Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

03/11/2009 (7:12 am)

Obama Education, a Feint and a Punch

President Obama unrolled his new education policy in a speech to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday. The New York Times in reporting on the speech extended the perpetual Obama election campaign, mentioning those features of the plan to which teachers unions might object in order to tout Our Leader’s fearless independence. The Times also published the text of the speech, from which intrepid readers might cull the real story for themselves.

The portions of Obama’s plan featured by the Times, merit pay and expanded charter schools, are not bad ideas. Obama mentioned permitting merit pay for better teachers, and making it easier to fire poor ones. This is a common-sense improvement that is long overdue; how the federal government can accomplish it in a system controlled by the states remains a mystery. Removing caps on the number of charter schools is also sensible. If we’re forced to rely on a central, government-controlled public school system, and if we’re forced to permit national control of that system, then these are welcome improvements. Naturally, the Perpetual Obama Campaign fronts these ideas to deflect criticism of other parts of the program. That’s the feint.

obamahispaniccocWhat the Times left out were the totalitarian aspects, notably a $5 billion expansion of federally-managed early childhood education including parenting oversight by medical professionals. That’s the punch.

This is a program liberal social engineers have been attempting to force down the nation’s throat for decades. It was part of HillaryCare in the 90s, but I remember advocating a plan like this back when I was a good liberal in the late 1960s. The theory is that “truly enlightened” citizenry is not possible so long as “mindless, religious parents” can control the raising of their own children. The antidote is for the government to train children to reject the “bigotry” and “ignorance” of their parents when they’re very young. What the liberals are really saying is that individual liberty is too dangerous to be permitted, because it permits the education of children to be something other than good liberals. Seig Heil.

Just in educational terms, Obama’s emphasis on early childhood education is simply wrong. When comparing American students against other nations, the American students already perform better in early education; this is the one place where we do not need significant improvement. The advantage American students show in the early grades gets lost by about 4th grade, though, and becomes a serious deficit once the students reach high school.

In these areas, the President has nothing new to offer. The rest of the speech recites a battery of measures that tell us only that the President has no idea what ails American schools, and that he intends to set high expectations and force states to meet them while throwing money at them with which to do it. He advocates uniform national achievement standards, more time in school, and exhorts all Americans, “Let’s all do better!” In a sadly amusing twist, Obama retains the key features of No Child Left Behind, national testing with funding tied to performance. None of this is new. I’ll give him a few extra-credit points for inflation-adjusting Pell grants.

Everybody has a pet theory regarding why American education is failing; some argue it’s poor teachers, others argue it’s insufficient time, others say it’s low standards. My own take lays the blame on several modern innovations. First, educational theory has abandoned wholesome models of education in favor of coercive, socially progressive models, favoring social development and self esteem above actual achievement; this results in an educational approach that simply ignores human nature. The entire structure of curricula needs to be rewritten by somebody other than leftist academics. The real advantage of vouchered education is that it empowers educators who stray from the social engineering reservation, and the real opposition to vouchers comes from those who want to retain control. Central control of the education system is the enemy here; free market education is the solution, because schools that employ a sound model of human development will perform better than those that don’t, and will attract students while the “progressive” schools fail.

Second, American students begin to decline after the early grades because American kids have developed destructive attitudes by then. American parents have abdicated their authority over their own children and turned them over to electronic gadgets, to be raised by video games and MTV. The result is a student body incapable of self-discipline and possessing no ethic of learning, working, or respect for adults and laws. The only cure for this is a revolution among American parents, with one of the now all-too-common poorly raised generations pulling itself up by its own bootstraps and returning to a model of family responsibility and accountability, with an ethic of achievement. Ultimately, education rests squarely on the parents’ shoulders; children raised in a home where the parents read, invariably obtain a sound education. A little entertainment reform wouldn’t hurt, though.

Consistent with his performance so far, President Obama is moving education in the wrong direction, toward greater central, governmental control over the entire system. The most important point does not address educational performance, but individual liberty; whom the government educates, the government controls. The education of a free people must remain in the hands of the people, or the people will not remain free.

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1 Comment »

March 11, 2009 @ 7:33 am #

I think also the emphasis of the curriculum away from the classical subjects (reading, writing, and arithmetic) has had some impact as well. This goes to your point about non judgmental teaching because if someone gets a math problem wrong, you cannot really tell them it is right.

Also, another odd thing is that we do not really teach children how to learn. I remember my only exposure where the methods of deductive and inductive reasoning, how each differed, and the weakness and benefits of each. This was in European history in high school. It was elective. The entire basis of the scientific and industrial revolution, all of our modern improvements and wonders and we do not teach it as a separate subject in K-12.

Logical reasoning should be one of the first subjects we teach, since almost every other meaningful thing flows from them.

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