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Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Educating Our Children, Modern Day Civil Rights

It is a well-established fact that education is the passport to success in America. If that is true, then the schools, its teachers and management—school boards and local governments— have the keys to helping our children, of all races and social status, to navigate their way to success.

   From all the reports we are receiving, American Public Schools charged with the responsibility of educating children are failing massively. This is very troubling, especially, at this time, when on the global stage, lesser nations are beating Americans in Math, Reading and Science at an embarrassing rate. In some areas, American students are scoring near the bottom or at best in the middle. China and India are beating us academically, coming and going. And that cannot be seen as good news for the future of America on the world stage.

   Wherever the problems lay, they must be corrected and very soon. We must take a quick look at the curriculum, funding, management and societal norms if we are to get a handle on the problem and correct it before more of our children are harmed.

   The Curriculum: what should we be teaching children in our schools today if they are to be adequately prepared to compete with children from other nations in the world economy? The old answer was very clear: Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. But while those basics are necessary and foundational, the new curriculum for our times needs to be built around the STEMs—science, technology, engineering and math.

    There is a lot of talk about emphasizing STEM curricula in the schools, but that seems to be only talk. In many major school districts around the country, most students cannot pass their grade in math and reading. Seems as though the schools are somehow graduating literal illiterates and foisting them on the communities they serve.

   It appears that the downward trend began when the buzz concepts in education became anything that advocated against “teaching to the test.” The educational geniuses who were graduating from schools of education attached to famous universities were sure that “teaching to the test” was a bad thing. I never held that view. If one is not teaching to the “test of competency” what is the goal of educating? 

     See, teachers teach (teaching is an activity with a beginning, a middle and an end) and students learn. But learning is NOT an activity. Learning is a capacity which comes only after the student can say “I got it” and can thereafter teach himself and others. I learned that trick in elementary school where I used to try and teach slower children what I already understood simply to make sure I truly ‘got it’ and could communicate what I learned to others, until they could with delight say: “I got it!” 

   Teachers might be very busy teaching whatever they are teaching, but it is obvious that their students are not learning because they cannot say “I got” and then show that to others by teaching them or passing exams that demonstrate that they indeed ‘got-it.’ As far as I am concerned, unless the student can demonstrate that what is taught turns into a capacity that they then have for the rest of their lives, no effective teaching ever took place.

     Then, there is such joy and delight in the eyes of those students who can say and demonstrate through testing or themselves teaching others, that breeds what the trend setters used to call self-esteem. Now, self-esteem, to my thinking, is a very bad concept. To hold one in esteem is to pass a judgment, and in matters of education, self-esteem means self-judgment which equals self-grading! And if we think about that concept critically, we will discover that no one can actually teach a truly self-esteemed student. Such have already judged themselves able and such are often unteachable. That is why I push other concepts like self-confidence and self-assurance, instead of self-esteem. In matters of education, the teacher, not the student, does the esteeming and only after mastery over the subject matter at hand has been demonstrated by the ability of the student to teach others or pass the dreaded test of competence.

   It is apparent therefore that our schools must return to the old and tested way of “teaching to the test.” But the test must measure whether the student has transferred the “teaching” from their engagement in a series of activities with beginnings, middles and endings, to the stage of transfer of a capacity to the student.

   Now, the arguments abound against teaching to the test. But, unless we return to that model, we are destined to fail. The rest of the world teaches to the test. In the Caribbean, that is exactly what they do and amazingly many students from Jamaica score the perfect number on SAT and have been doing this for decades. Why? Because the student never knows exactly where the test question is coming from, the student must gain proficiency over the entire subject matter. One cannot teach to the test successfully until the entire subject area is completely covered. And in the STEM subjects, precision is required. Theorems and formulas must be learned so that they can be applied. In math, the student would better understand the formulas that apply and be able to apply them when required. That is what the other nations of the world are busy doing while American education is mostly about “woke” issues: gender identity, racial equity etc. The Chinese and Indians do not waste educational time on givens like gender and other “woke” issues. They are concentrating on the essentials of education, and they are whipping American children even though we spend more per student than they do.

   My conclusion: do the STEM curriculum and add only language which includes reading, writing, grammar and comprehension. In this call for our nation to catch-up with global standards, the teaching class schedule must be dedicated mainly to the STEMs and Language. ALL other courses should be reduced to survey courses covering history, politics, civics, et al. Cliff notes can handle those subjects for the duration of time we dedicate to catching up with the world in educating our children. Ninety five percent of class scheduling must be dedicated to the STEMs taught to the test. And five percent to the other stuff that could be handled by the Church and families. Let’s Go America!

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