Sunday, August 26, 2007

Got a problem? Ask the public schools to solve it!

The Carpetbagger Report, a left-leaning DC blog, outlined Peter Schrag’s piece in Harper's (subscription):

Schoolhouse crock:
Fifty years of blaming America’s educational system
for our stupidity

Schrag's article makes four important points:

* Public education in America is trying to do something unprecedented. We strive to educate every child — regardless of race, creed, socio-economic level, family background or mental and physical challenges. Universal public education is a relatively recent idea. It is no longer just the children of the upper crust who are being educated. Public education serves the masses. This is a commendable concept, but it’s one that obviously presents a unique set of challenges.

* There was no “Golden Age” of American public education. The “Golden Age” is a conservative myth. Even as recently as the 1950s, teens could drop out of school, take a factory job and make a decent living. The idea that there was a time when everyone was being well educated is a crock. Until relatively recently, we weren’t even trying to educate the masses.

* Public schools are expected to deal with numerous social problems. Americans have a tendency to expect public schools to deal with every perceived problem that comes down the pike. As Schrag puts it, not only must the schools assimilate students from every conceivable background and experience, they are also expected to “make every child ‘proficient’ in English and math; educate the blind, the mentally handicapped and the emotionally disturbed to the same levels as all others; teach the evils of tobacco, marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and premarital sex; prepare all for college; teach immigrants in their native languages; teach driver’s ed; feed lunch to poor children; entertain the community with Friday-night football and midwinter basketball; sponsor dances and fairs for the kids; and serve as the prime (and often the only) social-welfare agency for both children and parents.” (No wonder some schools have trouble meeting their educational mission.)

* Schools cannot do it alone. The reason the children of affluent parents tend to out-perform the children of low-income parents isn’t because low-income people are inherently stupid.It’s because affluent parents tend to be more involved in their children’s lives and have the resources to create a more intellectually stimulating environment at home. There are things low-income parents can do to even the playing field – such as turning off the television and hitting the public library regularly – but sometimes it’s tough to do even these simple things when you are struggling to keep your head above water financially or working more than one job.

This last point is perhaps most important. Americans have a bad habit of looking at public schools as merely a government service or a means to an end: You send your child there, and your child is educated. Actually, the first education your child receives is at home, and he or she should continue receiving education at home even as the school year plays out. Parents must be partners with public education, not just passive users.

To no one’s surprise, the current administration has no interest in helping public education overcome the challenges the system faces. The standard answer from the Bush camp is “choice” (a euphemism for privatization) or adding more mandates to an already heaping plate.

Think about it: How many of the difficulties our public schools face are relieved by an insistence that our children take more standardized tests?

This from the Carpetbagger Report.

No comments: