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Education Please

American Classroom

An American Classroom

Posted on October 26,2010

A piece that I have always wanted to write, but getting my arms around the educational system and coming to an understanding of the problems is a daunting task.

In the technological world we live in, a good education is an imperative. Everyone wants a better education for the children, but as a society, we have blunted this effort.

The excuses for low educational performance are many. Both our excuses and solutions have only served to polarize us. The system, parents, and the teachers all look at the problems from a different perspective. Parents want the teachers to be more accountable while teachers want parents to put more effort into parenting. The school officials blame a lack of funding, while special interests lobby for special needs classes, native cultural courses, sex-education, textbooks that are favorable to a certain point of view, and other courses too numerous to mention. Students are the victims of the in fighting over money, political correctness, school curriculum, parental authority, school discipline, and syllabus ideology. The divisions among the different advocate groups run deep.

Reflection of Society: Lost in the blame game are some hard irrefutable facts. Number 1 is that our schools are a reflection of our culture. We the adults demonstrate to our children without discretion all of the bad behavior that humans possess. We are self-indulgent, self-centered, lazy, and demonstrate astonishing immorality. Just look around you, Ė the children are only following our lead.

We have always had our differences, but in the past, we melded these differences into a cohesive understanding of purpose. Educating and teaching our children to be able to fend for themselves in a challenging world used to be a priority. Competition strengthened our young for life after school. But our priorities have changed. Now it seems that solving our social problems and discouraging competition has replaced education as a priority. You probably donít need reminding but the primary purpose of school is teaching the core subjects that give the student the tools to untangle a complex world. Basic education comes first, after which, can come exposure to the variations in the lifestyles people can have. Those issues may be valuable to some, but tend to be more of a distraction to a student trying to grasp the fundamentals of the information later life will demand.

Core Subjects: In short, our school system suffers from not having and enforcing a set of core subjects designed to educate and prepare the young. What are the basics that children need to learn? We need to recognize the value of math, language, reading, writing, history, and geography Ė the three rís if you will, rounded out by lessons in national and world history, and the physical world we live in.

Before we award any graduation certificate, every student must demonstrate proficiency in the core groups. From the core groups spring all other disciplines such as science, economics, social skills, art, and foreign languages. All subsidiary skills depend upon the core group to have any chance of measurable success.

Each and every complaint about our school system has merit. But as for solutions, one-size does not fit all. The local demographic makeup is different from one area to the next, each with different challenges. The local school system should create and manage their curriculum around those core components. Other than the core group, no other courses would be mandatory. Students need to be aware of the elective courses and the potential benefits of each.

Elective Courses: Elective courses should only be available to those who show the curiosity and aptitude for a particular course. It doesnít make sense to enroll a student in physics if the student struggles with math. All elective courses need a standard for the student to meet before the student is able to enroll in a particular elective course. The student should have the choice, but only after meeting the eligibility requirements for the course.

We need to regain local control of our schools. Many of our school districts boast of being an ISD (Independent School District). But ISDís do not have any real autonomy. Education dollars for each school district depend upon the school districts administration. Administrators have learned that making tweaks in their curriculum to satisfy political interests pays dividends. These tweaks introduce the social elective courses such as sex-education, and political correctness.

Opinions about these social courses vary from acceptance to outrage by parents. I want to again state that electives are fine, even social electives, as long as they donít come at the expense of the core subjects. A schoolís quest for money further isolates the parents from any control over their school system. Many of our schools have become not much more than a head counting operation for obtaining education funds. This is especially true for those administrators who believe poor performance is because not enough money is available.

School Funding: Property owners are the largest contributors of money to the educational system through school taxes. (In Texas) But renters never see the school expense; all they see is the rent due without realizing that they too are contributing. Landlords do not donate those taxes; no, those taxes are a part of the rent that people pay. When people donít realize they are contributing to the school system, the expense and spending by the school administrators is not an issue to them. Things might be different if renters knew they had skin in the game.

The Federal Governments Role: Educational systems in all states must dance to the Federal Government tune. Although the Federal Government is not the major source for school funding, they do control the money returned to the states for Medicare, Medicaid, infrastructure upkeep, and Federal mandates. By exercising its control over the funds to the states, the Federal Government enforces the dictates of the U.S. Department of Education. Factually, the money flow from the Federal Government to the states dictates most school policy. This sledgehammer approach makes a mockery of a school districtís autonomy. Just the threat withholding payments to the states is enough to force acceptance of the policies by the Department of Education.

There have been many attempts to do away with the Department of Education. The department is a blatantly politically partisan body under the control of the party in power. Loud vocal minorities within the party in power are able to influence both the tone and tenor of the school curriculum. All of which overrule the local schoolís ability to manage. Remember, the Federal Governmentís threat of withholding state funds act as the enforcement club to force the states to accede to the wishes of the Department of Education.

Teachers Union: The teachers union is another often-heard complaint. First, the only reason the union exists at all is that historically, we underpaid the teachers. For whatever the reasons, we allowed our teachers to languish in the world of just surviving Ė excepting the affluent school districts. Until recent times, we paid teachers differently from school district to school district. The richer districts got the best teachers because they paid better, while the poor districts had to hire the teachers they could afford. The system was rife with inequality. This inequality forced the teachers to unionize and the state to take action that resulted in a more equal distribution of the money.

But the teachers union grew in strength until their demands now threaten the stateís economy. What started as a good thing has become an impossibly large politically influential group. Their very size and influence will likely be their undoing. But we should never forget why the union exists. It is a creature of our making and as such necessitates our intervention to limit its influence. One note of clarity, the teachers union is not the cause of our poor school performances. An economical problem for sure, but not why the schools donít do better.

Cultural Failure: Our schools are a failure of our culture. Our schools performance is representative of a culture that has lost its moral compass and one that passes its responsibility to others. Now, we wail and moan about the failure of our schools because we refuse to look into the mirror and see ourselves for what we have become. We refuse the schools one of the greatest teaching tools that could really help and that is the ability to discipline the children. We make it clearly known to the schools by means of lawsuits that we will not let the schools deal with our darling troublemakers. The actions of the parents leave few arrows in the quiver for schools to deal with wayward students. Suspension or expulsion makes up the ultimate weapon left to schools. But using such tactics is counterproductive as the expelled student loses classroom time.

The paradox of parents with a mother-hen attitude that does not insist that the children apply themselves towards excellence is remarkable. These same parents allow their children countless hours watching TV and endless time with their electronic gadgets. With no regard to the childís progress at school, the modern parents pay a lot of money to maintain a cell phone and other gadgetry deemed necessary by the child. We raise our children by electronic proxy, if you will.

Our children live in a world of make-believe and as parents, there is no one to blame but ourselves.

"Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory."
- Albert Schweitzer


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Robert Gross

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A Physics Major at the University of Texas
Retired from the offshore drilling industry where he worked as an Electrical Supervisor, Licensed Chief Engineer, and Electrical Designer.

Robert Writes for 2 Online Magazines and three private web sites.
Interests include computers, Cosmology, Evolution, and Environmental Research.

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