Saturday, June 04, 2005

Meandering into Mediocrity
By Alexander Marriott 6/2/2005


Now that my time in the Clark Country School District is coming to an end, both as a student when I graduated from Cimarron-Memorial High School in 2001 and as a Substitute Teacher as of June 9th, there are some alarming trends which I think someone must address. These trends are not restricted to only Southern Nevada, but they will be exacerbated in the years to come by growing radicalization among the forces of political correctness and the new block scheduling which will go into place in Clark Country High Schools next school year. In essence, the public education system in the United States is teetering towards a situation that caters to and promotes the average, plain, and ordinary instead of the exceptional, intelligent, and best.

As a student in high school I was aware of these trends, but was fortunately buttressed against them by staying in the hardest classes and having the most able, challenging, and engaging teachers available. As a Substitute Teacher I have seen a whole different picture, engaging many different levels of students from the best and brightest to the worst and dimmest.

The first problem one encounters in classroom situations is that one has very few methods of ensuring discipline and the students are perfectly aware of this. In upper level classes there is a much greater degree of self-discipline amongst the students, most accord the teacher a healthy degree of respect and are able and usually eager to learn. In regular classes there is a noticeable divide amongst the students, a plurality wishing to learn and quite willing to behave while a sizable number refuse to do much of anything aside from talk, use prohibited electronics, speak disrespectfully to each other and the teacher, and numerous other things which make teaching difficult and which disrupt the other students from learning.

Perhaps corporal punishment in the classroom was too harsh, but the banishment of formal detentions and holding students back a grade represents the extension of irrational political correctness to the detriment of learning. There must be consequences for actions, good and bad, if any of these students is ever to be prepared for the reality of independent life.

The inability to flunk students leads to the next problem, the 4x4 Block scheduling to be implemented County-wide next school year. While students are no longer made to repeat grades they are penalized by not earning credits for high school classes they fail and which they need to make up before they can earn a diploma. Under the new block system the number of credits needed to graduate will be unchanged and yet the number of classes the students can take every year will be made larger. One teacher related a story about their special education class hearing this news and immediately putting two and two together; they can fail more classes and still graduate.

While the students in the lower echelons get some bonus classes to annoy teachers and fail, the students at the top and their teachers will have fewer classroom minutes to learn/teach the material. This is crucially important in Advanced Placement classes which are forced to move more quickly in order to cover all of the material in time for the students to take their AP tests at the end of the year. To illustrate this further, consider that under Cimarron-Memorial’s current block system students meet in their classes eight times every two weeks for a total of 524 minutes per class while under the new 4x4 Block schedule students will meet in their classes five times every two weeks for a total of 425 minutes per class. For those students in higher level classes and their teachers this is an hour and a half every two weeks that can scarcely be afforded.

Of course there is a fundamental problem with public education in general which will always be irreconcilable in a free country. There can be no accord brought between liberty and forcing property owners (or anyone else) to pay for schools. And it is obscene for children to go to school at the point of a gun. Freedom is just as essential in education as it is in any other service industry. Notice that none of the problems of discipline (in the classroom) appear in college because everyone is there voluntarily, is actively involved in one way or another in the funding, and presumably has some sort of goal.

It is no coincidence that American public schools continually rank very low while the American college system is unparalleled in excellence. Money cannot solve the problems of public education; untold billions have been thrown at the education system since the Soviets launched Sputnik and to no avail.

As the education system heads down its inevitable path towards becoming a factory for creating mediocrities with a few strong and brave students surviving and prospering in spite of the circumstances one must think to the oft used argument for the public education system. It goes something like, “Without a compulsory system of public education the populace will be uneducated, not be able to perform jobs, research important things, etc.” Whenever you hear this argument, think of these great and important Americans –

Benjamin Franklin – two years of grammar school from years eight to ten.
George Washington – no public education, taught by his father and brother.
Cornelius Vanderbilt – no formal education, started ferry business at 16.
Abraham Lincoln – less than a year of formal education.
Thomas Edison – three months of public education when he seven years old.
Mark Twain – six to seven years of public education whereupon he had to support his family at the death of his father at age 12.

*note: compulsory education laws in the United States began in 1852 and in earnest between 1870-1890, so prominent figures become much harder to come by as nearly everyone is forced to attend school through at least high school.

Public education or formal education of any kind never has been and never will be the key to success in life or the key to being a genius and highly intelligent. The common denominator for success, whether in private school, public school, or no school is self-motivation, discipline (both external and internal), and rational goal-oriented action.

But if we are to have a public education system to create all of these geniuses why do we keep destroying the learning environment and gearing the system toward the lowest common denominator? It is because the purpose and nature of government is to halt the initiation of force with force; it is a destructive power, a necessary evil. That destructive force has been turned against the children of the country and the consequences are as predictable as they are tragic.

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