2008-04-18 / Columnists

The Progressive

Bored Of (Bad) Education
Commentary By John Paul Culotta

Most Americans believe in the value of a good education for the individual and society. Many people buy homes in areas that boast excellent public schools. Others are willing to pay a premium for a private or faith based education. Many sociologists believe many antisocial and criminal activity can be traced to experiences of failure and rejection at an early age in school. Prisoners often have difficulty reading. All of us believe children need basic education in order to accomplish the fundamentals of living as a productive citizen. After defense and military expenditures, the largest public expense for taxpayers is education and the educational bureaucracy. Our nation recognizes that if our economy is to be successful in the future, we need to do better in mathematics and science education.

Politicians from both the conservative wing of the Republican Party and the socialist wing of the Democratic Party have their own theories as to how we should educate our youth. It has been said that the best anti-poverty program our nation has is to give the best educational preparation for our youth. Societal ills, for example, inadequate housing or homelessness, malnutrition, unemployment, dysfunctional family life, and the allure of drugs, all play a role in preventing many young people from succeeding in school. Schoolteachers cannot be expected to resolve societal problems. Before we expect no child to be left behind, our nation must prevent poverty and its effects for the children born in this country.

Education must ensure a literate population. Adult literacy education should be a priority for the country. Immigrant workers should attend citizenship classes. My mother and many other immigrants were taught American history, civic responsibility, and about our constitution before becoming citizens. Citizens of a democracy need to be able to evaluate the issues that face this nation, and education gives them that ability... an ability to earn a living ensures a dignified life without relying on community support. Cultural life develops when a society values expression of all the citizens and education is essential for civilized and logical expression. Education frees the individual from the tyranny of poverty of body and soul. Without an educated citizenry, democracy will die.

Learning to read is paramount. Banning social promotion is not enough. Children must not lose their ability to succeed at an early age. Children need to learn at their own pace and to get the type of instruction needed. This includes methods that are difficult for a bureaucracy that today ensures failure for too many of our precious children. Modern youngsters deserve to learn basic reading fundamentals before being evaluated through yearly testing. Dyslexics need to be caught at an early age and given the instruction that will allow them to succeed. Evaluation without the stigma of failure must be early and follow-up mandatory. I recently was in a high school and a young teenage girl told me she wished she could read better. She was interested in the play the class was reading, but had difficulty. Our educational system failed her.

Our nation will need many scientists and people proficient in mathematics, chemistry, physics, biology and engineering. Unfortunately, we need teachers who are experts in these fields. Unfortunately, the remuneration given teachers does not attract these experts. China and India graduate as many as twice the number of engineers as the USA. Our political and educational leaders must address this fact. Teaching is a noble profession and often is not given the respect the profession deserves. Attacking tenure and teacher union representation is not helping the situation. Teachers that are dedicated and diligent often are insulted by the attacks on their union that are undeserved and often exaggerated.

Our schools have become bastions of police supervision for student and faculty protection. Is this giving the schools the feeling of a prison? It appears that way when my wife and I visit our local high school. All of us know safe schools are a fundamental component of an excellent educational experience. At the same time, police supervision should be under school administration and not the police department. There have been numerous reports of police harassment (real or imagined) of students carrying cell phones. Legislation allowing students to carry cell phones to and from school has been passed by the city council. Why does our mayor and police department continue the unpopular confiscation of cell phones in schools? Similar prohibition-unpopular laws cannot be beneficial for society. Children are learning that their parents are at the mercy of political and police powers that disregard the needs and desires of the general population. Our city police department school safety division is the fifth largest police force in the nation.

Community oversight of education and parental involvement is absolutely needed to ensure the schools accomplish the mission our society expects of our public schools. Schools need the latest technological equipment because our young people deserve every opportunity to learn. Smart boards, equipped gyms, computers, well-stocked libraries, arts programs, and musical instruments are not luxuries.

American taxpayers are paying increasing amounts of money for testing evaluations of our students, educational consultants, police supervision, and surveys.

All these expenditures have not given results that we can be proud of. New York City 's Department of Education gave a 9 percent increase to a British consulting company that performs yearly evaluation of our schools. On March 31, 2008, the New York Daily News reported, "Some administrators are not-so-subtly asking parents, teachers, and students to be kind in their comments" to a learning survey of their schools. On Staten Island a high school was cited for changing answers on regents tests so students could pass and some, to graduate. This is not education - this is getting wealth generating fraud.

This is why I am Bored of Bad Education.

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