Sunday, March 6, 2011

I can't believe I did this

I set the alarm clock on a Saturday night. The alarm went off at its usual time, and I went into automatic pilot mode: got up, stumbled around, turned on the coffee pot, and was muttering to myself about how fast the weekends go. Then I turned on the tv to see what Karen Minton had to say about the weather, and there was some Bible-thumper exhorting me to find the Lord now. Does "Holy crap! It's Sunday! Why am I up?!" count as seeing the light?

The topic of the moment on C-SPAN is education -- who should control it? Feds? State? Strictly local? If we were a sane nation (and we all know we're not), it would be the feds. Why? Consistency, both in content and in quality. A national common curriculum would help ensure that a kid graduating from high school someplace out BFE, Idaho, would have the same basic set of skills and knowledge as a kid graduating from high school in Tampa, Florida, or Portland, Maine. That definitely isn't true now. There are regional accreditation organizations, but how well they function is debatable -- and, unlike almost every other country on the planet, accreditation agencies are nongovernmental. States do set basic standards for accreditation, but those standards can vary widely, depending on who happens to be on the state school board in any given year. In some states, school boards are elected; in others, they're political appointees of the governor. Both are methods guaranteed to produce boards that can swing wildly from one extreme to the other when it comes to what it gets taught and how.

And then when you get down to the local level, which is where schools are actually controlled in the United States. . . local school boards are notorious for stupidity. Because members are elected, it is quite possible for one particular faction in a community that has an ideological agenda of some sort to end up packing a board. End result? School boards can be appallingly incompetent or ideologically driven, either one being a litigation magnet. Even when examples are trotted out, like the Dover case, to explain why a particular idea, like teaching creationism, is going to do nothing but provide job security for attorneys, the ideologically driven will plow right ahead and insist that the school do it anyway.

And then there's the dumb stuff growing out of wanting to do someone a favor. One local school board back in the UP, for example, decided to hire a former supermarket manager as its new superintendent rather than go with any of the candidates who actually had some experience in education. Why? He was local, he knew the guys on the board, and he was at loose ends because he'd recently sold his business. Of course, then the school district had to pony up the money to pay for the guy to pursue the graduate education and various certifications the state requires for school administrators or risk losing the district's accreditation -- but, hey, why shouldn't someone who's supervised baggers be able to tell teachers what to do?

Then when you get into what actually is or is not being taught in the classrooms. . .  One of the reasons I decided there was no way I was ever going to let my kids attend school in a particular district in the UP was I found out the board had decided to razor-blade out all the chapters in science text books that discussed human reproduction or evolution. Yep, ignoring evolution is really going to help the kids from that district a lot when they get into their first college biology class and discover there's a huge hole in their basic education. As for the eliminating the human reproduction material. . . I know correlation isn't causation, but that same district has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country.

In any case, having moved around a lot and as a parent witnessed multiple school districts, from the huge (Los Angeles metropolitan district) to the small (Houghton, Michigan), one thing I know for sure is there is absolutely no consistency in what gets taught, when it gets taught, or how. Local control as currently practiced obviously isn't working, so maybe it's time to try something different.


  1. The Canadian constitution sets education as a provincial responsibility (schools, technical schools, universities and even Agriculture Extension. The provincial department of education oversees content and standards. There are school districts with elected boards but they are administrative only. To be honest the boards are pretty much irrelevant, other than to maintain the pretext of local input and to have someone deflect heat from the provincial government.
    Course content differs somewhat from province to province but the feds put in enough money that they can enforce a degree of standardization.
    Not sure how accreditation works but it is national. Some Universities have better reputations in certain programs than others eg Waterloo for Engineering, Regina or Carlton for Journalism, U of T, Queens for law, etc.
    I cannot pretend to understand your system where every school district does its own thing and can decide on curricula and everything.

  2. I found out the board had decided to razor-blade out all the chapters in science text books that discussed human reproduction or evolution.

    No kidding? Hell, I recall being taught some things about that even as a kid in Idaho. Even back then it made more sense to me than the stupid religions.

    I contend that school administrators have all become overpaid idiots.

    Most of my life I've never used an alarm clock, never seemed to have a need for one, I just always woke up on time to get to work or wherever.

    Except during occasional drunken binges. :-)

  3. Maybe closing all public schools would be a start. Then, if parents want their kids educated, there are options. If they doen't want schooling for their kids, that's fine too ... we know ignorance is becoming coin of the realm, so let it free-fall. Eventually, we might see a return to substantive education ... but for now, let's give the stupids a free pass.

  4. It does seem that the education system, like the tax system, needs to be scrapped and begun again to make any positive, sensible changes.

  5. then you got them dipshit Texans who want to put more religion in the school books an no Lincoln..sigh*


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