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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Beginning (of the End) of (Public) School

After 15 years of seeing public education at close range, it's time to make a few notes of what has happened during my tenure in the public school system.  I'm going to have to save this post as a draft, as I have my Tuesday meeting down the hall.  We'll talk about the same issues, real and contrived, and come up with solutions that will have no effect, as none of them go after the real culprits.  Even more nonsensical is the fact that the problems themselves are made out of whole cloth.  The 'issues' (no one says problems anymore in this age of euphemism) come down from on high as well.

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It took me a while to get back to this post, as not only was our weekly 'meeting' the usual blast of hot air, I was taken in by a conversation with my colleagues about how our meetings are a colossal waste of time.  Interestingly, none of the people with whom I was speaking is as radical as I in terms of how to solve our 'school' problem.  None of them has read John Taylor Gatto, Charlotte Iserbyte or Murray Rothbard.  None of them has considered simply closing down the public school system, or advancing the home school movement.  Yet, even though my colleagues are not on the same page as I am philisophically, they all recognize that the system is broken, and something has gone horribly wrong.  Our students have world views that are extremely small, and they know little that we would consider basic knowledge.  One of the anecdotal bits I use to explain the average student is something I do when we read "To Build a Fire" by Jack London.  Because the protagonist is caught in -75 degree weather in the Yukon, I begin with a blank chart where the students have to fill in the degrees for the boiling and freezing temperatures of water in Fahrenheit, Celsius and Kelvin.  The idea is to help put the concept of -75 degrees in perspective.  Where this falls apart is the fact that fewer than 10 percent of my students know the freezing temperature of water.  One year, only 1 student knew for sure what was the correct temperature, and she was from Britain (yes she gave me the temperature in Celsius).  This is not hyperbole.

As my colleagues and I were discussing what to do, we laugh at the district's 'answers' to our problems.  We incorporate soon forgotten programs like PBIS, a program where you aren't allowed to say "no" to a student - that would hurt one's self esteem.  This is not some sort of cynical off the cuff comment.  We suggested that students be told on a bathroom sign to "not throw paper on the floor".  This idea was summarily rejected as we were saying "no" to students.  We also introduced  a program called "Write Traits" a few years ago.  The only thing remaining of that is a 3 ring binder with handouts and 4 posters.  We had the TDHS people in for about 6 months - they bolted under bizarre circumstances, even though their program was a solid one and it seemed to be working.  Prior to that we were a part of the ISA program - that too was effective and had wonderful staff development techniques.  Success seems to be part of the way to guarantee that your program will be bounced from a public district.  I'm reminded of a Thomas Sowell essay, where he correctly surmises that failure attracts government money, and success does not.  Were our district to infuse discipline and accountability for students and staff, and incorporate the things that have proven successful in creating independent thinkers, the money spigot would be shut off.

So what do we do?  I think it's time we do the things we talk about, but never actually try.  Let's have high levels of accountability for students and staff.  We have rampant lateness, people walking out of class, profanity, indomitable ignorance, excessive absences, sloth - and those are the teachers.  They aren't fired because the teacher's union and the tenure laws have made it nearly impossible to fire a teacher.  Behavior that wouldn't last a day in the private sector (the source of our funding) is allowed for, in some circumstances, three decades.

For students I think the writing is on the wall.  For the past few years I've had at least one student taken out of our school because the mother wants to either home school her child, or move her (it's usually the girls) to another district.  Parents are starting to question the status quo when it comes to school.  They see the abject failure permeating a building like mine and they decide to end the charade of "learning" going on in the HS.  Something else is happening as well.  Parents are starting to see tools like Khan Academy, Mises University, FFF, Robinson Curriculum, and the MIT course load online for either low cost or no cost.  How can a High School populated by profanity spewing, butt crack showing, misogyny promoting souls possibly compete against theses resources?  For too long the specter of political correctness has disallowed criticism of deviant behavior.  The "they're just angels with dirty faces" defense doesn't cut it anymore.  The change has begun, and the stigma attached with home schooling is one of the final barriers that needs to fall.  Once it does, schools like the one where I work will be centers for the most deviant of young people - nothing more, nothing less.  Hopefully they'll just close.

Next:  Independent Thinking and Student Debt