I am not a politician or a trained child-educator, but since I have kids who are passing at several levels through the public school system and since I am an educator, I have several thoughts on how we might completely overhaul the American educational system. Here are my principles:
1. It is important to teach elementary school age kids how to read, write, and do basic math. But in the United States, we are at a breaking point societally.
Character education should be the number one business of the day. Values education. I know this really scares a lot of Christians and such curricula would need to be very public. But I believe we should all be able to agree on things like anger management, being kind to others, the need to take responsibility for others and not just yourself.
I'm not talking values clarification, that noble failure and poster child for anti-70s education reform. Values have to be indoctrinated. The notion that people somehow have natural goodness inside them to discover or even that people should be free to choose their own values simply aren't true of a 6 year old.
We are not free to murder others or steal from others or disregard the laws of the land. These are not innate values or necessary human values. They must be force fed into the brains of our children when they are at their youngest point or else they will never have these values. Natural human nature for most is selfish, period. But the greatest of America is not in selfishness but in altruism. Call this Judeo-Christian values if you want, but whatever you call it, it was our greatness.
We have enshrined selfishness as a virtue, resulting in economic and moral crises that we must now decide whether to pull ourselves out of or not. I oppose thinking of health care as a right or entitlement for this same reason. I would like it to be available to all--as a privilege of living in the United States and under its social contract.
The underlying problem here is not our schools, though, which is why I believe No Child Left Behind is mostly a failure. The problem is that the parents didn't have this training. Is it possible that even the majority of American parents are miserable failures at one of the most important jobs there is and one that requires no education or prerequisites at all? We could never do it, but I would have no problem in theory with physically making it impossible for kids to have children until they are 21, and only then after they have passed some serious training classes.
The number of crack babies and fetal alcohol babies, kids on all sorts of medications because their parents basically have messed them up--no doubt astounding. Anyone have some stats here?
2. I am mostly opposed to mainstreaming.
Our current philosophy basically takes our best and brightest and pulls them down by putting them in with all the discipline problems. Those that want to learn or might be enticed to learn endure what is instead a never ending battle to keep so and so under control whose mom sold his meds instead of giving them to him so that she could buy drugs.
I'm not talking about absolute separation. Anyone should be able to jump into any track at any time. But there's no point in dumbing down America and putting the future of a nation at risk because we want Johnnie-who's-parents-smoked-crack-when-he-was-in-the-womb to be exposed to some normal people. Again, I'm not wanting to throw Johnnie away. I want systems in place to try to redeem what little can be redeemed of his horrible life.
Again, it could never happen, but if prisons can't rehabilitate people who will eventually re-emerge, we have to somehow set up parallel universes for these people. I don't care whether they're government run or not-for-profit work programs, but we have to get a whole lot of unemployed, low capability people off the streets and off to work. I'm not at all wanting to throw them away. I want systems in place to redeem what little there is of their mindless lives.
I know this sounds horrible but I think it is an honest assessment of where a whole lot of America is right now. And both parties, in my opinion, have it wrong. The Republicans basically take a "tough luck" approach. You're a loser so you can just die. Wake up, you narcissists. You're part of the problem. But then the Democrats largely want to take care of the weight on society without doing anything to pull them out of their tail spin. That just perpetuates and reinforces the problem. Both paths are a one way ticket to America going down the toilet.
3. Dual tracks that emerge in high school
The Germans and others do this. The vast majority of our students are not going to be leaders in society. There's no point in requiring them to take some of the courses we're requiring them to take. Anyone should be able to take Calculus. But most should take Real World Math.
In short, most students should take a vocational training program in high school that involves transition to jobs from the ninth grade on. Those who are going to go on to be engineers or work for a pharmaceutical company can go on to take Chemistry and Calculus. And there should be definite rewards for taking the harder way. Again, anyone can jump tracks if they want to.
There could also be special tracks for those who are more interested in literature or the arts or in teaching. My impression is that the senior year of high school in America is basically a waste of time except for those really planning on going on with more academic pursuits. Let's do what Britain does and get people moving toward careers in high school.
OK, there's my rant for the day. Have at it!