Everyone knows public education has lots of problems, but the question is, who’s responsible?
Liberals say it’s because of conservatives who do everything they can to sabotage education so that only the wealthy have total access, that vouchers, charter schools, private academies, and Christian schools—almost all of which outperform public schools at a fraction of the cost—are nothing but right wing conspiracies designed to preserve the status quo of privilege and supremacy.
Conservatives say most of the problems are due to massive bureaucracies, unrealistic policies, psychological immaturity, a lack of social conscience, and a social and cultural pathology, which has refused to transmit traditions, customs, etiquette, and moral values distilled through trial and error over the ages.
Some people blame the teachers. However, after teaching inner city adolescents for 26 years, I believe most teachers, especially elementary teachers, work really hard to do their job, often for comparatively little pay. In a survey of elementary teachers in more than 30 countries, American teachers work an average of 1,131 hours compared to an average of 782 in other places. As for school administrators, if you happen to have some good ones, hang on to them. In Santa Maria high schools, of the 20 administrators named only two have ever worked in the classroom, which, of course, is part of the problem.
Most of education’s real problems began back in the 1950s and ’60s, when behavioral psychologists and college professors decided not only that they knew best how to educate our children, but that conventional morality and ethics were old-fashioned impediments to learning. Psychiatrist Brock Chisholm urged “eventual eradication of right and wrong” from traditional education. The Father of American Education, John Dewey, said “There is no God and ... no soul.” B.F. Skinner, who wrote about Outcome-Based Education, believed humans were only higher-functioning animals, while liberal author Benjamin Bloom introduced behavior modification, a system designed to change the thoughts, feelings, and actions of students by challenging their fixed beliefs.
These so-called progressive thinkers were so successful at imposing their wisdom on others that common sense, civility, and academic excellence soon gave way to political correctness, moral relativism, and poor behavior. Now we have millions of kids being treated for depression, anxiety, drugs, alcohol, and other psychological disorders, with an alarming rash of teen pregnancies, cyber-bullying, suicides, assaults, rapes and mass shootings by kids raised on a steady diet of permissiveness and false self-esteem. In schools, despicable language, threats, and assaults have become the norm to the point that in a recent school year 209,000 primary and secondary teachers were physically assaulted and 353,000 others were threatened with injury or death, resulting in school districts having to employ hundreds of police and security officers to keep order.
California’s a standing example of progressive anything-goes thinking. Its once-premier education system, once the envy of the world, is now in a fight for its very survival. Irresponsible lawmakers, unwilling to control the unions or curb their obsessive welfare mentality have created so many overpaid college professors, useless curricula, unsustainable pensions, and endless entitlement programs that California has fallen to 49th in the nation in academic achievement. More importantly, their refusal to secure the borders or enforce existing immigration laws has enabled millions of illegal immigrants to pour into the state and enter their children into already crowded classrooms—kids who are academically unprepared with parents who are illiterate in both English and Spanish and able to offer little or no academic support. Meanwhile, educated, affluent families and business people flee the state in droves, leaving others to wonder why test scores are plummeting and dropout rates are soaring.
A two-year assessment of Santa Maria schools shows that of the 1,724 students from the class of 2018, more than 1,000 need language arts intervention, and 403 of 1,571 students need math assistance. The solution is to add 12 additional counselors, two new English development programs, an assistant director of human relations, and two new development programs to train staff on Common Core, a controversial government data-collection system so complex it defies rational explanation, which is not a bad solution except for the latter.
The controversy over Common Core, which should have the motto “The more complicated, the better,” is mostly about motive. Its proponents think government knows best how to run our lives and seem less concerned with simplicity, common sense, and self-determination than they are with compliance, accountability, and leaching power from the states. They’re constantly releasing government propaganda telling us what to eat, what to drink, and how to educate our children, but unfortunately the rest of us think elected officials are there not to regulate our lives but to educate our children using time-honored values of personal responsibility, self-determination, and individual initiative instead of predetermined government-based outcomes.
One answer lies in the growing number of private schools and academies popping up all over the country. Home schooling, Montessori schools, and charter schools like Orcutt Academy are growing by leaps and bounds. Michigan’s Barney Charter Schools have founded 15 schools in three years with a goal of 50 by 2022, while Colorado’s Golden View Classical Academy has gone from an idea to a fully chartered school with 500 students and a long waiting list in just one year. Corporations and private individuals fund most of these schools; however, many more could be established with monies like the millions being spent on preventative health care for illegal immigrant children.
In the liberal mind there’s always something wrong—traditions, conservatism, religion, morality, climate, guns, hidden dangers in food, etc. Nine years ago Al Gore warned us the earth would burn up. Now he’s saying Houston will be flooded in 1,000 years. Which is it, Al, fire or flood? At the same time all the race-baiters from Obama on down are telling our kids that America’s bad, cops are bad, and conservatives are bad because they’re all white-privileged racists. However, kids aren’t dumb. They know the score, but all the mixed messages they’re getting are making them constantly stressed, unsettled, and confused.
When they hear many of their parents, teachers, and politicians talking about how we must all be tolerant and compassionate, but acting just the opposite, with a liberal entertainment industry telling them to lose their inhibitions, do what feels good and just have fun, their world becomes one with no absolutes, no truth, and no moral compass to guide their actions.
The problems of education as well as a society under fire can only be solved by a dramatic series of paradigm shifts toward common sense, independent computer-based learning, and an attitude of zero tolerance for bad behavior, excuses, or mediocrity. Secure the borders; dismantle all unnecessary welfare programs; limit the power of the unions; get rid of bad teachers; and restore American values of hard work, respect, excellence and patriotism. We don’t need to raise kids to be revolutionaries, pessimists, or cynical critics, we need to teach them how to think rationally, analytically, and optimistically instead of just how to form opinions. If not, America faces a grim future of permanent educational and cultural recession.
Larry Bargenquast now lives in Orcutt, but for 26 he taught inner-city adolescents and he owned a Montessori school in Des Moines, Iowa. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or letters to the editor to email@example.com.
-- Larry Bargenquast - Paso Robles