Via Mostly Cajun (again) comes this excellent explanation of the collapsing public school syndrome. I'm going to post his points just so I have an archive of it here:
Every politician seems to feel obligated to come up with a plan to fix public education. Usually this takes the shape of some new program, either funded by tax dollars or as an unfunded mandate. The politician is replaced in some later election, but the program lives on, accreting itself to the school system with other programs like so many barnacles on a ship.The author, George Wiman, has what he thinks is the solution, but you'll need to read the piece yourself and decide if you think that's it.
Other barnacles attach themselves: interest groups. The school acquires mandates to be "sensitive" to various issues, including but not limited to learning disabilities, racial history, diversity, science vs. religion, and so on - all without offending anyone or boring the students.
It's too much. Schools are trying to:
1. Teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. You could make a good case that schools should just do this and then get the hell out of the way.
2. Teach history, which involves thorny questions of emphasis and disagreement over fact hotly promoted or attacked by a hundred different advocates.
3. Bless us all with tolerance and harmony handed down from Washington (cynical laughter here)
4. Teach science, whatever that is, without offending any parents' or activists' beliefs.
5. Teach sexual responsibility in a very sexualized society, to young people with sexually developing bodies, without honestly discussing sex in any way that would offend the most prudish constituents.
6. Teach the importance of religion in American history without discussing religion in any way that would offend anyone. Or NOT to do this (Insert rancorous discussion of First Amendment issues and the nature of the Founding Fathers' religious convictions, if any, here.)
7. On occasion, act as parent to kids whose parents are absent or not functioning.
8. Teach "technology skills," by which most school districts mean "computers" - a depressingly generic term that translates: "another discipline problem."
9. Teach nutrition, using misguided information from the USDA food pyramid
10. Teach kids to respect others, while living under rules that don't respect them
11. Teach physical health using exercise forms (like football) that are unlikely to promote lifelong exercise
12. Teach tolerance for alternative lifestyle choices... or NOT teach tolerance for "alternative lifestyle choices" depending on which angry parent is in your office
13. Teach an abiding love for literature without actually reading any literature that might offend anyone. (Is there such a thing as interesting inoffensive literature?)
14. Teach us how to drive.
15. Teach us how to live with censorship, and not to make waves
16. Oh, heck, forget all about numbers 1 through 14: we'll lose our funding if the kids don't pass the NCLB test mandate. Just teach them how to neatly fill in little ovals with pencil and all those TEST STRATEGIES!
Oh, and George has a blog, too. A pretty good one. Excerpt from one of his posts:
Nevermind immortal literature: clearly written communication drives economically productive action. In business, government, education and military, a few well-chosen words can instruct, motivate, unite, and direct the actions an organization must take.No, they are not.
Clarity and finesse are impossible without well-developed writing skills. This is the biggie for us capitalistic Americans! There is a saying in business - "Nothing happens anywhere until somebody sells somebody something." Sales is the engine of our economy, and it is supported in turn by customer relations, technical support, and supply-line communications. All require the ability to write clearly.
Writing is at the "Output" stage of the "Input+Processing+Output" capacity that education is supposed to provide. You might be able to gather the data, and even figure out what it means, but if you can't communicate in some way that is likely to be heard, you've just wasted everyone's time. Writing (and its more freewheeling companion, speaking) are not dispensible.