BY VERN TURNER
The topic closest to my heart is the education of our children. Recent conversations with high school classmates created a nostalgic journey to the years [1957-1960] when our teachers actually taught us stuff. The fancy word for it today is pedagogy.
During the years 1995-2007 I taught science in public schools. I taught stuff. During this period along came the most ridiculous and counterproductive concept in education yet devised: The high stakes accountability test.
Credit must be given where it is due for this debacle that cost tens of billions of dollars nationally, trillions of brain cells that didn’t get exposed to knowledge and where millions of parents were duped and suckered into the maw of finding someone to blame for a wholly inadequate system.
That credit must fall on conservative politicians in the great state of Texas and fostered by George W. Bush and his monstrous No Child Left Behind propaganda exercise.
I will not and cannot assign direct blame to Bush because he really doesn’t have the capacity, the curiosity or the attention span to actually devise the details of such foolish waste.
He proved that with eight years of being president of the United States. He proved how important crony-ism is when he promoted Roy Paige from superintendent of Houston schools to Secretary of Education. Roy made Bush’s “idea” look great by holding low-achieving kids back in 9th grade until they were old enough to be seniors then flew them over to 12th grade so they wouldn’t have to take the state tests. The dramatic improvement in test scores in Houston validated Bush’s idea and the boss didn’t forget who helped him.
Was anyone looking out for the quality of education for the children? Well, no, they weren’t.
The tests were supposed to tell us how everyone was doing. The kicker is that when NCLB went national, schools that couldn’t achieve high literacy rates by 2014 would be forced to close or reorganize.
The thing is that as we look at test scores today, we see that almost 90% of our public schools will fail to meet this standard … nationwide. So, after two decades of “accountability” we only generated a 10% success rate … according to arbitrary standards invented by people with a political agenda.
Compared to the rest of the world’s school children, the numbers are actually much worse, and here are some real reasons why.
Most children in the world attend school for over 200 days per year and a day lasts eight-nine hours. Our kids are in school for 6 hours for only 180 days. Most other civilized countries recruit their teachers from the top tiers of college graduates. We aim at the bottom tier. Most countries pay for their teachers’ education programs. We saddle our prospective teachers with yet another year of debt so they can look forward to a job that doesn’t pay 50% of the public sector for equivalent education. The citizens in most other countries revere the teacher as a true professional and integral part of the community. We treat them like dogs and blame their unions and them for doing a lousy job all the while carping about the “time off.” Most countries have universal health care plans for their teachers and their families that take a small percentage from their pay. We insist on privately funded medical services and charge our already underpaid teachers huge premiums that force overworked teachers to take second or part-time jobs in order to raise their families. European teachers are highly unionized, are paid like real professionals and allowed to teach pedagogy. All their equipment and supplies are provided by the schools. Our so-called conservative caucus rails against teachers unions and requires stringent controls on teaching methods, supplies [when they are funded] and lesson content. The money spent per student in Europe is about 2/3 of what we pay. On the international scene, European and Asian kids relegate our kids to the bottom half of knowledge on such examinations. You think?
Boy, if I wanted to teach today, I’d learn to speak Finnish. The point being: Why are we doing our best to provide disincentives for our best people to become teachers? Why do we blame teachers for systemic failures created by business sponsored politicians? Because the plutocrats who own the politicians want to create a poorly educated workforce that won’t demand high wages, that’s why. Paranoid? It’s working. Vouchers? They don’t work, but every Republican has the word on their lips when talking about education. Private school choice? Diane Ravitch, one of Bush’s original true believers when NCLB came out, proved that private schools don’t necessarily improve test scores for the same type of kids. Elitism from the moguls? Most likely.
Ever since Reagan, the GOP has been overt about trying to eliminate the Department of Education from our government. Why? Is it the dictate of supply-side economics that wants that money to pay for the tax cuts of the wealthy? Every billion dollars counts when you want to rule the country, I guess.
Now for the positive stuff: Every society that saw to educating their children better than the previous generations flourished while they did that. When they stopped doing that and entered periods of continuing war, and economic turmoil, they failed. So, we know enough history to not repeat those mistakes, right?
Hey, anything can happen. Even Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-OK, may be forced to write a retraction to his comments and book that climate change is the largest hoax ever. A conversation with an angry woman named Sandy might do the trick.
So, who will be the angry entity that slaps us around until we realize that educating our children will literally save our country and our way of life?
– Vern Turner is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. He lives in Marble Falls, TX, where he writes a regular column for the River Cities Daily Tribune. He is the author of three books – A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools, The Voters Guide to National Salvation and Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status – all available through Amazon.com.