Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Education: Upside Down and Backwards

By Talmage Cromar

Although our educational system is already slated for disruption because of the need for more individualization, we must also incorporate a collectively beneficial moral instruction in our institutions because educating a society without virtue simply creates more sophisticated thieves and more corrupt government representatives which will ultimately lead to the loss of our peace and freedom.

Something's Gotta Give

It was a glorious Saturday afternoon in October of 2015 and I had plans to take my wife on a date and then maybe snuggle and watch a movie together. Problem was, I had physics homework due that night. I wasn’t worried though. These usually took a couple hours at most and I had all afternoon!

Six hours into the assignment, I was on the verge of tears. I was tired, frustrated and searching for help on the internet, in the textbook and wherever I could find it. It wasn’t just hard, no. It was a gauntlet that repeated the concepts in a multitude of different ways until you didn’t know which way was up anymore. Above all, it felt like busywork. I didn’t get to go on that date or watch that movie. Eight hours after I began the assignment I finished the last problem and went straight to bed.

Does this sound familiar? Have your own complaint? Take a number and get in line.

Who Even Cares?

Educational reform has almost always been one of the hottest topics in America. Now more than ever though, the dialogue is flowing. Cyberspace is abuzz with varying opinions about it and educational reform themed YouTube videos such as this one by Sir Ken Robinson garner record numbers of viewers and in this specific case, the most views of any TEDX Talk to date. I went online for some social proof and asked my friends and acquaintances what their thoughts were on this subject. I had peers and professionals comment and share how they wanted a more individualized learning environment with better teachers getting better pay. It is an issue that is really important to people.

Students, parents, teachers, and administrators are all frustrated with how the system is currently set up. We pay top dollar for textbooks we will probably never read as we go online for the answers we seek. Teachers jobs depend upon student performance on standardized tests. There is little to no hands on learning, only droning lectures. 

Tests all the time. No time for recess. No technology allowed in the classroom. No individual attention from the professor or teacher. Cheaters get an A while your grade depends where you end up on the bell curve of grade distributions. Busywork and uninteresting work. Graduating without a proper mastery of all the subjects. No federal funding if test scores aren’t high enough and to top it all off there is an ever increasing number of social issues in schools today such as drugs, teen pregnancy, violence, transgenders in the wrong bathroom, bullying, lack of discipline and the list goes on and on.

Upside Down and Backwards

The problem with our school system is twofold. First that our government has depersonalized the learning process, putting children in "batches" by age and not by progress or intelligence while also mandating the curriculum that must be given by teachers who are then judged on how well the students do on standardized tests. It is an unnatural process for effective learning and it leans to the extreme of catering only to the collective. 

The other problem, ironically, is that government has removed the collective spiritual and moral underpinnings in favor of an individualistic approach to morality and character. They took Bible reading and prayer out of public schools as well as all other religious and ethical practices. It is now strictly secular. 

This is why I would say that our educational system is upside down and backwards: it is upside down morally and backwards intellectually.

We must reverse these focuses on the extremes of individualism and collectivism if we wish to achieve the correct balance of knowledge and virtue in education.

School is a Factory 

If one took a good look at schools today, they would see an educational factory line, churning out nearly identical graduates. The group is all that matters and a few defective products is OK as long as the majority come out all right. This method is killing creativity in students who need to think innovatively to face the challenges of a global economy.

Clayton M. Christensen in his book "Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation will Change the Way the World Learns", explains how we got to this point and what the future of education should and probably will look like. He starts in the early 1800's with the one room school houses. The purpose of these public schools was to inculcate the ideals of freedom and to educate citizens so they could responsibly participate in our Republic. That was the original role assigned to them. As time went on, the role of schools changed as the public and government dictated it.

At the beginning of the 20th century and the end of the industrial revolution, schools were asked to prepare students for a vocation. They also took on more subjects of study and the goal was to have "something for everyone." At the same time, the age batch system was put in place with grade levels becoming the established method of advancement. During the Cold War, when Russia put the first satellite and astronaut into space there was a frenzy for US schools to stay competitive globally and emphasis was put on math and science courses. 

Throughout the 20th century more courses were added and as well as arts and extracurricular activities. School became a cafeteria style institution where students could pick any subject to study, sometimes to the exclusion of the main ones. So core classes were formed and made mandatory. Standardized testing was put in place. Today with the "No Child Left Behind Act" and "Common Core" schools are asked to lift the populace out of poverty, as well as fulfill all the previous roles.

There is no individualized learning in this factory environment, only group learning. Teachers lecture and students have to keep up or fail the exam at the end. Neither do teachers get to pick the curriculum, but instead, that is decided by bureaucrats far removed from the classroom. Students learn in a myriad of different ways and yet we are trying to teach them as if they were all the same. Too many are falling through the cracks or are not learning what is being taught, because they do not understand and are too afraid to ask for help. They are taught so as to pass an exam, which will be taken after all the material is covered, whether they understand it or not.

There is a better way to approach education and it is already beginning to disrupt the current system says Clayton M. Christensen. By individualizing education through technology, a.k.a computers, students can learn at their own pace and get help from the teacher when they need. If they already understand a subject then they can skim it or skip it and move on to things that challenge them. Constantly assessing progress and understanding instead of a single test at the end will also help students learn more quickly as their errors in understanding surface sooner.

The factory production line method for educating our students is backwards and hurtful. We must remove federal mandates from education and make the curriculum and administrative practices local to allow for competition and flexibility. Also, the technology we employ in the classrooms should be used as the main tool for learning which will individualize it and make it more enjoyable for the teacher who really just wants to help kids learn. The bonus perk of it all is that if implemented this way, class sizes could get larger and individual attention increase while the teacher gets paid more for having more pupils. 

Individualized learning is the future of education, not collective classes. Collective values though, is another thing entirely.

Post Morality America

"Modern education with its focus on material goals and a disregard for inner values is incomplete. There is a need to know about the workings of our minds and emotions. If we start today and make an effort to educate those who are young now in inner values, they will see a different, peaceful, more compassionate world in the future." -Dalai Lama

On June 25, 1962 the Supreme Court of the United States of America essentially banned prayer in public schools in Engel v. Vitale. The following year in Abington School District v. Schempp, Bible reading was also banned. These rulings created the famous precedent of "the separation of church and state" which led to all Christian practices being expunged from schools and eventually the majority of public institutions. The irony here is that the Supreme Court opens each meeting with the invocation: "God save the United States and this honorable court." 

The reasoning behind the rulings was that by allowing prayer and Bible reading in school the establishment clause of the first amendment was being violated. They wanted neutrality in the public sphere. Justice Potter Stewart, the only dissenting vote on both cases said, "It led not to true neutrality with respect to religion, but to the establishment of a religion of secularism."

So what have been the fruits of this secularism in education?

Pre-marital Sex

 Teen Pregnancy 15-19 yrs old

 Cases of Sexually Transmitted Diseases

 Alchohol Consumption Per Capita

 Violent Crime

 SAT Scores

 Divorce Rates

Unmarried Couples Living Together

 Single Mother Households

An undeniable correlation exists between the removal of religious practice from education and nearly all of the social malaise we experience today. These graphs are from a book put together by David Barton called "To Pray or Not to Pray" and all the information is from government statistical records. 

Once the envy of the worlds educational systems, the United States is now 15th amongst developed nations for performance. Whereas in 1940 the top seven problems in schools were talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, cutting in line, dress code violations and littering, in 1990 the top seven problems were drug abuse, alchohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery and assault.

Oh what a difference a moral education can make! In 1963, our students were completely cut free of collective guiding moral principles and were thrown back on themselves as individuals to figure it out. In education, individualism has been unleashed to create the environment today where we have to debate whether to allow boys that "identify" as girls into the girls facilities. Such a debate would have been unnecessary if prayer and Bible reading were still parts of our education system.

We've had the Answer all Along

In the year 1528, a book was written at the height of the Renaissance called "The Book of the Courtier." Authored by Baldassare Castiglione it articulated what the perfect courtier should be. Now at this time, a courtier was essentially the aristocracy and as such spent much time in court with the government leaders and ambassadors of other provinces. They were the gentler successors of the knights of medieval times.

Now Castiglione theorized about the role of these courtiers and the type of education they should receive. The perfect courtier, or as we refer to it today, "the renaissance man", was to be skilled in both combat and music, diplomacy and dancing, writing and speaking, as well as art and exercise. He was to act with integrity, grace, honor and tact. He must have a sense of humor and be brave. These qualities were essential to fulfill the true purpose of his education as Castiglione philosophized.

The ultimate purpose of a well-rounded education in both temporal and moral spheres was to be win favor with and then influence for good the ruling prince. Ruling a country was no easy matter and a prince needed good and wise advisers to help him make decisions. Nothing is worse then a tyrant and a terrible leader who oppresses the people. This then was the purpose of an education, to curb such evil designs.

Now here in America we don't have princes like they did at this time in Italy, but we have representatives, presidents and judges. We more then the courtiers have an active role in the affairs of the government and in our schools. We must be educated in both temporal and moral ways to properly participate so that all of society may benefit.

Just think that this ideal of education existed several hundred years before the United States was ever conceived! We did an excellent job in the beginning of our history but in the latter part we have created an unsustainable problem. Those educated without morals today will be the elected representatives of our republic tomorrow and as Alexis de Tocqueville warned in his book Democracy in America, "If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."

We are on the verge of losing our greatness and ultimately our freedom, prosperity and peace here in America. Immoral individuals in government, rarely make good decisions for the group and we have too many of those individuals!

Final Thoughts

Education has been the tool for so much good in our country and around the world. No one disputes that. Our current system definitely does more good than harm, but serious reforms are needed if we are to survive as a free nation. Rampant individualism in moral education has led to the social madness we see today as well as the broken homes, shattered futures and violent natures of too many students.

Inversely, the factory line, group mentality of secular education has led to many students being incompetent, lacking in creativity and unprepared to participate in our republic responsibly. Students, parents and teachers all agree that more individualization in education will benefit everyone but not everyone seems to agree that collective virtue must be taught there too. The evidence is clear though, moral instruction is an essential part of a child's education.
In conclusion, our educational system needs reform. Upside down and backwards is no way to continue education into the future. Our children deserve better and we have a responsibility to our nation and our fellowman to morally instruct them. Our one nation under God, requires it.

To see more information on the topic of educational reform click here.

Works Cited

Barton, David. "To Pray or Not to Pray." Graphs. Published 1997. Found at: Accessed 6/10/2016.

Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of the Courtier. Translated from Italian by Leonard Ekstein Opdycke. Originally published 1528, this edition 2010.

Christensen, Clayton M. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Education Will Change the Way the World Learns. Published 2008. 

CBS News. AltSchool combines personalization and technology. Youtube video. Accessed 6/14/2016.

CNN. Alt School: Is it the Future of Education? Accessed 6/5/2016

CNSNews. Irony of Supreme Court banning prayer while opening with prayer. Accessed 6/10/2016.

De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. Quote on American Greatness. Accessed 6/14/2016

Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center, Northern Illinois University. Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences. . Accessed 6/10/2016.

Free to Pray Website. Justice John Potter quote. Accessed 6/10/2016.

Free to Pray Website. Top 7 problems in Schools. Accessed 6/10/2016.

Mantegna, Andrea. The Gonzaga Family. Painting.

Pinterest. Curated material on educational reform put together by Talmage Cromar. 

TEDx Talks. Do Schools Kill Creativity? By Sir Ken Robinson. Accessed 6/10/2016.

TEDx Talks. Do Schools Kill Creativity? By Sir Ken Robinson. Youtube video. Accessed 6/14/2016.

Wikipedia. Abington School District v. Schempp. Accessed 6/10/2016.

Wikipedia. Engel v. Vitale. Accessed 6/10/2016.

No comments:

Post a Comment