 10 coin-flips would be 2 to the 10th power, so that would be 1024 possible outcomes.")

Incidentally, I once read my six-year-old nephew a newspaper article about economics (he was whittling a stick and I thought wasn't paying attention). When I asked him if he understood what I had read to him, he said, "Sure, when the price goes down people buy more. When the price goes up people buy less." I just stared at him.

I never learned a thing beyond the first grade. Even in college I had perhaps six classes which were worth anything. That's less than a year in college. This means my 17 years of schooling could have been done in two years.

I learned most of what I know by checking books out of the library and wandering around looking at tadpoles and wondering how they turned into frogs (or mud puppies). Or wondering why my car wouldn't start. Or why my computer broke down.

The only time I ever enjoyed school was when I went to summer school a few months before I turned 12. I took two classes. Each was probably about 30 minutes long, with a half-an-hour break between them. I wasn't in school more than an hour-and-one-half, and I remember the classes I took: German and oceanography. I enjoyed my time there immensely.

I don't remember the names of any of the classes I took in grade school, middle school or high school. (By the way, I don't blame the teachers. It's the crushing bureaucracy inherent in all government, including the schools.)

I also learned a lot as a Cub Scout, and although I never made it into the Boy Scouts, I am a great fan of both organizations, and think it'd be a good thing if more boys joined them. For one thing, boys need mentors to show them how things work. That's what the older are for, to teach the young instead of sitting in a recliner and eating Cheesy Poofs and watching cable.

In my opinion I'd rather have children in the Cub Scouts and the Brownies rather than go to public schools. I still buy cookies from Brownies when they knock on my door. It's my way of supporting them. At least I have a choice, unlike my taxes, which go to people I'd fire if I had my way.

One thing I missed (and regret it) is a grandfather-type who would have taken me on walks and explained things to me. I have met people (a very,very few) who had such mentors, and I have always envied them (I am always reminded of that scene in Meatballs where Bill Murray, a camp counselor, is playing cards with a 12-year-old Chris Makepeace -- who, by the way, wins all of Murray's peanuts).

The purpose of education to develop a person's inherent talents. I tried to teach myself to read when I was four. If anyone had noticed, I could have learned at that age. In school, I wasn't taught until I was six, and to this day I remember how disappointed I was with Dick and Jane and Spot and Pony. After encountering those white-bread bores I had no interest in reading until I was about 11, when by pure chance I encountered Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom (read Mars) novels.

I would have much preferred the Iliad or the Odyssey, even in kindergarten, with the Cyclops eating Odysseus' men and then Odysseus putting the Cyclops' eye out with a spear. That's way cooler than Dick and Jane, even if they did find a toad in the bushes (like I haven't found hundreds of toads. And frogs. And crawdads. And snakes. And snapping turtles).

When I was 12 I taught myself grammar out of the back of a dictionary that belonged to my parents and was published in the '50s. I still have that dictionary, which is right next to me.

What exactly is learned in 13 years of public schooling (and if you count kindergarten, it is 13 years)? A lot of kids would be better off learning to read, write and do arithmetic, then go to vocational school and learn how to repair cars or be plumbers. Someone with an IQ of 104 is not going to be interested in Göat;del's Incompleteness Theorem, or how David Hume influenced Kant.

Back in the '20s and '30s if you wanted to be a lawyer you took the bar exam. These days, you have to get a college degree then go to law school. Obviously there is far too much schooling and far too little education.

As far as I'm concerned a person should be able to take proficiency exams for almost all of a college degree. Sitting in ranks and rows in classes... grade school... middle school... high school... college... graduate school... for many, it's torture and cannot be endured.

Considering that the drop-out rate for high school is 50%, clearly the public schools aren't just failing -- they already have failed. And for those who claim without public school kids wouldn't be educated, well, with a 50% drop-out rate they aren't being educated.

Not all education can be fun. Very few people are going to say that rote memorization of the times tables is "fun." But if learning isn't interesting students will avoid it, especially by voting with their feet.

These days, far too many children are avoiding the public schools, by dropping out the first chance they get. That's bad for them and bad for society. It's good for sitting under trees and socializing in parks, though.


Los Angeles school fires ENTIRE staff after teachers 'sexually abused students and fed them semen'

Faced with a shocking case of a teacher accused of playing classroom sex games with children for years, Los Angeles schools Superintendent John Deasy delivered another jolt: He removed the school's entire staff — from custodians to the principal — to smash what he called a 'culture of silence.'

'It was a quick, responsible, responsive action to a heinous situation,' he said. 'We're not going to spend a long time debating student safety.'

The controversial decision underscores the 51-year-old superintendent's shake-up of the lethargic bureaucracy at the nation's second-largest school district. His swift, bold moves have rankled some and won praise from others during his first year of leadership.

Hired with a mandate to boost achievement in the 660,000-pupil Los Angeles Unified School District, Deasy has become known for 18-hour days that involve everything from surprise classroom visits and picking up playground litter to lobbying city elite for donations and blasting Sacramento politicians over funding cuts.

He's also gained a reputation for outspokenness and a brisk decision-making style some have criticized as heavy-handed. Earlier this year, for instance, Deasy ordered a substitute teacher fired after finding students doing busy work.

'I'm intolerant when it comes to students being disrespected,' he said in an interview sandwiched between school visits and meetings. 'I do what I think is right and everyone has the right to criticize. You appreciate the critics, but you wouldn't get up in the morning if you listened to them.'

Doing what he thinks is right has put him in some unusual positions, such as siding with plaintiffs who successfully sued the district over closely protected teachers' union tenets — seniority-based layoff policies and leaving out student test scores in teacher performance evaluations.

'He acts on behalf of kids, you can't fault him for that,' said A.J. Duffy, the former president of the teachers union United Teachers Los Angeles, who now runs a charter school. 'But there are processes. People do deserve a fair and equitable hearing.'

As the school year was ending last month, Deasy was focused on hiring 80 new principals; particularly at troubled urban high schools some have called 'dropout factories.' Deasy pushed 50 current principals to retire or transferred them and he aims to interview replacement candidates himself. Developing leadership is a cornerstone of his reform strategy.

Deasy moves at a rapid clip, whether it's through the candidate lists, his reform agenda or in striding around school campuses. 'Keeping up with Dr. Deasy' is a well-worn joke around the district.

He is under a tight, self-imposed, deadline to get reforms in place in four years and see higher test scores, graduation rates and other education metrics in eight years.  'The culture in this district has been talk, protest, argue, not actually do,' he said. 'This style has come up against that.'

School board President Monica Garcia applauds Deasy's speed. 'People are feeling very confident in his leadership,' she said.

The urgency of his mission drives Deasy.  He's up at 3:30 a.m., goes for a run and reads emails and the news before starting office meetings at 5:30 a.m. His wiry frame, topped with a crewcut, emphasizes that meals are often a luxury unless connected with work — he keeps energy bars in an office drawer. A recent lunch consisted of frozen yogurt.

He works through much of the weekend, too, although he reserves Sunday nights for Patty, his wife of 27 years. The couple has three grown children who live in the Los Angeles area.

Deasy is not concerned about burnout, but he worries about getting engulfed in pessimism. 'It's 101 per cent negativity all the time,' he said.  So when there's good news, he revels in it. He ticks off recent increases in language proficiency rates for English learners, and declines in dropouts and suspensions.

He hopes to see more results from new policies he's pushed through, including giving teachers and principals more autonomy and more rigorous graduation requirements.

Once a week, his driver takes him on a round of unannounced visits to a few of the 1,000-plus schools, a source of both inspiration and exasperation as he moseys around corridors alone, introducing himself to students as 'Dr. D.'

There's no idle chitchat. Deasy fires questions about grades or graduation at students and enrolment or staffing at administrators.

He gets advice on managing an organization with a $6 billion budget and 65,000 employees from his executive coach, Kevin Sharer, the former chief executive of Amgen, the world's largest biotech company.

However, there was nothing to prepare him for the case of Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt, who has pleaded not guilty to accusations of feeding students cookies smeared with his semen in 'tasting games.'

Deasy's removal of the school's staff resulted in protests by parents and a raft of union grievances. The teachers, who were warehoused at another location, may now return to the classroom at Miramonte or another school, Deasy said.

Deasy also ordered principals to pull teacher misconduct files from the past 40 years. Those files are under reviewed by a special panel to determine if further action is warranted. Some 500 previously unreported cases have been forwarded so far to the state teacher licensing commission.

Teachers union President Warren Fletcher lambasted the move as a hasty and counterproductive effort to deflect attention from managerial failures.

Fiscal issues loom as the district's greatest challenge. The district has lost $2.7 billion in state funding and laid off 12,000 employees over the past five years. For the upcoming school year, 4,300 employees lost their jobs, and the rest agreed to 10 furlough days, including five fewer school days, to close a $390 million shortfall.

'He got handed a pretty rough plate,' said Charles Kerchner, education professor at Claremont Graduate University. 'The whole district is sort of teetering financially.'

Deasy has formed a foundation, The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education, to seek private donors.  'That a city this size and this wealthy does not invest more philanthropically in its public education, that, to me, has been pretty amazing,' he said.

Deasy hadn't planned to pursue an education career. The son of two Massachusetts teachers, he aimed to be a doctor but couldn't afford medical school. He wanted to get married so he became a science teacher and found his calling.

He quickly ascended the career ladder, serving as superintendent at school districts in Rhode Island, California and Maryland before taking a job with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation where he worked on policy issues, including teacher evaluations.

He jumped at the chance to go to LAUSD, a district that is 73 per cent Latino and 80 per cent low income. One of his motivations is working to offer privileges afforded him, a white male, to others. Pictures of Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and a Barack Obama 'Hope' poster decorate his office.  'This is where it matters,' he said. 'Delivering opportunities to kids.'

On a recent visit to Esteban Torres High School in East Los Angeles, two seniors inform him they are the first in their families to graduate high school. Both said they plan to pursue criminal justice studies at community college.

A wide smile breaks out on Deasy's face as he congratulates them heartily. 'You see these men,' he said later. 'It's what keeps you going.'


Priced out of a degree: 15,000 young Brits give up on university dream as £9,000 fees hammer middle class

Thousands of middle-class pupils have been put off going to university by the increase in tuition fees to as much as £9,000 a year.  Demand for places this autumn has fallen most sharply among sixth-formers from middle and higher-income homes following the near-trebling of fees from £3,375.

Most fail to qualify for grants, bursaries or fee discounts and must take out the maximum available loan to cover fees and living costs.

Figures published yesterday by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service reveal how 15,000 18-year-olds in England have been deterred by higher tuition fees.

The figures suggest they are deciding in greater numbers to bypass university and use their A-level results to look for jobs to avoid building up predicted £40,000 debts.

The number of UK university applicants has fallen 8.9 per cent – or 50,339 – following news that universities will impose higher charges this autumn. In England, with fees considerably higher than in other home nations, demand plunged 10 per cent.

Older students have deserted higher education in greatest numbers, with lesser falls among 18-year-old school leavers.

Analysis accompanying the figures reveals that the percentage of 18-year-olds applying from the poorest fifth of families in England has dipped slightly, from 19 per cent in 2011 to 18.8 per cent. These students’ families earn up to £15,000 before tax.

Among households earning up to £30,000, the proportion of applicants dropped 0.7 points to 26.5 per cent.

Demand dipped more sharply among  middle-income families earning between £30,000 and £50,000, falling 1.1 points to 32.8 per cent.

Among higher-earners, with household incomes of £50,000 to £75,000, the proportion of applicants dropped 2.1 points to 40.7 per cent.

And among the richest fifth of families in England, earning at least £75,000, demand slid 2.6 points to 53.7 per cent.

‘The application rates for young people from all backgrounds have fallen in 2012 with the largest declines for those from the most advantaged backgrounds,’ the report said.

Overall, one in 20 18-year-olds in England who would have been expected to apply to university this year has failed to do so.  In contrast, in the other UK nations where fee levels are unchanged on last year, application rates ‘continue on trend’.

The Mail reported yesterday how students from  middle-income families are expected to graduate with the most debt – £43,585 – according to research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. They are also less likely to be eligible for grants after the qualifying income level was reduced from £50,695 to £42,600.

UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: ‘This in-depth analysis of the 2012 applications data shows that, although there has been a reduction in application rates where tuition fees have increased, there has not been a disproportionate effect on more disadvantaged groups.’

The UCAS analysis presents tentative evidence that sixth-formers are more likely to apply to the most prestigious universities following the reforms, and choose courses which bring higher estimated graduate salaries. Many arts courses saw a decline in popularity while the sciences held up well.

Universities Minister David Willetts said: ‘The proportion of English school leavers applying to university is the second highest on record and people are still applying. This will still be a competitive year as people continue to understand that university remains a good long-term investment for their future.’


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