Friday, February 6, 2009

Yes We Can ....... by Charles R. Hoff

Yes WE can! This is the motto of our newly elected President. Please note that I have underlined the “we”! A few years ago Hillary Clinton wrote a book titled “It takes a Village.” While my conservative leanings usually don’t coincide with either of these two distinguished public servants on most issues, I am afraid I have to admit that they may be right about what appears to be a major shortfall in our nation’s success.

Perhaps the last time that “we” included most of us was the Second World War when there was, I believe, almost a complete unity on the need to work, sacrifice, and even die, to overcome a danger to our nation. In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education suggested that if the education system that existed in 1983 were imposed upon our nation, we would regard this as an “Act of War.” Perhaps this war, like the Korean, and Viet Nam wars had no victory.

Why? I would suggest that there was no “we” in all cases. Americans haven’t had a focus on important issues since 1945. In the cases of the two wars mentioned, and the educational crisis described in “A Nation at Risk” there has been much discussion, billions spent, but no agreement that this “war” deserved the kind of changes that civilians made to win the Second World War. We have operated on the “guns and butter” premise, unlike the rationing system that severely altered lifestyles from 1941 to 1945.

President Obama has asked for all of us to “sacrifice” for the good of all to overcome the fiscal crisis that is in large part due to our inability to live within our means for the past several decades. The house of cards has fallen in.

Since 1945 “we” have all crawled into our caves to watch the “Simpsons!” To help us with this idea of comfort local governments, such as our school board, have limited the public’s ability to discuss any issues in any constructive manner. It would appear that school board members do not want to have to defend the policies that they are responsible for.

We have become a nation of individual islands. When I first moved here we had block parties on our street. Now I am not sure of the names of most of the residents of my block. Service clubs have declined in membership and volunteer organizations have a great deal of trouble getting members. We have all crawled under our individual rocks, with our TV’s, video games, Facebook, etc., instead of working with our neighbors to the betterment of our community.

The impact that this has on education has been a disaster. On a talk show this past week I heard a caller who was concerned about the possibility of a 4 day school week. There were two concerns. This would affect his daycare, and he didn’t believe that children had the attention span for a longer day.

This pretty well summarizes the educational problem. Education has become, for far too many kids, a warehouse for daily storage of kids who are so inoculated in the instant rewards of television and video games. They find almost all other inputs as “boring.” If it is “boring” then it cannot be important in their minds.

In Seattle President Obama stated, “No amount of money can buy achievement.” I certainly believe he is right, but our politicians seem bent on “solving” the educational problems with more money. After all, the lobbyists need our dollars.

Where is the “we?” At the last school board meeting, we learned that Truman High School is going to be “reformed,” and one class in one of our high schools had 80% of its students pass the math WASL. At that same high school less than 50% of the 10th graders met the minimum standard for mathematics, but this wasn’t mentioned. There were only three “we” present! One was there to assist his son with his Boy Scout badge. The budget of this organization is over $ 200 Million. Yet there isn’t anyone watching!

Perhaps it is the new policy of the School Board to limit public comment to a time before the public even learns about the items being presented! The Politburo worked that way also.

Has our country reached a turning point where we either have to get the “we” involved or become an Argentina in the new world? Argentina, in 1938, was the 6th most prosperous country in the world. A documentary produced in the 1960’s suggested that the citizens of Argentina had lost confidence in their government. Does anyone see some similarity?

Is it time that politicians and governments become more candid with their public? When things aren’t working admit it! When things don’t work is there any measurable impact upon the public? In the current system there isn’t, and this leads to the “we” being “comfortably numb.” This “numbness” is leading us down some pretty rough roads with several bridges “out.”


Sudhakar Kudva said...

Charlie -

Thanks for posting your observations and analysis. I had posted a similar blog last year, which makes for a nice complement.

As a nation, we seem to have divided ourselves up into factions that fight over their "fair share" of an ever shrinking pie. Not many seem to be trying to find out how to make the pie bigger. While the Bush era seems to have given the ultra rich a free rein, Obama runs the risk of swinging the pendulum too much to the other side. By now it is clear that this nation does not produce as much as we thought it does, does not have as much wealth as we thought it does, and has more total debt than half a dozen year's worth of total national income. With 88% of our kids enrolled in public schools, my question is, if the public school graduates don't, who is going to rebuild this country?

Anonymous said...

I like this article and it does bring up a good point, that our elected officials have not been open or honest to the people who elected them.

I disagree that Americans hide from the truth - they are no different from people anywhere else in the world.

Yes, the education of an average American seems abyssmal compared to someone living under a comparable roof elsewhere or even in a country where people are subsisting on very little.

Yet you are asking your readers to believe that nothing in society or education has changed in 50 years.

However, since 1945, the US has been struggling to tansition from a racially segregated society to an integrated one. Unfortunately, institutions change more slowly than the demographics of people.

Schools were given a mandate to be inclusive. I don't believe they truly are.

The need for change came about because the 'traditional' curriculum was not working. It is often called the structural approach and it is popular in colleges. The traditional hs curricula are clones of the same textbooks.

(Saxon is nontraditional. It is unique because it is a primer and easier to read)

The US education system is decentralized and complex - mostly because of the laws that governed blacks and whites in each community. Although the laws are changed, the institutions are the same.

Unlike most countries, communities in the US are allowed to select from a set of different textbooks approved by the DOE that are aligned to state standards.

The adoption process that is currently in place dates back to laws that were written around 1876when there were scandals involving school officials and textbook publishers.

Publishers divide states into regions known as market segments. I'm still wondering about the origins behind Bergerson's short-lived 'Segmented Math' series (WASL prep math).

Today its not uncommon for most high schoolers to take two math classes - in lieu of an elective. A double dose of 'remedial' math -no wonder most students hate math and cannot get past 6th grade geometry.

The popular consensus is that reform math was written to make math more accessible for students who were historically excluded by traditional curriculum.

I don't believe the authors of those reports were truthful in their assessments of the curriculum. Professors, like Romberg, Isaacs, Treisman, along with a host of evaluators from Ohio State University, Pittsburgh (Carnegie), Wisconsin, and Michigan State took control of the issue and waged a populist campaign to get their textbooks adopted by the DOE.

I believe the idea of a Math War was a ploy. It is a paradigm that favors making compromises and misleads the public. I don't think the authors of these programs ever intended to prepare students for college.

The idea behind use non-standard algorithms was to make these textbooks appear so different that other programs wouldn't be able to compete with them.

Core plus is a ridiculous excuse for a textbook. Students gain very little knowledge from using it and it makes even experienced teachers look stupid.

Its hard to imagine teaching core plus in an eighth grade class with no graphing calculators. And then to teach it again in the ninth grade with calculators? I am completely mystified.

Anonymous said...

When people are afraid, they will grasp at any truth.

I like this quote:

“It is not because the truth is too difficult to see that we make mistakes... we make mistakes because the easiest and most comfortable course for us is to seek insight where it accords with our emotions - especially selfish ones.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Math reform is a selfish truth.

Anonymous said...

C.R.H. replies:
Dear Anonymous;

You are so right. I spent several years in Romania during the Iron Curtain days and got to know a very well educated official that used to say, "We get the government we deserve." I used to disagree with him suggesting that no one deserved the government that was in Romania.

After spending over 15 years either attending school board meetings or being on a school board I have come to the conclusion that he was, as usual, right!

There is no one minding the store! This is quite evident in a previous generation when "Why Johnny can't read" was published and when "Modern Math" came along I predicted a new book "Why Johnny can't count" would soon be available.

When I talk to school board members, unpaid cheerleaders, of school districts I cannot tell you how often I either hear, "We leave this up to the experts (educators" or "I am unaware of the options."

It is the blind being lead by the hopeless!

To help these "blind" school boards have designed many obstacles to the introduction of any variation of the "correct thoughts" into the discussion and usually refuse to enter into any dialogue with the public that they proudly say they are serving.

John Stanford, former superintendent of Seattle, stated it very clearly. "This is the only place I have worked where all decisions are made for the benefit of the employees."

School boards are not likely to change this approach as long as gaining re-election requires them to appease the employees.

Parents, according to a national poll wanted their children to be "satisfied" with school. A principal in my district stated, "It is easy to get parental support for music or athletics. Academics? Not a chance.

Where are the adults?
Charlie Hoff, LOBT