The failed ethos of public education

The failed ethos of public education

Image: Have we so completely given up on our children that we seek only to teach them vocational skills so they may work for others from other nations, such as South Korea and Japan, where schools still teach critical thinking skills?

Eric Yollick, The Golden Hammer

In the past few months, I’ve begun to take a serious look at the state of public education. In particular, I’ve focused on two public school districts: Conroe Independent School District (CISD) and Magnolia Independent School District (MISD).

While CISD and MISD are very different in size, they seem very similar in their basic educational and institutional form.

Both CISD and MISD have citizen school boards who are extremely weak. The school boards have nothing to do with curriculum, management, quality of instruction, educational outcomes, or operations of the school districts. Instead, the boards have only one hard function: they select the Superintendent who then independently operates the entire school district. While they receive reports, the boards have almost no input whatsoever.

Both CISD and MISD have drifted mightily away from what I, as a private citizen and layman, call “basic education.” The emphasis in education for both school districts is assuring passage by the minimum percentage of students permissible under Texas and federal regulations on the standardized tests state and national education bureaucracies require. Exciting children about learning, teaching reading, mathematics, science, social studies, history, English, and a foreign language have become low priorities in comparison to successful passage of the minimum on standardized examinations.

To my shock, parents generally don’t trust teachers and would prefer teachers have low impacts on their children’s learning. Parents have bought into the concept of computerized learning, because parents also now have bought into meeting minimal bureaucratic education requirements as a measure of their own child’s success. At the same time, “extracurricular activities” and “learning life skills” have become major priorities in the bizarro world of CISD and MISD. Sports “opportunities,” learning welding, learning how to shoot a gun, and learning how to use office equipment have become critical skills which administrators and parents demand that schools provide.

We’re perfectly training our children to be employees working as low-level workers for Asian and African managers as their supervisors of international companies.

Schools spend vast sums of money on “extracurricular activities” while basic education has become a low priority. Both school districts closely follow the national average of approximately 11.5% of high school graduates who require remedial reading after they graduate, according to the Texas Education Agency and the Carnegie Mellon Foundation. A higher percentage of the graduates of both school districts cannot perform basic mathematics functions, including simple arithmetic, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

There actually are many parents who want schools providing education through the twelfth grade to provide more courses in vocational education so that their children will have “life skills.”

Sorry, but that’s sick.

Public schools exist for a different reason. They exist to provide an education. A basic education includes:

  • Reading at a beginning level; then reading at a level which provokes thought; then reading at a skilled level.
  • Mathematics, which begins with arithmetic, progresses to applications of mathematics to simple problems, then progresses to algebra, geometry, advanced algebra, elementary functions, precalculus, the differential calculus, the integral calculus, linear algebra, differential equations, partial differential equations, and eventually higher mathematics (such as topology, algebra, game theory).
  • Social studies, which begins with learning about man and the animals around him in basic social structures, progresses to history (Texas, American, European, World), includes basic civics, and includes a solid course in geography.
  • A foreign language, most usefully Spanish in this geographic area, which expands one’s world and which also provides further understanding of the importance of English grammar.
  • Science, including physics (up through basic electronics), chemistry (up through basic structural chemistry), biology, and earth science (astronomy, introductory petrology and mineralogy, and meteorology).

When I listen to Superintendent Null from CISD or Superintendent Stephens from MISD, school board members, administrators, other tax hike advocates, and other bond package advocates, they don’t talk about any of those things.

Much to my own surprise, CISD admitted they have no metrics whatsoever to identify what impact the proposed $807 million bond package would have on educational outcomes. CISD has focused entirely on filling seats and providing natatoriums, stadiums, airsoft ranges, and fields on which ‘bots may play.

Candidates for the school board don’t talk about basic education. Members of the school board don’t talk about basic education. Why? Because they don’t know anything about what actually happens in the schools inside of their districts in that regard. They don’t know the metrics of failure. They don’t follow how many children graduate from CISD and MISD who literally are unable to read an instruction manual for welding tools.

Now, I admit that I participated in many extracurricular activities at my school when I was young. While we didn’t have robot fields, welding shops, or turf instead of grass, we all graduated with basic educations. Even the worst students in my graduating class could read proficiently and could speak some basic Spanish (or another foreign language). None of the students in my graduating class became destitute. All of them found jobs and led mostly productive lives in fields which required further training or education after they graduated from high school. That’s literally all of them.

I’m not suggesting that everyone in my high school class is conversant in game theory. Some ended their mathematics careers with precalculus. There were children who had less ability to learn than others. Nevertheless, all of us knew how to read and could have a serious discussion about what the symbology of eyes meant as that symbology appeared in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

I’m also not suggesting that everyone who graduates from CISD or MISD lacks the critical thinking skills. There are many children who do enjoy those skills. Sadly, that metric is far too low.

I admit I graduated from high school without one vocational skill. If I had wanted to and had been creative enough, I could have hidden in my parents’ garage and built advanced electronics equipment, however, because I knew how to find and read books on the subject. There was a young man who grew up in the Dallas area who was still in high school when he decided he wanted to design and build his own airplane in his parents’ backyard. He had learned basic physics in school. He went to a technical bookstore in downtown Dallas to learn basic aeronautics. He bought the materials he needed with money he earned in his part-time job. He designed the plane, built it by himself, and eventually dragged it behind his pickup truck to a nearby airport where he flew it. He later graduated from high school and received an engineering degree in college before he went to work for LTV as an aerospace engineer. I’m not advocating better education through airplane building. I’m advocating teaching critical thinking schools so that our children can build whatever they want, whether it’s an egg-smasher, a comfortable chair, or an analysis of the Book of Amos.

What we’re failing to teach children, however, are those basic skills one gleans through the process of learning basic education. You can’t prove the Pythagorean Theorem without first learning reasoning at a pretty high executory level even if your age hasn’t reached the teen years.

That’s where CISD, MISD, and the vast majority of public schools have failed to the point that they’re downright unethical. They tax us hundreds of millions of dollars. They promise outcomes which are vital to the future of our society. Instead, they produce a substantial corps of lower level workers who will follow the directions of their Asian managers.

It’s the failed ethos of public education.

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