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What are kids learning today in our schools?

Warwick Beacon ·

Once again America’s school children are back in the classroom, and what were once normal expectations about the prospective educational experience of any given student are no longer guaranteed. Modern education is far afield from the plans of teaching trailblazer Horace Mann’s “Three R’s” (reading, writing and arithmetic).

Today’s paradigm in education is pervasive with psychological and sociological considerations. Thus begging the question: Is the current “student must feel-good” manner of education a positive trend or an encumbrance to real learning? Additionally, possibly some old educational formats served our population better. Whereas, some older standards have been rightly altered.

The origins of education on the continent lead all the way back to British Colonial America. Where the only schools available were parochial religious-based schools usually directly attached to a church, which was the center of any given community. As the United States formed and then matured, the government recognized the need of providing a free and available public school system.

However in the modern day, education is less successful at engraining the basic foundation of knowledge and more centered on whether the student is treated in a politically correct fashion. For example, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) commissioned a study to examine the stress and anxiety level of students. Just fifty years ago, the idea of spending a couple of hundred thousand dollars to determine whether school kids are nervous about attending class would have been considered ridiculous.

As our children and grandchildren return to the classroom we need to reflect upon the unpromising testing scores, the falling rates of literacy, our lack of directed education toward high skilled jobs, and whether modern education’s lack of rigidity is truly benefiting our kids. Also, we need to ponder whether concentrating on transgender bathroom accommodations, cyber-bullying, alternative grading systems where no one can actually fail, social ascensions and establishing student mediators, are worth spending the majority of our educators and administrators’ time. Are property taxpayers getting a good bang for their buck in school?

Perhaps the old ways of instruction were more effective and more beneficial to our kids, and a better deal for the taxpayer’s investment.

In an effort to develop a literate American society, in 1852 compulsory schooling laws started being passed state by state. President Millard Fillmore thought our neighbors to the north in Massachusetts (which was the first state to force children’s attendance) passing a law that required students to attend school was potentially injurious to commerce. Children of quite young ages were used in various capacities in the manufacturing sector of that era. By 1917, every state in the union required all children aged six and older to seek enrichment in the schoolhouse.

The most prominent originator of how we educate our schoolchildren was Horace Mann. The Massachusetts Congressman Mann not only pushed for compulsory attendance but also set a foundation of what should be taught. Deemed the “Three R’s” in the newspapers of the day, Mann’s required foundation of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic became the most used educational slogan in the nation. Later, history and geography was added followed by mandatory civics. School years were formatted around the agrarian calendar of farming and harvesting. In the fifty years of states seeking to pass laws requiring student attendance, “Mann’s Plan” was the marketing key.

Still till this day, we have a 180-day school year with summers off and generous vacations during the school year. Since families no longer depend upon school age family members to sew seeds or shuck corn, the country should consider a change. Japan has a 243 day school year, while Germany has a 240 day school year. One could argue that if the US wants to compete in a highly technology-focused commercial market, perhaps we should follow the example of other competitive countries in the amount of time we train our pupils.

According to the Rand Corporation, the United States has dropped from number one in the world in 1965 in how students compared internationally to 27th out of 67 countries in 2015. The students were rated on a myriad of factors including graduation rates, future university attendance and success in math and science. And the Pearson Corporation, also in 2015, rated the United States 14th overall in educational outcomes out of 40 countries evaluated.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has stated that achievement scores or American students are well below the other top five highest top GDP countries. Also, the Education Week Resource Center rates all states comparatively. The Ocean State is rated a “B-“ for student chance for success, a “B” in school financing and a “C-“ in K-12 in student achievement.

Also here at home, the results of Rhode Island’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers (PARCC) are not comforting. Huge majorities of our schoolchildren have failed to meet basic standards. In Math a mere 33 percent of our kids were proficient. In English and Language Arts only 40 percent of our kids met the mark.

So where do we assign culpability for these lackluster statistics?

One argument is that the fault lies with teachers. Union triumphs have negotiated contracts that not only provide comfortable salaries but also prevent any extensions of the school year. Another debatable issue is teacher tenure. Once an educator obtains tenure, usually after five years of teaching, it is almost impossible for the teacher to be discharged.

Teaching can be a truly noble profession or a way to coast through life regurgitating old lesson plans until one waits for a cushy retirement. It all depends upon the character and capability of the educator. The problem is if a school cannot remove an ineffectual educator because of a union constraint, then how do the kids benefit?

Another argument is the over emphasis on politically correct aspects of modern educational thinking. A great deal of time, money and attention has been paid to social issues like LGBTQ concerns, which divert paid personnel from educating. Even costly structural changes to school buildings to accommodate special interests groups have prioritized funding that could be used for learning purposes. Further, the great expense of bilingual education should be examined. English as a national language should be revisited.

Also, recording is also a question. Teachers feel that they spend too much time doing much increased compliant paperwork, time that could be used actually teaching. This irrelevant move to appease Americans who are deeply concerned with the direction of education in our country has been a worthless burdensome addition to the teachers’ duties. Since tenured teachers almost never are released from their positions, there is no point to this futile exercise of additional accounting. If tenure is eliminated, then that issue would change in importance.

Lastly, the way we perceive how we should deal with students has changed over the years too, and not for the better. RIDE recently spent taxpayer money on a study on how stressed our pupils are. Schools used to be a place where kids complied or where punished. We are coddling these kids and are over-worried about their feelings. Life itself will put demands on these future adults and no one will care about their sensitivities then. They will have jobs with superiors who they will find tough to tolerate. They will have to endure things to earn a living which may not fulfill their sense of self. That’s life.

Simply, we can do better in educating our children. We need a longer school year to have the necessary time to teach our kids what they need to learn to be competitive in a fast changing world. We should no longer allow “social ascension” policies that graduate students who have not met the academic burden for receiving a diploma.

By restoring some of Horace Mann’s vision and lessening the current peripheral nonsense, our kids can do better. And education can be the silver bullet of opportunity it once was in America.