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Monday, January 02, 2006

The Sad State of Education

[Although this was posted Monday night, consider this Tuesday's 0PEN P0ST. Link and teebee away, folks. Questions? Ask 'em in comments.]

No, the "Sad State" is not a locale. *sigh* And it's not limited to the United States, from what aquaintances in Australia, Britain, Canada, France and elsewhere tell me. It seems the West as a rule is intent on committing suicide and educational malpractice is just one of the chosen means. But this post only deals with a few limited aspects of the problem in the U.S.

This recent (one of many, many such) discussion at Chaos Manor touches briefly on just one aspect of the deplorable state of education in the U.S. While I think Dr. Pournelle's probably correct on the fundamental issue of reading comprehension (which evidence indicates has declined even further from the deplorable state reflected in the 1992 NALS), the problem of reading comprehension is much more complex than simply poor decoding, as I am sure he'd agree.

Nevertheless, the fact that so very many high school and college grads are such poor functional readers, needing to actually struggle to decode the text, and thus actually read very little of consequence (why struggle with difficult concepts unless absolutely necessary when struggling with the coded text is difficult enough?) and comprehend so little, so shallowly, what they do read is extremely troubling.

(Have difficulty parsing long, complicated, convoluted sentences? Blame your teachers, in part.)

A subliterate democracy is in serious trouble. On many levels. An obvious area of concern is that of an informed electorate. If you have the stomach for it, listen to some blow-dried newspuppets for a while. Even "reading" their prepared scripts is too much for these airheads. Seldom does a newsreader notice that some other subliterate has handed them copy that contains misused words or amphibolous construction, let alone more problematic, outright lies. Why? Because their shallow education and lack of breadth and depth of reading has left most of them incapable of even knowing when they are spewing gibberish.

But no problem. Most of the people who get their information from such "sources" can't tell, anyway.

And that's a real problem. Combine arrogant elitism and greed with subliteracy (the typical problems of elite so-called liberals and their welfare plantation serfs) and it's no wonder "progressive" social programs are disasters, felled by unintended (to put the best construction on it) consequences. Combine cowardice, greed and subliteracy (but three of faux "conservative" problems) and the recipe is just as disasterous.

In each case, only one of the variables is open to much amelioration via public policy, and that's the true literacy rate.

Of course, changes there seem next to impossible, as long as the least competent to direct education are influencing what is taught and how. I mean, of course, professors of education in colleges and universities whose faddish experimentations with generations of American students have been largely instrumental in creating the cesspool that is public education today. And who could neglect to mention the politicians and educrats from Washington D.C. down to State legislatures who have made huge strides toward creating generations of stupid American sheeple?

Washington D.C. Easily the worst school system in the country. And Congress is directly responsible for administering it. Yeh. The more congresscritters can make the rest of the country like D.C....

And public school administrators. *sigh* Bless their little pea-pickin' hearts. Or perhaps I ought to say, little pea-brained heads. Not exactly dumber than rocks, but certainly the most proximal stumbling blocks to most children's early education. (Love the redundancy? :-)

What to do? I'm with Pournelle on several remedies.

1.) Teach them to read. No, really read. There are vanishingly few children who cannot be taught to read with greatly better proficiency than is reflected in the latest NAAL report. Oh, BTW, only folks who are both able and willing to drill down into the actual report will discover that. The website could easily mislead (well, by outright lies, in a few cases *sigh*) people into believing things have improved since 1992 with the summary statements and topic headlines. Remember: it's a highly-politicized topic and the report is heavy on CYA.

2.) Put control of local curriculum and teaching methodology back at the local level. Period. Some schools will excell. Some will end up "excelling" only in mediocrity. Others will be abject failures. But in any case, the schools need to be completely the responsibility of the local citizens, no matter how dim-witted and uninformed they may have been made by their own educatinal experiences. There are almost always enough people who both care about there children's education and are capable of rational thought to make locally-managed (no, really: no state or federal "mandates" funded or otherwise!) to make a go of it.

3.) (This one is not Pournelle's formulation) Give productive work to education professors. Breaking rocks or cleaning cesspools or something. ANYTHING but letting them corrupt another generation of teachers.

It'd take some shakeout time, but in the end removing remote management by educrats and politicians and stifling dumbass "schools of education" this pseudo democratic republic just might have a chance of surviving.

Otherwise, we'd better get ready to hand the keys over to China.

(BTW, I've alluded to this before, but a quick restatement here might be in order. While I began my pubschool journey well before half of the Americans alive today were born, I do not consider my own education to have been untouched by the idiocies we see around us today. My own gradeschool through high school years [college and grad were private schools] were filled with pap. I was always amazed at my gransparents' educational depth-especially after I began to be exposed in college to many of the things they learned in their high school years. Yep. Though three of my four grandparents did attend college, and two attain degrees-one advanced degrees-their personal libraries of high school texts contained significant cultural literacy that I never even had classroom exposure to in college! Or grad school... Glad am I for my grandparents' examples of continuing education apart from formal schooling... Oh, yeh, my parents, too, I guess. heh :-)

Kept after school at Basil's.

[Minor update for proofreaders: No, I'm NOT going to correct any more typos. I will change the batteries in my wireless keyboard, though. :-)
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