Back in the Triassic Era, when I attended school, education was quite different. Only kids living in ritzy enclaves like those of my buddy Christopher Fountain attended private schools. The rest of us attended local public schools - and there we received fine educations. We studied the masters of literature in English, learned about biology, chemistry, astronomy and more in science, found out how our nation was created and the current events of the day, hunkered down to master geometry, algebra and trig, took on Spanish or French- along with a host of other topics. Bad behavior in class sent us to a study hall after school or the principal's office. We were graded according to our performance - and woe to those of us who came home with a lousy report card.
My, how school has changed.
Just a few miles from where I attended school in suburban Chicago, George Will writes about Chicago's schools of today, their teachers - and the teacher's unions.
Teachers unions, however, have painted themselves into a corner by insisting that spending is the best predictor of educational performance — increase financial inputs and cognitive outputs will rise. In the past 50 years, real per pupil spending nationwide has tripled and the number of pupils per teacher has declined by a third, yet educational attainments have fallen. Abundant data demonstrate that the vast majority of differences in schools’ performances can be explained by qualities of the families from which the children come to school: the amount of homework done at home, the quantity and quality of reading material in the home, the amount of television watched in the home and, the most important variable, the number of parents in the home. In Chicago, 84 percent of African American children and 57 percent of Hispanic children are born to unmarried women.
The city is experiencing an epidemic of youth violence — a 38 percent surge in the homicide rate, 53 people shot on a recent weekend, random attacks by roving youth mobs. Social regression, driven by family disintegration, means schools where teaching is necessarily subordinated to the arduous task of maintaining minimal order.
What happened? Where did our society go wrong? I agree with teachers who say it is difficult to educate children who come from homes that may be described as "challenged" at best. But, why did anyone ever think that the more teachers were paid and by hiring more and more "administrators" at ever increasing salaries and benefits, that our schools would improve - and the education of children along with it?
For those who say that a woman really doesn't need to be married to have children - do you really think we are better off in a world where only 16% of black children grow up with a married mother and father in the house? For those who say that the old fashioned value systems of years gone by should remain in the past ... how easy do you think it is for children to learn when they live in fear of being gunned down, and roam the streets like packs of wild animals?
And, does anyone think that perhaps a welfare system that broke apart families and taught children that one could live entire lives on the backs of others who worked throughout their adult lives might not, in retrospect, really have been a good idea?
I assuredly do not have all the answers for fixing our schools and improving the quality of poor neighborhoods and families. Yet, I do know that continuing on with the "same old, same old" and increasing the pay of teachers to do it by 30% is not the answer.
Fifty years ago, a child could attend a modest public school and get a quality education. And it was achieved for one third the cost of a crap education today. Let's step outside the box. Let's tell ourself that it is cruelly unfair to today's children - and to the generations of children to come - that we perpetrate this education fraud on them.
Let's gather some guts, tell ourselves that we need to make serious changes to our system - and then hunker down and do it. The time to stop pointing fingers at George Bush - or anyone else in the past - has gone by. It is our responsibilty to change what is so wrong.