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Wednesday, March 15, 2006 

The State of the Public Schools 1

God-willing in May or possibly sooner I am planning on writing a series of posts on the state of the public school system in America (at least from my vantage point as a Substitute Teacher who has been in at least 30 different schools this year, was educated in the public school system, has previously been an advocate for public schools, and who is still considering a career in public school education). I had considered posting some questions today asking what types of issues you, the reader, are concerned with in regards to the public schools. I believe that I will eventually write on several subjects ranging from morality to ethics to overall education quality in the public school system and was hoping that some of you had some input to offer on what types of things about which you would like to know "the state of" in our schools.

However, after reading another post over at Bruce Prescott's Mainstream Baptist blog railing against homeschoolers and everything Evangelical when it comes to education (and basically anything else), I have decided to offer 5 reasons why, if right now I had children, I would no doubt homeschool them. In order to get some of what I am going to say, you might want to read Bruce's article, as well as the one posted by Ethics Daily by Ed Hogan on Christians pulling their children out of the public schools. So here goes:
  1. I believe that the public schools not only don't prevent segregation, they actually breeds it. This might sound strange to a few, so let me explain. First, in contrast to the cheap, tasteless, and immature shot Prescott takes at Evangelicals when he says, "Public Schools are the frontlines in the culture war that conservative Christians are waging in this country[; t]hey have been since the day that they were integrated," I believe that most, if not all, true Evangelicals are not only unopposed to integration, but want more of it in their lives, as well as in the lives of their children. The problem is, they aren't finding it when they walk through the doors of the school house. What they are getting is a set of cliques that are both racially and socio-economically segregated. Every day I see people shunned from one group only to respond with contempt to others desiring entrance into the group in which they eventually find themselves. I overheard a conversation yesterday between a Caucasian girl and a African-American female in which racial stereotypes were being heaped onto Hispanics. Last week I was accused of "hating black people" because I disciplined an African-American female in class, though just prior to that event I had disciplined a white male. Unfortunately integration hasn't worked well (despite enormous potential and the best of intentions), to all of our detriments. It has just spawned new arenas of opportunity for us to become more divided as a people. And the public schools are not at all helping to educate our children on the diversity of our culture, nor on the appropriate attitudes we should have in dealing with those with whom we are not similar.
  2. The public school system is self-destructing and rapidly becoming a barrier to our children's education. While Prescott charges that Christians are trying to destroy public education, the opposite is true: public education is trying to destroy our children. Every day I walk into schools where the level of discipline is non-existent. Take today, for instance. I saw a new level of disrespect for authority when I actually had a student take a swing at me when my back was turned. And while I, as well as the student, knew that he was not trying to make contact, it was pretty obvious to me that he was not in an environment that discouraged such activity, nor even attempted to address it as disrespectful. I have been in other schools where the students would cuss out their teachers in front of the class, only to have the teacher do nothing or simply walk away, afraid or unwilling to intervene. Even good solid students who care are unable to overcome these types of distractions and learn the material that they so desperately need to be successful in life. Taking children out of environments such as those is not killing the public schools, it is preserving the life of the next generation.
  3. The level of education in the public schools is severely inadequate in comparison to that of children who are homeschooled. Study after study shows that those who are homeschooled academically outperform those who are publicly educated on both standardized tests and in regards to future college achievements. And while Prescott, Hogan, and Blow focus on one or two poorly written textbooks for homeschooling, they completely ignore these numbers, as well as many more. These guys claim to be for education, yet they choose to focus on one misrepresentation in one textbook, all the while their children are statistically falling further and further behind those same homeschoolers they loathe. "Isn't it ironic, don't ya think? Yeah, I really do think."
  4. The public schools do not teach tolerance of views and few teachers care to offer both sides of the issue to their students. Hogan (and ultimately Prescott) suggests that homeschooling textbooks can be used to "[teach] our children to be intolerant of others who disagree with us politically," yet anyone who caught just two minutes of the tape that high school student Sean Allen produced of his geography teacher's madman-like rant on the American government should be much more worried about what is happening with those who are receiving our tax dollars to educate our children. And not to mention the fact that many biology teachers spread out all across this nation are not even allowed to offer any sort of critique on the outdated and sorely unscientific approach to the "origin of the species" currently holding sway over our nation's young minds.
  5. And finally, speaking of taxes, I actually believe that teaching my own children not only helps the public schools out economically by decreasing the burden of already jam-packed classrooms, but it also helps out the economy as a whole both though encouraging greater competition by raising the educational bar and through the positive impact that better educated children have on the nation in general. The idea that Prescott seems to suggest, which is that homeschoolers and private school educators want to use "tax dollars in the form of vouchers to subsidize the education of their children in their intolerance" is ludicrous. Take my tax dollars if you think it will save the dying public school systems, but don't accuse me of wanting to use government money "to indoctrinate [my] children in values that are opposed to the constitution." I don't want tax dollars spent on indoctrination either. So, if you are so for the separation of church and state and religious liberty, why not give tax breaks to those who homeschool and do private education, instead of vouchers and call it even? That way no one can say they subsidize indoctrination, because it's obvious it's not just coming from the Christian side.

My final point is this: the public schools are in a sad shape and instead of guys like Bruce Prescott, Ed Hogan, and Steve Blow telling everyone how much private Christian educators threaten to destroy the public schools, why don't they just admit this fact, along with the admission that private education is producing better educated kids, and start helping to effect change in the schools by trumpeting these facts and pressing public teachers, administrators, and superintendents to raise the level of the classroom by instituting discipline on both the children and their teachers? They are right to say that public schools are being destroyed, they just missed the boat on who is causing the devastation.

DR--

I think you're right on here. The problem, or one of the problems, is that we have let our children in the US become autonomous. They are their own rulers. This is certainly not a biblical concept. The idea of "training up a child" has been replaced with "let your child find himself as he grows." And the result? Children who never grow up. Teenagers in their 30s.

Looking forward to your posts.

Good stuff. I'll post a response when I get home. Nice job.

Howie Luvzus

Nicely said, DR. I spent three years teaching in public high schools.

Folks like Prescott and his ilk are so out of touch on this topic, it makes you wonder if they've spent any time at all in public schools in recent years.

Of course, they're perfectly happy for public schools to churn out ignorant, uneducated students -- as long as they're liberal. Heaven forbid that homeschooling and private schooling might produce intelligent, creative, independent thinkers who might not blindly swallow their liberal dogma.

The public schools do not teach tolerance of views and few teachers care to offer both sides of the issue to their students. Hogan (and ultimately Prescott) (from your post)

Bruce seems to me to fully represent what the public schools are teaching.
He opened up the comments section on his site, but screens out anyone like myself that disagrees with him. Such hypocrisy, to pretend to be an open site and then delete or screen out opposing views. I personally know of someone else that he will not post their comments.
Marilyn

I agree with some, but disagree with most of what you said here. But I didn't write to address it right now. Instead, I just want to point out that, as you weigh and judge public schools, be wary of doing so as compared to some non-existent glory days of public education.

Many folk think that education was so much better in the 40s and 50s and up in to the 1960s, than it is now.

What most folk fail to account for is that it's a very different creature now from then.

Back in the 50s, only 50% of people graduated from high school. In the 40s, it was only 40%. It's increased with each generation and we're now trying to educate practically every citizen. As someone who was briefly a teacher (special ed - behavior disorders) and who has a background in education, I can tell you authoritatively that it is a different thing to try to teach everyone as opposed to trying to teach only half of everyone.

Was education "better" in the 1950s? Yes, for those able to stay in school and graduate. All the children who struggled or had behavior or learning issues could and did just drop out (for the most part), streamlining the education process for those remaining and freeing up resources to spend on those who remained.

I admit I have my issues with the school system. And I have two kids in public school right now. It may interest you all to know that it has more to do with public education being too "conservative-as-currently-defined," or perhaps better stated: that public education invariably teaches predominant cultural values that conflict with mine (and yours, but for different reasons).

So, I understand and am somewhat sympathetic to homeschoolers (less so with private schoolers), but still keep my kids in the school because I believe in the value of trying to teach everyone - not just 50% - and because I believe in the value of being part of a group of diversified folk, even when I disagree with the dominant paradigm.

Food for thought.

Hey Dan--

Just read your comment. A few quick questions (as this is a topic that quite interests me).

(1) Where are the stats from? I'd like to check them out for myself in context (not that I think you've misrepresented anything; I'm just a go-and-get-it-from-the-horse's-mouth sort of guy).

(2) I don't see the logical link between (a) keeping your kids in public schools and your stated motivation (b) because you believe in attempting to educate all citizens--not just 50%. I'm missing something here. My guess is that you mean something like the following: "I believe in the mission (as you've defined it) of public education; therefore, I will support public education by keeping my children in it." That I can understand. But I was hoping for some clarification as to whether or not I've gotten your train of thought.

All the children who struggled or had behavior or learning issues could and did just drop out (for the most part)

Was this really the main motivation for dropping out of school during the era you've adduced? I don't know. I do know that in the previous generation (say, that of my grandfather who would have been in school in the 30s-40s), the main motivation for dropping out of school was esentially economic--i.e., he had to become an economically-productive member of the family ASAP, and that made education a desirable but not practical goal. I'm not sure whether or not such economic pressures also played a role in low graduation rates in the 50s.

Where does your information come from anent students with behavior/learning problems just dropping out of school. I'm sure such things happened. I'm just curious as to whether or not drop-out rates in the 1950s are singularly attributable to mental health concerns (as you seem to imply: "All the children who struggled or had behavior or learning issues..." [I don't think, by "struggle," you had in mind economic pressures on the homefront]).

My hypothesis (unproven, but testable) is that there were far fewer mental health concerns fifty years ago among middle- and high-school students than there are today. So, again, I'd like to check out your sources of info.

Thanks.

Thanks for asking, cks. I did this research back when I was in school and got my numbers from the census bureau but would have to do a bit of checking to provide it. I'll be glad to give it a try.

What I found at the time was that the high school graduation rate progressed roughly by decade (~40% in the 40s up to the ~80% in the 1980s and holding in that 80-90% range since - that's what my poor memory tells me I found in the census results).

I also found out, while in education school, the somewhat intuitive notion that the single most influential indicator of school success is not IQ or economic (both of which are important factors), but parental support.

So, my contention that "the children who struggled or had behavior or learning issues could and did just drop out" (which I did not mean to infer was a main reason - just one reason - for dropping out), is based upon conjecture knowing that economic and parental issues often conjoin to produce troubled students. I've no research on that point, it's own my theory. Seems reasonable, though.

And yes, you understand why I keep my children in public schools.

I'll let you know when I find more from the census bureau (or another source).

Interesting stats:

In 1900, about 1 in 10 (11 percent) of all 14- to 17-year-olds were
enrolled in high school; in 1997, more than 9 in 10 (93 percent) were in grades 9-12.

In 1900, about 95,000 people graduated from high school and 28,700 earned bachelor's degrees. In 1997, 2.7 million people received high school diplomas and 1.2 million were awarded bachelor's degrees.

From:
http://www.census.gov/Press-Release/
www/1999/cb99-238.html

[This is a really interesting source of various info. Check it out:

The U.S. government had $567 million in receipts in 1900. In 1999, the government took in $1.7 trillion. [ouch! dt]

"Over the past 100 years, the nation's population nearly quadrupled, the number of divorced people grew nearly a hundredfold, the number of married women in the workforce increased more than 40 times, motor vehicles moved from a novelty to a necessity [they call it a 'necessity', I call it an addiction -dt] and the air we breathe became nearly 10 times more polluted..."

Dan, I think you assumed that I was trying to compare public schools today with public schools back in the "glory days," however this is not true. As early as the 1920's men like J. Gresham Machen lamented the state of public education, speaking specifically of the quickly degrading standards. I am sure that teachers are better equipped, more knowledgable, and better prepared to teach than they were in the 20's, 30's, 40's, and 50's. And like CKS, I am sure that behavioral and learning problems played a rather minor role in dropout rates, as formal education was not looked at as essential for future employment as it is today.

Having said that, I am not sure exactly what other points there would be in which we would disagree. I am not at all suggesting that taking prayer out of schools or the 10 commandments or anything else is what the problem of the schools are. I am saying it is the level of education, the lack of discipline, and the failure of meeting goals and expectations that are the reasons that I would keep my future children out of the public school system.

And I am not sure if I believe everyone "deserves" an education. Of course I tend to believe that the only thing any of us "deserves" (including myself) is hell. We are blessed by God to receive anything we get. The sense of entitlement in this country is massively problematic. And it spans across all socio-economical classes. People should have to work for an education. They should be required to meet basic requirements and they should be expected to behave themselves. We have to start holding people accountable for their actions, whether they be parents, teachers, or students.

Also, it seems that you believe that children get a more diversified education in public schools than in homeschool settings and private schools. I am wondering why do you make the decision to send your kids to public schools when the numbers seem to indicate that they are much less likely to recieve a better education there than in either of the two options? I see what CKS said and how you agreed with that, but it doesn't make sense if you acknowledge that the data is accurate. Why would you want to take a more of a chance with your childrens' educations when you could be more secure about it by sending them to private schools or by teaching them yourself? And in regard to the diversification defense -- couldn't they be exposed to diverse ideas and people through public service and eventually, to a much greater extent, in college? I am just curious because you seem to see the reasons and the facts (not specifically taking issue with any), but argue and act to the contrary.

Finally, I would like for you to discuss or at least point out what it is you exactly disagree with, since you noted that you disagreed with "most" of what I wrote.

"I think you assumed that I was trying to compare public schools today with public schools back in the "glory days,""

Not necessarily. I just wanted to make sure you weren't doing so.

"As early as the 1920's..."

Of course, and as early as Aristotle, folk were complaining about the state of education and today's youth. And, of course, we're right to be concerned.

"I am sure that behavioral and learning problems played a rather minor role"

I'm not so sure but I don't think either of us have research to back our position, at this point.

"I am saying it is the level of education, the lack of discipline, and the failure of meeting goals and expectations..."

The education level, in my estimation, can always improve, but only with investment. I think we're getting what we pay for.

You're a substitute teacher, do you think teachers could do a better job with smaller classes? With an assistant in each room?

Yes, IF all our children were properly parented and IF they were all behaving properly, then we wouldn't need smaller classes or assistants. But this is not reality.

We have children with parents who, for one reason or another, are not helping them reach their potential. We have families that are struggling from poverty issues ("In 2003... Thirty percent of related children under 18 [in Jefferson County] were below the poverty level," US census report) and sometimes, they're just too busy struggling to survive to ensure their children are doing well in school.

In years past I suspect that largely these were the kids who were able to drop out and get factory jobs, work on the farm or in the mines.

"I am wondering why do you make the decision to send your kids to public schools when ... they are much less likely to recieve a better education"

There are all kinds of education. I want my children to be educated in working side by side with other kids, kids who sometimes struggle, who sometimes come from different cultures, who sometimes (heaven forbid!) come even from conservative families (just messing with ya.)

Yeah, I could homeschool them and they'd statistically may score higher on tests. But that's only one part of education. For us.

As I said, I'm sympathetic to homeschoolers and not opposed to it necessarily. Just not the path we've taken.

This is long enough. Sorry for taking so much space, but you asked a buncha questions.

Way to go, DR. One of the shots against home-schooled kids I've heard is that they don't have the social skills of others. I've met a few who didn't, but the majority were just fine. They were right on. With all schools and teaching, it's just a matter of what the kid puts into it. I went to a private school in Mobile because the school system here stinks (just slightly better than New Orleans' was, made Mississippi look like the best in the country). But I had plenty of friends from public schools who were smarter and better educated than I was when I got to Auburn- that includes ones from Mobile.

Having said that, our school board just fired our superintendent, and their interviews were sad. I think there's going to be a big scandal down here soon. That or those board members are not going to be re-elected. I hate Mobile politics. Church or regular. (Rant off.)

Joe,

I've come to a conclusion about the argument that homeschoolers don't have the social skills of others. Yes, some of them don't. But typically, those who don't have parents who don't have the best social skills, either.

"Finally, I would like for you to discuss or at least point out what it is you exactly disagree with, since you noted that you disagreed with "most" of what I wrote."

I reckon I reject the central tenet of your point which, as I read it, is that we have an education problem. You stated, "The public school system is self-destructing" and "The level of education in the public schools is severely inadequate..."

We have cultural problems, poverty problems, parenting problems and these are all pouring over into education. But, for the most part, our underpaid and underappeciated teachers are better qualified and educated and doing more than ever.

As I stated earlier, we are trying to educate everyone and trying to do so the same way as when we were teaching only 40-60% of everyone and it is a different task to teach everyone than to teach half of everyone.

What do we do with children who are falling behind? Who are disruptive? Who have no or inadequate home support?

The easy answer is to simply expel them so the kids who want to be there can be educated unimpeded. But then we would have a large group of (often poor and minority) children who would go uneducated and how would that impact society?

This is one central question that needs to be answered. Pulling our kids out to homeschool them does nothing to deal with that problem. Putting our kids in private school does nothing. Kicking them out does not answer it.

And so, my main contention with your point (as I understood it) is that we have a societal problem that is impacting our education process moreso than an educational problem.

Looking forward to hearing more from you on this.

Homeschool your youngins. They may be nerdy, but the'll be smart and they wont smoke dope!

DR,

contact me. its regarding a church position.

bsanders@spiritfm.com

Bishop Brian

I look forward to your insights. I am a Children's Minister and have been a sub at public schools in the past. The whole day was designed to waste time - most of what we taught could have been done in 35 minutes, not 7 hours.

Keep up the good work.

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Paul was not interested merely in the ethical principles of religion or of ethics. On the contrary, he was interested in the redeeming work of Christ and its effect upon us. His primary interest was in Christian doctrine, and Christian doctrine not merely in its presuppositions but at its centre. -- J. Greshem Machen.

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