Superstition Ain’t the Way

OK, everyone bop over to see the terminally cheerful Carrie Luce take on the redneck homeschoolers, here, here, and here. That’s the best I can do for your Google and Technorati rankings, Carrie.

The central issue, for me, is the same as with speculative evolution: What is real and what is fictitious?

Public education is presented as the only “natural” and “observable” form of education, the obvious commonsense choice for any rational person. Homeschooling is presented as the choice of irrational kooks, manipulative hypocrites, vicious child abusers, and illiterate hilljacks.

[Expendable Preliminary Theory]

The government entities at all levels, for some odd reason, all assert that the parents (or legal guardians) of a child are primarily responsible for that child’s education. Sure, they may not enforce it as Carrie would like, but when pressed, that is the opinion that judges and bureaucrats will give, unless a court finds specific cause to abrogate the parental right to make choices on the child’s behalf.

Hence, in the moment prior to the child’s actual start of something like a formal educational process, the parents have a decision to make. For the next 12-18 years, depending on when it starts and continuing until the age of majority, the parents have the exclusive legal and ethical responsibility to guide the child’s education. Regardless of how it is implemented, monitored, or enforced, the inescapable fact is that the buck stops there. Sometimes varying degrees of responsibility are delegated to others, but even in that case the decision to delegate remains that of the parents.

There is unanimous agreement about this concept among police, judges, bureaucrats, school officials, and even professional teachers. Sometimes they will go further than I do here, and say that even though the parents delegated responsibility to someone else, they are still responsible for the results.

Carrie, however, asserts that government entities, specifically local school districts, have a prior responsibility for a child’s education and the right to make choices on the child’s behalf. Not only does their responsibility precede that of the parents, it supersedes that of the parents, extending to responsibility for the child’s social, economic, medical, and psychological circumstances and all educational outcomes. The government entities, apparently, sometimes choose to delegate these responsibilities to the parents temporarily, but not the right to make choices on the child’s behalf.

Surprisingly, this is a respectable point of view among some political philosophers. The idea is that the government could not revoke parental rights and responsibilities if it had not the prior jurisdiction to grant them, and everyone acknowledges that courts can revoke them.

That may theoretically be true, but in practice,

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. (Constitution of the United States of America)

and I am asserting that, in general, states assign this responsibility to local school districts, at the discretion of the parents. Here is the point of controversy: school districts are responsible for providing educational services to parents, not for ensuring the child’s education. Moreover, the right of parents to make choices on the child’s behalf is neither granted nor delegated, but rather acknowledged by the states as preexisting.

[The Rant]

So, the initial responsibility for implementing and evaluating education lies with the parents. They must look to their own personal experience and education, their finances, the locally available options, and so forth. They could delegate some responsibility to the local school district. Promoters of public education assert that its practitioners are all highly qualified, experienced, licensed by the state, and certified in the fields they teach; carefully screened; situated in safe, appropriate facilities; and provided with accurate, unbiased curricula. Moreover, they say, the outcomes are carefully and regularly monitored, and caring, effective interventions are implemented promptly.

The parents check with neighbors, friends, the state Department of Education, national standards organizations, news services, and so on. They may find the following:

  • Not all the teachers are highly qualified according to the guidelines of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, since the National Education Association has resisted fully implementing requirements in order to protect teachers with seniority and districts with tight budgets.
  • Because of teacher shortages in certain fields, regions, municipalities, and types of schools, the teachers have varying amounts of experience, starting with none; or their experience may not be in the subject they are teaching.
  • Some teachers are only licensed as substitutes, even though they may teach for an entire year. They may have no more qualifications than the students they are teaching, other than a high school diploma, and they are working for less than half the pay of most contracted teachers. In some districts, up to 200 of the teachers each day may be substitutes, and up to 2% of the students may have no teacher at all (Indianapolis Star, 12 December 2006).
  • Many of the teachers, especially in math and science, are not certified to teach in their subject area.
  • Teacher candidates cannot be checked comprehensively for non-felony criminal violations or civil suits in other states, and maybe not even for disciplinary actions or student complaints within the same state. An average of 10% of students are victims of sexual abuse by teachers or staff; in primary grades, offenders tend to be the most liked and trusted. Yet, teachers and schools resist attempts to protect children: “Until recently, teacher unions in many states have actively opposed legislation that would require positive identification (e.g., fingerprinting) of teachers convicted of sexual abuse of students. In most states, teachers who are already employed are exempt from regulations such as fingerprint identification. There is no research that documents teacher union attempts to identify predators among their members.” (Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature)
  • Facilities may be overcrowded and poorly maintained, and security may be lax or nonexistent, due to budget constraints. About a third of principals report that some aspect of their facilities interferes with instruction (Public School Principals Report on Their School Facilities: Fall 2005). Bullying and harassment is typically ignored by teachers and administrators.
  • Most curricula, especially in science and social studies, are either out of date or poorly edited for accuracy, due to publishing and state adoption deadlines. All curricula reflect the biases of a narrow range of academic reviewers in each field, promoting their pet theories and cultural prejudices.
  • The school’s failure rate on standardized tests may be up to 74%, without any personal accountability on the part of individual teachers. The standardized tests in lower grades may be the only testing devices that measure compliance with state academic standards; however, the Graduation Qualifying Exam may test for language and math proficiency at only a ninth-grade level (Indianapolis Star, 21 December 2003).
  • Interventions may include “social promotion” without followup, holding back without detailed assessment of problem areas, or demotion to “special education” classes where students are not challenged at all. Some “problem students” may never even be challenged to learn to read, or they may be summarily expelled by the principal. If they have no clinical diagnosis, there may be no Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) and no recourse for the parents.

Even one of these circumstances may be enough to worry a responsible, caring parent, but some face multiple problems of this sort. Large school districts suffer from all of them to some extent.

[The Main Point]

If parents face such an array of challenges in their school district, what are they to think of the grandiose claims for universal, mandatory, professional public education? How long can they suspend disbelief? In actuality, people are always ready to accept as true anything that enough “experts” and “authorities” claim to be true, even if personal experience, good judgment, and other experts contradict it. In fact, a claim may be completely fictitious, but if it is “what everyone does,” the superstitious, irrational mind will latch onto it and provide random justifications in order to protect the fragile ego of an insecure, dependent person.

But, you know, at least the children will be socialized. The question is, what kind of society are they being prepared for?

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4 thoughts on “Superstition Ain’t the Way

  1. My first hand experience at how useless public schools are is fading from my memory.

    They don’t want math teachers like me, but they do want people who can talk the right talk to play the right game to collect a paycheck.

    The education system is another example of how insane our society gets. As I’m sure you said, Dave, although I didn’t study what you wrote; that’s because I’ve lost much of my zeal to debate the insane actions of our society, but as I say, I’m pretty sure you indirectly or directly said something to this effect:

    “To suggest that an unregulated education system is bad, when the current system, which is highly regulated, has shown itself to be a dismal failure, to suggest this and to imply that the key to success in education is regulation, to do this is idiotic, to say the least.”

    As if state education is some kind of success story. Uh uh. Right. And then there’s Vox’s homeschooled 7-year old son who’s writing books. People who get that kind of start in life, that’s the kind of people I’m envious of. And I’m not the envious type.

  2. No, I didn’t give the beleaguered teacher’s perspective on any of this, as you do, but I am sympathetic. Your concise summation of the discrepancy between fact and fiction is an improvement on what I overwrote.

Instigate some pointless rambling

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