Many years ago - more years than I care to admit - I worked in the IT department for a local community college in Tucson, AZ. I worked with a great bunch of people during my time at that institution, and now that I have returned to Tucson, it's fun to get reacquainted with my old colleagues and catch up on what's been happening in everyone's lives.
With that in mind, I recently had the opportunity to meet one of my old coworkers for lunch. Our destination was near the University of Arizona, so I parked my car in one of the university's parking garages and set out across the university campus on foot. As I was walking past the mathematics buildings, I happened to overhear one side of an exasperated conversation that a young twenty-something was having on her cell phone. The main source of her consternation appeared to be: "My class has a test in it every day, and the professor never teaches us what's on the test!"
My immediate thought was: "That's good; you're supposed to study and learn the material, then you'll already know what's on the test." This made me laugh first, but after further analysis of the situation, I don't think that it's all that funny. I think that this twenty-something's expectations are a byproduct of today's standardized testing - she expects to be taught what's on the test instead of actually learning the material.
If that's the case, then it's a pretty bad testimony about the state of education in America today.
Earlier today I saw a link to an article by Allison Benedikt titled If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person. With a catchy title like that, I couldn't resist following the link in order to read what the author had to say about parenthood.
Before I continue, I should point out two important facts: 1) my children's formative years were spent in a mixture of both public and private education, and 2) at the time that Ms. Benedikt published her editorial piece, neither of her children were old enough for school, so any of her admittedly-judgmental opinions were made from the relative safety of someone who has never had to face the harsh realities about the topics which she was discussing. Ms. Benedikt's self-admitted ignorance at the hands of public educators provides little evidentiary support for her thesis statement, and unfortunately she is too blinded by her own hubris to realize it. No - it is not the well-meaning parents of children in private school who are bad people, it is self-righteous and judgmental people like her who are bad people.
I vehemently disagree with Ms. Benedikt's overall premise; it is not the parents who have realized that public education is a failing system who are ruining one of our nation's most-essential institutions – our present educational system is ruining itself. Most parents with school-age children are all-too-aware that public education is depriving their children of knowledge that is necessary to succeed academically. A perfect example is when the overly-vocal and seldom-intelligent actor Matt Damon abandoned his idealistic rhetoric demanding public education for everyone else and placed his own children in private schools. At some point in the not-too-distant future, Ms. Benedikt will be faced with the choice of whether to sacrifice her own children for the sake of her principles, or to choose what is best for her children based on her maternal instincts.
I also passionately object to anyone who insists that I should not turn my back on any failing system and subject my children to a negative environment in the hopes that the system will improve for future generations. My children are not a social experiment, nor am I willing to gamble with their lives. I do not care if Ms. Benedikt and her ilk intend to fix the schools of the future if the methods to achieve those goals cheat my children in the present.
By the way, each of my three children started in public school until my wife and I realized how poorly they were being educated. After three failed attempts with public schools, we moved each child into private school for their primary education to give them a better foundation, and then we returned them to public schools for secondary education. This system helped each of our children immensely, all of whom have now graduated college and embarked on successful careers.
Without getting deeper into an unintentional political rant, this private versus public school debate illustrates much of what is wrong with most socialistic policies; many "public" institutions fail because they become so weighed down by unnecessary bureaucracy that they can barely serve their primary purpose. Public education is not failing because parents are pulling their children out; public education is failing because we do not pay our educators enough, and we do not provide adequate resources for our schools. While it is true that our taxpayer dollars are simply not paying enough to take care of all society's educational expenses, we also have a system that is so top-heavy with needless bureaucrats and inundated with policies which occupy entirely too much time. As a result, our nation is not seeing a sufficient return on investment. What's more, the measures that the Department of Education has implemented to standardize education and hold teachers accountable for their results have been complete failures.
But that being said, here are a few of my grievances with the various excuses that I have personally heard from public educators:
- Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to teach your children everything; parents need to be involved, too." I whole-heartedly agree with this statement - parents MUST be involved in their children's education; this should always mean that parents are involved in their children's studies at home, and this might mean that parents should volunteer at their children's schools if that is possible. But I have seen this statement used as a cop-out by far too many public school teachers who wasted our children's valuable classroom time with unnecessary endeavors and sent our children home with a mountain of homework after receiving no classroom instruction, thereby leaving the parents as the sole educators. If this is to be the case, then why do we need teachers? Why shouldn't I just homeschool my children and dispense with the transportation to and from school so my children can meet with a disengaged educator?
- Overheard from public teachers: "We cannot be expected to personalize education for your child." The implication here is that your child is left to fend for himself or herself academically. This is a classic example for one of the primary causes of public education's many failures: people are individuals, and everyone learns differently. In our society we are REQUIRED to accept everyone's individuality – it's what we call DIVERSITY. It doesn't matter what color skin you have, whether you are a man or woman, which religious beliefs you embrace or reject, etc. Everyone is a distinct person, and we must accept their uniqueness – which SHOULD include each child's learning style. But apparently our societal adoption of tolerance and diversity does not extend to public school educators, who appear to have adopted "sink or swim" and "one size fits all" attitudes toward individualism. How barbaric and antiquated can these "teachers" be?
I'll get off my soapbox now, but I'd like to discuss one final point – as I mentioned earlier, Ms. Benedikt's children are not yet old enough to attend school, which prevents me from taking any of her self-righteous drivel seriously. In my opinion, her lack of personal experience in this matter disqualifies her from passing judgment on parents who actually have to decide what is best for their children; close-minded and emotionally detached fools with no personal stake in this debate should be ineligible to weigh in on the issue.
After two long years of sacrificing my evenings and weekends in order to complete homework assignments, I just received the following in the mail:
This obviously signifies that I have finally earned my Bachelor's Degree. This is traditionally a four-year degree, but I managed to complete my degree in just over 28 years from when I first started college. (So anyone who is currently on a five-year plan for their four-year degree, take my word for it - you could do a lot worse.)
By way of explanation, I had never finished my Bachelor's Degree; I dropped out of college during my freshman year when I got married and we needed the money. Our idea at the time was that I would work full-time while my wife went to school full-time, then we would swap roles when she completed her nursing degree. Unfortunately, our lives didn't work out that way. Shortly after I dropped out of college I joined the US Army, and that put a temporary halt on both of our college aspirations as the military continuously transferred us from one location to another.
After five years in the Army, I was finally at a time and place in my life where I could go to college in the evenings and do my homework during the weekends. Because of this, I received my Associate's Degree around the time that I finished eight years in the military; this meant that I had earned my two-year degree almost 9 years after I first started college.
A few months after I received my Associate's Degree I left the Army, and my plan at the time was to go to school and finish my Bachelor's Degree. But once again, my plans didn't work out that way. Sometime during my first year back in school, Microsoft offered me a job, and that opportunity was simply too good to pass up. This was ultimately a great decision, but it meant that my college goals needed to be put on hold again.
Sometime around my fifteen-year anniversary at Microsoft I decided that I was once again in a time and place in my life where I could go to college in the evenings and weekends, so I enrolled in an online program through Liberty University. (I chose this school because their online programs are very friendly to current and former members of the military.) My declared major was Multidisciplinary Studies, which is a fancy term for a program that allows you to split your major into two or three concentrated subject areas. (I chose Computer Science and Religion.)
Jumping ahead a couple of years, I found myself studying hard to complete all of my upper-division courses while putting three children through college, flying around the world to speak at various technical conferences, surviving the weddings for two of my children, and juggling a work schedule that typically comprised 50 to 60 hours a week.
In the end, I finished all of my courses at Liberty University in just over two years - and I managed to maintain a 4.0 GPA throughout my studies, thereby graduating Summa Cum Laude. (Which is probably Latin for "You really need to get a life.")
So if I do the math correctly, it took me 9 years to get my two-year degree, and it took me an additional 19 years to get my four-year degree. At this pace, I should have my Master's Degree 29 years from now.
I was sent this list of how several things have changed in our educational system and lives over the past 50 years, and it's a sad but true observation of how "Trying to Make Things Better™" ultimately makes things worse...
SCENARIO 1: Jeffrey will not be still in class, he disrupts other students.
- 1959 - Jeffrey sent to the Principal's office and given a good paddling by the Principal. He then returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.
- 2009 - Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. He becomes a zombie. He is then tested for A.D.D. The school gets extra money from the state because Jeffrey has a disability.
SCENARIO 2: Johnny and Mark get into a fist fight after school.
- 1959 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.
- 2009 - Police called and SWAT team arrives -- they arrest both Johnny and Mark. They are both charged with assault and both expelled, even though Johnny started it.
SCENARIO 3: Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.
- 1959 - Mark shares his aspirin with the Principal out on the smoking dock.
- 2009 - The police are called and Mark is expelled from school for drug violations. His car is then searched for drugs and weapons.
SCENARIO 4: Jack goes quail hunting before school and then pulls into the school parking lot with his shotgun in his truck's gun rack.
- 1959 - Vice Principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.
- 2009 - School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.
SCENARIO 5: Billy breaks a window at his school and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.
- 1959 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college and becomes a successful businessman.
- 2009 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. The state psychologist is told by Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has an affair with the psychologist.
SCENARIO 6: Pedro fails high school English.
- 1959 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English and goes to college.
- 2009 - Pedro's cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against the state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English is then banned from core curriculum. Pedro is given his diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.
SCENARIO 7: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the Fourth of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle and blows up a red ant bed.
- 1959 - Ants die.
- 2009 - ATF, Homeland Security and the FBI are all called. Johnny is charged with domestic terrorism. The FBI investigates his parents -- and all siblings are removed from their home and all computers are confiscated. Johnny's dad is placed on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.
SCENARIO 8: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.
- 1959 - In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.
- 2009 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.