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Whenever a society is in trouble economically and threatens to become a third world country, politicians jump on teachers, teacher unions, and education institutions and loudly start the blame game. Instead of looking at themselves and examining why their political policies are not working, they attack the public schools and teachers and yell for “educational reform.” They need to be reminded that the human brain is the most complex organ in the world and needs to be nourished with good food, excellent health care, a comfortable home, and guidance exercised by responsible parents, relatives, and neighbors. And they must recognize that teaching is a complex and confounding mixture of art and science. Cheap and inexperienced teachers just won’t do.
A kindergarten teacher looks at her class and knows that each child has a brain that has the capacity of 100 billion neurons with snapping, crackling, and popping axons zipping messages in warp speed. Even small brains can store 100 terabytes of information. (One terabyte equals one trillion “bits.” My computer is capable of storing about one terabyte.) To illustrate how complex the brain is, the 1952 DSM-1 manual used by psychiatrists for diagnosing mental illness contained 95 specific diagnoses for mental illness. In the seventy years since that first manual, we have now discovered 283 separate mental illnesses. One of the amazing things about the brain is its demonical use of energy. The adult brain weighs about three pounds but in a 225-pound man it will use 20 percent of the energy created by the body.
The brain is an amazing instrument. A baseball hitter facing a fastball pitcher who can throw a 100 mph fastball is in the batter’s box just 60 ft. 6 inches away and has just 0.4 seconds to determine whether to swing. The sequence of events is extraordinary: (1) Light enters eye, (2) Retina sends messages to cells and circuitry at back of head about the flight of the ball, (3) Motor areas of body are alerted so they can modify muscles swinging at the ball, (4) Batter swings at pitch and may hit ball. All in slightly less than 0.4 seconds. But compared to other skills, hitting a fastball is not necessarily a remarkable skill.
We Must Educate For
Life, Not Just A Job
A job is necessary to support a life, but a job is such a small part of what life should be. Sure, we must develop job skills, whether bricklaying, playing the flute, or being a moon astronaut. But we must also develop the ability to participate in civic and political affairs. We must develop areas for creative self-expression in art, music, drama, dance, and writing. We must develop the ability to have rewarding relationships with others. And how are we going to spend our leisure time? Thinking about the line “Most men live lives of quiet desperation,” or in activities that add pleasure and meaning to our lives? We accomplish this by educating the whole person. We can’t do it with just science, mathematics, and mandated standardized tests.
Let’s Look At The
Strike For A Moment
According to the politicians in Illinois, including the Democratic mayor Rahm Emanuel, there was a great need for “educational reform.” The Chicago schools are equipped for the 19th or early 20th century, not the 21st. Almost 90 percent of the public school students qualify as low income. In other words, almost all have no books, magazines, or newspapers in their homes. Many have no experiences more than 12 blocks from their homes—that is, if they have a home. There are over 15,000 homeless children attending Chicago schools. Over 160 Chicago schools have no library. The 310,000 low-income students are served by only 370 social workers. Many classrooms have more than forty students. In Chicago elementary classrooms, ten percent of the students are suffering from asthma because of city pollution, 20 percent cannot get a good night’s sleep because of crowded homes, and 30 percent have to think about the shooting they have witnessed in their neighborhoods. Some have only one nutritious meal a day, the one in school. And yet the politicians and Republican media are screaming that we need “educational reform.” We don’t need educational reform, we need economic reform. We have 48 million on food stamps, 15.9 percent of the population in poverty, and over 20 percent of the children below the poverty line. Children coming from below-poverty-level homes have few amenities such as nutritional food, health care, living space, magazines, newspapers, Internet capability, and good recreation facilities. All of these qualities provide a good base for educational success. “Red” Republican states lead the nation with 18 to 22 percent poverty rates. Seventeen states increased poverty rates last year and only one decreased its poverty rate (Vermont). Thirty-two managed to stay even. The Harvest Food Bank in North Carolina served 135,000 in 2008. In 2012 it serves 300,000, even with less federal government support.
The American Economic
Concentration Of Wealth
The Forbes “400” list came out last week. While each middle-class family lost $4,000 (from $54,000 to $50,000) in buying power in the last decade, the “400” members each gained $400 million in just the last year, jumping their wealth from an average of $3.8 billion to $4.2 billion. We now have the widest income inequality in the history of the world. But, most importantly, we seem to have an extreme shortage of traditional conservatives who believe that government is necessary to curb the excesses of the “Club for Growth” type of economic conservatives who generally make up psychopathic One Percenters. Their only interest seems to be the accumulation of money and assets. Real conservatives know that all the different classes of income, status, and heredity must have “skin” in the society game.
As conservative columnist of the New York Times David Brooks wrote, “[A traditional conservative] didn’t see society as a battle ground between the government and the private sector. Instead, the traditionalist wanted to preserve a society that functioned as a harmonious ecosystem, in which the different layers were nestled upon each other: individual, family, company, neighborhood, religion, city government, and national government. They believed that people should lead disciplined, orderly lives, but doubted that individuals have the ability to do this alone, unaided by social custom and by God. So they were intensely interested in creating the sort of social, economic, and political order that would encourage people to work hard, finish school, and postpone childbearing until marriage...the [traditional] conservative believes in prudence on the grounds that society is complicated and it’s generally best to reform it steadily but cautiously.”
Where Have All The
Traditional Conservatives Gone?
As a liberal-commie-pinko-Libertarian, I have no argument with traditional conservatives unless they go wacko over abortion, homosexuality, and sex discrimination, particularly against women. Women are not second-class citizens programmed to give birth to little economic conservatives.
The problem is, we have very few traditional conservatives left. Economic conservatives have overwhelmed the traditionalists and moderates in the Republican Party. They believe that government interferes with the free market and economic liberty, the “highest political value” anyone could have. The search for the Almighty Dollar and what property and expensive doodads they can acquire in bunches seems to give them economic “Alzheimer’s.”
The collection of wealth and 100,000-square-foot homes seem to be all-consuming. When is enough enough? $100 million estates? $500,000 watches? 400-ft. yachts? $1,000 bottles of wine? $750,000 autos? $5,000 purses? $6,000 shower curtains? $15,000 elephant-foot umbrella stands? $50,000 for kindergarten tuition? How about the Florida couple with a 90,000-sq.-ft. home who bought $8,000 Segways for each one of their eight children so they could ride around the house? How dull.
And Cheap Teachers
In every state since the 2010 elections, when many economic conservatives and Tea Party wackos were elected, there has been an effort to destroy teacher unions. Teachers join unions for protection from economic predators, just as businesses join the Chamber of Commerce and farmers join the Farm Bureau for protection from Wall Street and banksters. Politicians yell about getting rid of bad teachers and the amount of money spent on education. In Minnesota it was blatantly apparent that Republicans wanted to change seniority rules so they could fire “expensive” teachers and keep cheap teachers. Don’t they realize how expensive cheap teachers can be? How about flying with a cheap airline pilot? How about a root canal from a cheap dentist? How about hiring a cheap bankruptcy lawyer to sue a hospital for medical negligence?
We have to solve obscene income inequality before we even consider “educational reform.” We need economic and tax reform so that we give children the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty. We need to emphasize exactly what 19th-century programs such as Leave No Child Behind have taken away from good educational programs. LNCB was specifically designed to have every public school on a failing list by 2014 so that private and money-making charter schools could prosper. Charter schools are basically a scam to get hands on scarce tax money that should go to public schools. Chicago has over 100 charter schools as a result of school failures in the ghettoes. On average, they do no better than the public schools they have replaced. And they can select their students instead of taking on all comers. How many charter schools accept mentally and physically handicapped students?
Brooks adds, “In the polarized political conflict with liberalism, hostility toward government has become the organizing conservative principle. Economic conservatives have the money and the institutions. They have taken control [of the Republican Party]. Speakers at Republican gatherings always use the language of market conservatism—getting government off our backs, enhancing economic freedom.”
To Educate Our Students,
We Must Follow
The Finnish Model
The little country of Finland ranks first in K-12 education in the world. Why? Its children are not in poverty. Every child is protected by a safety net that provides health care, nutritional breakfasts and lunches, excellent housing, pre-school programs, recreation facilities, parental leaves for pre-natal and post-natal care, and many other amenities that provide for a “cultural” life. Every home has a government-financed and maintained computer connected to the Internet for the private and public use of parents and children.
Finnish teachers are paid as well as lawyers and engineers and are held in high esteem by the society. There are about ten well-qualified applicants for every teaching position in Finland. Finnish teachers do not use standardized tests in their curriculum. They determined long ago that such tests are a waste of valuable teaching time. Finnish students do not have much homework or testing until the middle school years.
Finland has an equal society. As an example, speeding tickets are based on the violator’s income, not a standard fee. Finnish society also leads the world in continuing education circles. The average resident checks out 17 library books a year.
Thirty years ago, Finland had top-down testing, standardized tests, tracking of students into ability levels, and teachers who were not admired or had the trust of parents or students. They realized that they really needed to reform their entire system. Finland is the world leader today because it raised teachers to societal respectability by educating them and paying them well. Then the teachers developed a system of educating individual children instead having an assembly line making plastic widgets.