Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Down the Hole

See this article: St. Louis Public School District wins $6M in grants
"The U.S. Department of Education awarded the St. Louis Public School District nearly $6 million in new grant money for the 2006-2007 school year, the district said Friday."
74% of the money is for the Early Reading First program.

This program is to encourage reading skills to pre-schoolers. It is a program based on 100,000 scholarly studies! Wow!

My mother taught me to read, while I was a babe in her arms, by pointing out the letters on the refrigerator. I got quickly bored in school because I read the entire curriculum of "Sally, Dick and Jane" books within the first fiew months.

The Saint Louis public schools are highly ineffective—with high drop-out rates, illiteracy, and school violence—as well as costing more than even most exclusive local private schools, which last I checked, was more than $10,000 per year per student. With the exception of the selective magnet schools, attendance at these public schools is either a last choice for parents, or merely the imposition of the law.

Also, these grants are coming from the Federal Government, and so the power of the purse strings takes even more control out of the hands of the locals. This centralization is a long-standing trend, with families having ever less direct control over the schooling of their children. And due to various institutional factors, there is even very little direct political control, with the programs being run by experts. I really pity the parents and children in those poor countries that rely on United Nations educational grants: they have no influence whatsoever over education.

None of this money talk should be construed to imply that those teachers shouldn't make a buck like everybody else. I just question where those dollars are coming from and with the strings that are tied to those dollars.

The Early Reading First program is for pre-schoolers, so children are taken even earlier out of the homes, away from the influence of parents. Susan Blow started the first public Kindergarten in the nation in 1873, at Des Peres school in the Carondolet neighborhood of Saint Louis: the building still stands and is not too far from my house. The trend which she started is getting children out of the home at ever younger ages, and if they could grow children in artificial wombs, the State would gleefully raise the children in government schools from conception. However, even five years old is traditionally considered too young for taking a child out of the home; instead, formal schooling should be done only after the child has reached the age of reason. Of course, home education before that time is very important, but I question the idea of making this mandatory and standardized.

This program will have problems, but there are systems in place that will track, evaluate, and attempt to correct these problems. This is quite a modern phenomenon: new techniques cause problems, which in turn creates the need to make new techniques to solve the problems that the novel techniques caused in the first place. This type of mentality leads to a concentration of power, of course, with ever-more time and money being spent on creating and fixing problems. Ultimately, government budgets continue to take up a larger percentage of the entire economy, which in turn causes the need to grow the economy, by for example, taking women out of the home and into the workforce. This means that more funds must be spent on early education. This is a positive-feedback loop, so we can expect the trend to continue until the feedback-loop gets out of control. [By the way, an out-of-control feedback loop destroys the entire system.]

The public school system is loved and supported by both the extremes of the political Right and Left in the United States: both industry, wanting docile workers, and socialists, who want dependent wards of the State, think that the public schools are wonderful, so it isn't likely that change will happen any time soon. The public schools are all about the concentration of power: that is why philosophy—the ultimate subject of study for a free man—is not taught in the public schools. Sadly, there are those who seek power for its own sake, and so will play both sides against the middle for their own personal gain; pray for them!

Traditionally, education is the primary responsibility of parents. Some parents are better than others; with some parents not caring at all, with others turning their children into book-slaves in order to gain admission into Harvard or Yale, and perhaps the great middle are those who are dilligent but balanced. Our modern system neither trusts nor recognizes this parental right of education, and futilely attempts to create equal outcomes. Rather, the modern centralized system of government education seeks to eliminate parental control in favor the desires of the State.

Traditionally, when parents get together to form a school, they directly control the power of the purse, so have a great deal of responsibility and control over the education; but as schools are consolidated, this individual power is reduced dramatically, especially when the State starts making demands. Even in traditional Catholic schools, where teachers are paid very little, or nothing other than necessities, the power of the purse still has effect: parishes crumble if people don't give to the donation basket. Also, in urban areas, there are often numerous schools run by various religious orders: bad schools fail, good ones flourish. Even though a pastor is the monarch of his parish, and the bishop is the monarch of his diocese, they don't have the power of taxation. And most critically, the Church should be teaching perennial doctrines, and not unreasonable novelties: good or bad teaching has a traditional and objective basis, and a teacher cannot claim esoteric expertise against this objective standard. We live in an age where experts teach novelties, and we are expected to uncritically accept this.

Where public schools fail most obviously is in the core subjects. Traditionally, students were taught language, logical reasoning, mathematics, and philosophy; with this strong background they could pick up other subjects via reading. Vocational arts of course, were to be learned outside of the school with actual real-life experience. Modern public schools put second things first, and are extremely expensive by insisting on vocational education: students are taught transitory and expensive technologies in favor of the foundational subjects. There is also the tendency to increase the amount of time required in institutional education.

Traditionally, each Catholic school has to support itself; there are usually no subsidies or grants that perpetuate failure. Even at one time the public schools were like this. But the model of subsidy used in the public schools guarantees that bad schools will continue, and will get ever more expensive as failed programs are 'corrected'.

We ought to emphasize the "first thing" of gaining a good education and using it for its proper end, instead of the "second thing" of organizing and funding educational systems. Superb education can be had for a very low cost, but only if we want it.

No comments:

Post a Comment