Monday, August 10, 2009

Back to School

It's that time of the year again! This morning, I sent my kids off to the government schools for another year of education. Neal Boortz, a local and nationally syndicated talk show host, always tells me (via the radio of course) that this is akin to child abuse. While that's quite an extreme viewpoint, I do often think about the public schools and what they do for society.

For all the socialism talk these days, the public schools are exactly that - socialized education. Yes, they are community schools (at least here in Georgia) with a reasonable level of involvement by the parents. However, make no mistake that they are ultimately controlled at the Federal level whether it's through legislation or court decisions.

So is socialized education a success? Wow ... not an easy answer there! It seems like a timely question, given the current healthcare debate, but I digress.

Areas of success

  • It has provided a general education for the American public over the years. This baseline has contributed to the class mobility that has helped create opportunities for all.

  • It introduced standardization to the curriculum. This is generally a good thing. I think that a common baseline for curriculum has some definite benefits. The national knowledge spread with regard to age appropriate learning is generally a good thing. With the mobility of our society in the last couple of generations, this also creates a continuity for children moving from one school system to another.

Areas of failure

  • "All men are created equal" is a fundamental American philosophy. Well, all people are equal under the law, but they are not equal in capability. Schools used to, for lack of a better word, segregate their students by capability and/or behavior (among other things, but I digress again). Now, it's every child's right to be in a regular education class, regardless of their ability, performance, or behavior. This creates such a situation where teachers spend an inordinate amount of their time dealing with those students to the detriment of the others.

  • Even though it has some success tied to it, standardization becomes a crutch for limiting the possibilities for individual students. Teachers can treat their kids like a herd because of standardization (as well as class size and other factors).
  • The cost of educating a student is around $10,000 a year. If you do some simple math, 20 students (low number) multiplied by $10,000 gives you $200,000. If a teacher is getting paid $60-70,000 after all their benefits are included (government benefits aren't cheap!), that's a lot of left over money. Sure, the building, buses, textbooks, local administration, specialists, etc. all come into play, but to the tune of $130,000 per classroom? Can you say overhead?
  • Political correctness is a real problem. I'm an ardent supported of the separation of church and state, but is it really the intent of the Framers to pretend like religion doesn't exist? The amount of things that people have to and can't do because it might be offensive to someone is insane.

Final rambling

Think about the teaching profession for a second. Who goes into teaching now? Who went into teaching a generation or so ago? The following isn't going to be a call to change their choices or blame them in anyway, but the woman's movement caused a change in the caliber of teacher in the elementary and secondary education system. If you were a career-minded, intelligent woman in 1958, what were your standard possibilities? Teaching and nursing were both very high on that list. Now, it's virtually anything (glass ceiling is another discussion). So who is left in our classrooms (and at home when the children get home from school for that matter ... yet another digression)? The pay of a teacher versus a corporate vice president is laughable. Which career would you choose if you had the capabilities to do both?