The “touchy-feely” solution to most problems today appears to be that we should ‘throw money at it.’ Even if there are negative results, at least you get that `warm feeling’ that you tried, that you did something. This is a particularly popular solution if you can throw someone else’s money at the problem.
This is what appears to be happening with our education system.
Back when I was going to school, the school district was strictly a local issue. It was funded by that portion of the real estate taxes that were earmarked for the school district. Who knew best what the local school should have for facilities, or for their respective curriculum, than the local people themselves? There were an elected school board and professional school administrators to oversee everything to do with their school district. It worked well!
So how did the federal government get involved?
The United States Department of Education was recreated by the Department of Education Organization Act and signed into law by Jimmy Carter. It began operating on May 4, 1980. Ronald Reagan tried to kill it, but the Democratic congress overruled him. It is the smallest cabinet-level department with about 5,000 employees.
Upgrading education to cabinet level status in 1979 was opposed by many in the Republican Party, who saw it as an unnecessary and illegal federal bureaucratic intrusion into local affairs. The National Education Association supported the bill, while the American Federation of Teachers opposed it.
George W. Bush was the advocate of the No Child Left Behind Act. With the implementation of this act, the budget for the Department of Education was elevated to $60 billion. As of 2011, this discretionary budget was almost $70 billion. The latest budget request calls for $78 billion.
All of these billions of dollars being spent by our federal government for issues that were, and still should be in my opinion, managed at the local level.
How successful are our school systems in the U.S.?
According to 2012 statistics of people over the age of 25 in America, the school systems appear to be successful. For instance:
87.65% are high school graduates
57.28% have some college
30.94% have a Bachelors’s degree
8.05% have a Master’s degree
3.07% have a Doctorate of professional degree
At first glance, these statistics look good. But here is the flip side. One in eight people are not high school graduates. 69% of the people over the age of 25 are not college graduates.
So my question is this. If 69% of the population of Americans over 25 do not have a college degree, why are our school systems so focused on college preparatory curriculums?
In many school districts facing financial duress, the first classes that are cut are the shop classes, home economics classes, and the mechanic/technical classes. Common sense tells me that not all students want to, or are capable of, going to college. The world still needs bakers, plumbers, auto mechanics, carpenters, electricians, machinists and general tradesmen, yet most high schools do not address these vocational trade issues in the form of classroom instruction.
Have you had a major car repair done lately? Have you noticed what it costs to get a plumber or an electrician to your house? These people earn very good money. I am sure many of them make more money than college graduates. While there are many college graduates attempting to find employment, it appears we have a shortage of skilled craftsmen in America.
I live in an area currently being impacted by the policy of sequestration. In a nutshell, many people with college degrees are now working a 32-hour work week instead of their usual 40-hour work week. Their paychecks are cut accordingly. Chances are, your electrician, auto mechanic, and plumber are not being impacted by sequestration!
The other piece to the ‘successful education’ puzzle is parenting. In this regard, I would like to relate part of an article which was printed in our local paper on July 13 of this year. It was written by Walter E. Williams, a professor of economics at George Mason University. You may have heard him substitute for Rush Limbaugh on the radio.
“Whether a student is black or white, poor or rich, there are some minimum requirements that must be met in order to do well in school. Someone must make the student do his homework, see to it that he gets a good night’s sleep, fix a breakfast, make sure he gets to school on time and make sure he respects and obeys his teachers.”
He goes on: “Here are my questions: Which one of those requirements can be achieved through a higher school budget? Which can be achieved by politicians? If those minimal requirements aren’t met, whatever else is done is mostly for naught.”
I was so impressed by his article, that I saved it specifically to share with you in my blog. He addresses both the budget aspect of our education systems and the roll of parenting in the pursuit of knowledge.
I am astounded by all of the programs available today to young parents. We have kindergarten. We have pre-kindergarten. I believe there is also pre-pre-kindergarten. Much of this is the solution to single parent households and households where both parents are employed.
Let me relate how we did kindergarten when I was growing up. Firstly, in our small town, kindergarten was only done on Saturdays! Yup! And to be more specific, it was only done on Saturday mornings.
I hated going to kindergarten because Saturday mornings were the only mornings that cartoons were on television. (We had three channels on our TV!) There wasn’t a Cartoon Network or Disney Channel. (On a side note, is amazing that I am watching some of the same cartoons today with my grandkids that I watched in my youth.)
You think that is shocking? Well you will really like this! Kindergarten was taught by our mothers. Yup! All the mothers would rotate with five or six of them volunteering to teach kindergarten on Saturday mornings. Why on Saturdays and why our mothers? Simple. There was no money budgeted for teachers or full-time kindergarten, and our mothers worked during the week. Thus the Saturdays!
How many parents would tolerate that today?
It was expected that our parents would get us ‘prepared’ for school. My mother would spend time reading to me, and then teaching me to read. In a small town, everyone knew everybody. You did not want your child going into the first grade unable to read, write, and recite their ABCs. The pressure was on!
There is one aspect that Dr. Williams did not discuss that I believe is an important element of parenting. Expectations. My father, Big Daddy G, dropped out of high school in order to join the Navy during WWII. When I was in the sixth grade, he tested for and earned his GED. His rationale was that he should get his diploma before I got mine.
Even though Big Daddy G never read a book to me, he was a firm believer in expectations. This became painfully evident when I earned a `C+’ in English the first quarter of my Junior year in high school. It kept me off the `A’ honor roll. All of my other grades were `A’ honor roll worthy, but that was unnoticed by Big Daddy G. When he opened my report card, saw that grade and realized that it kept me off the `A’ honor roll —-well, you would have thought the Japanese totally missed Pearl Harbor and hit our farm instead! To say that `all hell broke loose,’ or that I got a stern `talking-to’ would be a huge understatement. Big Daddy G was short on formal education, but long on expectations for his oldest child. This was by far the worst `talking-to’ I ever received from him during my entire lifetime. You could say he was the consummate motivator. I made the ‘A’ honor roll the remaining 7 quarters of high school.
What does commons sense tell me?
1. The local school districts know more about what they need than the federal government. Eliminating the Department of Education would eradicate a huge, unnecessary expense.
2. Our government should realize that craftsmen skills are just as important for some as a college education is for others. Not all people want to be college-educated. Research what local school districts are doing to prepare students for vocations, not just college. In my mind, vocational training is more important than extra-curricular activities. Not many people play professional athletics, but everyone needs to earn a living. I do not advocate the elimination of any physical fitness or sport activities. I just want to emphasize that it is not realistic for most children to believe that being a professional athletes is a realistic career path.
3. Parents should set realistic goals and standards for their children and then enforce those goals and standards. The Army said it best with their former slogan, “Be all you can be.” Without good parenting and parental involvement, the chances of children succeeding are greatly diminished.
That’s it. Big Daddy G is alive and well. If you need to borrow him for `expectation’ realignment for your `students’, send me an email!