Getting to the Core

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It’s a little odd that as a veteran high school teacher I’ve put off writing about this. Teaching is in my blood – sort of a congenital reflex; I learn something new and immediately start imagining how I would present that in a classroom. Teaching is my passion, but the state of American education today is so painful that I’m glad I’m out of it. Our district teachers have one foot out the strike door; Common Core is the latest, and likely the most dangerous of a long line of ineffective educational “reforms;” school shootings seem as much a part of the American high school as homecoming. What is wrong?

What is wrong?! That is a huge onion to peel, and just like American politics, American churches, American culture -- it’s rotting from the inside out – schools, their administrators and teachers, are unlikely to be any better than the society that produces them and students are seldom any better than the families that send them off to those schools so it’s a given that the problem is not an isolated issue.

We must, however, begin grappling with educational matters as we begin to turn the rest of society in the right direction; education cannot lag behind.  We must have our goals clearly in mind -- what do we want schools to do?

The Common Core answer is to prepare every child for college, which is silly and which begs the question; what do we want students (K through college) to know? Isn’t an educated person much more than the sum of his test scores? Well, if students amount to nothing but so much protoplasm, so many neurons, a potential worker-bee or voting block, then, yes. That is all he is – the sum of his scores.

If, on the other hand, he is God’s handiwork, if he has been placed here on this earth for a divine purpose, then educating him is a much more complex and artful process than just filling him full of facts that he downloads onto an exam. Assuming that children are sacred and purposeful and blooming with unique possibilities, then what does an education need to do for them?

It needs, first and foremost, to enthuse children about learning. We don’t need to make school easy, or flattering, or social. We just need to enhance their natural drive to learn – they are programmed to do that, but several characteristics of public schools make it harder than it should be.

  •    Schools are usually too regimented for individual flowering to happen for all children. We all know how sad it is for the child who learns more slowly and can’t keep up; we know how doomed he is. Rigidity is also extremely detrimental for the kid whose brain is super-efficient – if boredom and arrogance take over then we’ve wasted a miracle, lost a brain surgeon or the possibility of a good president.
  •    School usually takes up too much of children’s time. We fill kids’ days, their precious childhood days, with too much sitting, too much indoctrination, too little time for curiosity.
  •    Schools too often employ uninspired, uninspiring teachers. Just one at the wrong stage of a student’s education can tangle a child for years to come, maybe forever.

But enough of the negative – what do we want kids to learn?

  •    Reading, writing, math, of course, and computer skills (though these days I suspect most kids are born technologically competent). If we do that and leave a child’s curiosity intact, she’ll learn everything else she needs and wants to know. That is truer now than it ever has been. These basic skills are best taught saturated with content – both real and fictional – so that the kids build a frame of reference, a context for all their future learning.  
  •    Speaking of which, they should know something about the marvels of the world we live in. Do they need to feel guilty or worried about our world and distrust the way it provides for us? No. We squander a lot of school time on that, and kids waste a lot of personal time stewing about problems that 1) are not really problems (i.e. global warming) or 2) are beyond their control. I spent 30 years reading their papers; I know these things haunt their happiness.  
  •    No child should leave school without knowing about his roots – about his country and its history and its culture. Students should be steeped in the best we have to offer them in all the arts, in history, in religion. (I can hear the hissing from the atheist gallery. They think they can eradicate God if we lie to enough children about His existence.) We do not need to indoctrinate or propagandize; if we have taught well they will make those political and religious choices wisely – a concept worrisome to progressives.
  •     We need to teach kids courage, self-control, politeness, virtue, kindness, nobility and respect. They must know about personal responsibility, about the value of work, and about the joy of creativity.  We must teach them discernment. Can you test for those traits? No, but they are more important than anything else kids learn. Will it mean that we also must teach them which behaviors are wrong? Yes. And we can’t teach these traits without God. Just teaching “tolerance” and letting it go at that is not anywhere near adequate.

In short, we must open the world for our children. We must give them the skills to make the most of its resources and the intestinal fortitude to stand up to its evils.

Can we teach those things in a public school? I don’t see why not. Public schools have been openly teaching Darwinian, progressive, atheistic, leftist drivel since the early 70’s. My children were exposed to a 5th grade social studies curriculum called MACOS – Man, A Course of Study, a Jerome Bruner program. The course was way too erudite and too amoral to be helpful to the education of a 10-year-old child, but I heard a federal employee explain to the school board that they needed to reach kids at that age so that they would buy into evolution when it was taught. That’s almost a verbatim quote. Indoctrination in all the wrong things has been going on now for over 40 years. Curricula have not been neutral, cannot be neutral, so we need to teach goodness – we’ve tried guilt and degeneration and that got us Barack Obama.

We can demonstrate now that an anti-theistic, anti-American curriculum must be, at least in part, responsible for the alienated 21st century student (and teacher), must be connected in some way to the violence, the sexuality, the rampant recalcitrance of the modern high school. We can start building schools that teach the positive rather than the negative. Can anyone in good conscience be against teaching our children that they matter? That the world has the potential to be a prosperous and loving place? That even if no one else cares about them, God does? That there is pride and happiness in fulfilling our duties? That we are surrounded by the miraculous? Can we not teach joy?

I believe we can. We are right on the edge of knowing more about the brain and how it learns than we’ve ever dreamed of knowing and already pedagogy is responding to that knowledge, absorbing it and applying it. We are developing ways to use technology to allow for student differences in learning speed and interest.

But it will take a revolution of sorts to shrink our schools into manageable sizes, to welcome parents back into our classrooms and shove the government and its attendant bureaucracy out. Our children are at stake here; our country is at stake, and  I suspect I’ll be writing about this for a while; it’s a BIG onion and right now it stinks.