On February 7th I got a surprising e-mail from a public high school student. She must have obtained my name on the Internet. This 11th-grade girl asked me to help her with a class project. The young lady sounded like a dutiful pupil, in that she was attempting to fulfill her responsibility to complete an assignment, such as it was. But I was so taken aback by her query I really did not know how to respond, or even if I should. With only the girl's name and school changed (to protect her privacy), I present here, for the reader's enlightenment, the youngster's e-mail verbatim, complete with misspellings and convoluted verbiage:
The letter from this student speaks volumes about what is wrong with today's public education system (and a few private ones, too). The errors in capitalization, punctuation, grammar and spelling speak for themselves, of course, and the girl may even be considered "computer literate" on some level.
But was she incapable of utilizing the "spellchecker" and grammar-correction functions, which are provided automatically by most computer programs using red or green underlined prompts?
Obviously, this child had been taught to "just get the thoughts out there" without bothering about tedious spelling and grammatical concerns. This is the way students have been encouraged to write for the past two decades. I ought to know; I was once a classroom teacher. The rationale is that youngsters will not write at all if they are constantly pestered about particulars, so teachers wait -- endlessly, it would seem -- until such time as their young charges appear "ready" to pursue a more polished piece of work.
To hear schools of teacher preparation tell it, educators are supposed to focus on "critical thinking skills" rather than on boring, repetitive exercises in grammar, spelling and punctuation (not to mention addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). Thus, no doubt, the teacher's assignment: a "trial on Lord of the Flies," as opposed, say, to an essay, or maybe a book report.
A trial? To borrow a quip from Jay Leno: "What's that all about?" This doesn't sound like a written assignment at all, but another of those infamous "class activities" -- glorified jam sessions during which kids flap their jaws without having to sit down and organize a logical sequence of thoughts.
Speaking of logic: Look again at this 11th-grade student's second question:
"To what extreme would dominance reach?"
"Can any action a child my take be a result in being in these situations and aren't of the chil's personal will?"
Does she mean to ask whether a child in this circumstance is responsible for his/her actions?
The only question that really makes sense is the last one: "What happenes to children mentally without adult supervision?"
Now, that's one I can answer! Obviously, the student's teacher has provided little, if any, "adult" supervision in the conduct of this assignment. What has happened to this pupil, mentally, is that she has been rendered incapable of producing a single coherent thought, thanks to years of gross educational malpractice, yet the teacher is prodding these youngsters to conduct a "trial," the defendants being, presumably, the cast of culprits in the Lord of the Flies.
Most of today's 11th-graders, whose grammar- and junior-high-school years have consisted mainly of encounter sessions, condom demonstrations, and Britney Spears/Eminem-style primping, are incapable of debating or analyzing anything on the level of Lord of the Flies. In fact, I doubt, from the student's e-mail, that the pupils in her class ever read the book; they probably viewed the film version, brought into the school as a "supplementary exercise."
As a timely coincidence, I read a couple days later an interview between Washington Times reporter George Archibald and the new Education Secretary, Margaret Spellings ("Spellings to focus on high schools." Mr. Archibald wrote that "Mrs. Spellings expressed great frustration over Congress' habit of adding unrequested money to the department's budget each year for specified purposes that do not help the entire country." The administration, she said, wanted "figure out how to ratchet up reading skills in a very rapid way, so that [low-achieving students] can consume the content at the 10th- or 11th-grade level." It also wants "Congress to scrap 48 categorical programs totaling $4.3 billion in order to pay for increases under NCLB."
Well, guess what? We already know how to "ratchet up reading skills." Private learning centers have been doing just that for years -- using intensive, systematic phonics in combination with the latest technologies, including incrementally adjustable fast-forward screens that actually train the eye (and brain) to read faster and more accurately. Parents who realize that their children are way below equivalent 1950s-era grade levels in reading and math are investing in remediation at learning centers that employ time-tested, as well as successful, new methodologies.
As for scrapping $4.3 billion worth of programs, that's a no-brainer, too:
The President apparently is completely enamored of his No Child Left Behind initiative, which purports to produce "clear results" by testing youngsters periodically in reading and mathematics. He either will not, or cannot (for political reasons), acknowledge that without totally revamping teacher training, there can exist no testing program -- even if it really did measure academics, as claimed -- that will boost the base of common knowledge among our youth.
Today's youngsters already are inundated with surveys: "health" (sex) questionnaires, mental health screenings, behavioral screenings, and personality profiles -- most of which pose as legitimate academic instruments, to a greater or lesser extent. What, exactly, have any of these accomplished? Here are some recent samples, compliments of Andrea Peyser in a February 8, 2005, front-page New York Post article titled "Guinea Pig Kids: Paid $25 to rat on parents" (online version Feb. 6: SHOCK QUIZ PAYS GUINEA-PIG KIDS. According to the article, "[h]undreds of Manhattan sixth-graders are being recruited -- in their classrooms -- with $25 cash payments to serve as guinea pigs in a psychological study that some parents are calling blatantly racist," wrote Peyser:
Parents and teachers also get a turn. Mothers evidently get paid up to $180 to unload about their children. "And teachers rake in $3 a head for writing student behavioral evaluations -- illegal if done during school hours, an education official warned."
This is the very type of activity I first exposed in my 1991 book, Educating for the New World Order, warning that such illicit activities would only escalate, which they did. In my 1998 book, Cloning of the American Mind, I included even more examples. About once every three months I receive explicit survey questions from parents, teachers and dissenting experts.
State and federal governments are investing a bundle in this nonsense that has yet to prove effective and violates both freedom of conscience and family privacy.
President George W. Bush is not the first to surround himself with the same "experts" who gave us education's current state. Nor is he the first President, Republican or Democrat, to cave in to leftists in Congress, such as Senator Ted Kennedy (the real architect of NCBL), presumably to score points toward other issues the administration wants even more (but rarely gets, in the long run). Moreover, education has become a political football in which the students are viewed as "disposable."
But the ideals articulated in the Constitution are not disposable. If we expect to extend freedom around the world into the next century, as per George W. Bush's recent State of the Union speech, we had better get serious about getting our education house in order instead of throwing money at it.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), originally called the Nation's Report Card, used to be voluntary for each state. In 2003, it became mandatory, as every educational researcher worth his or her salt knew it would.
The definitions of "proficiency" are tortured, to say the least, and they vary from state to state, as each pretends to be administering its own exams and setting its own performance standards when in reality they are slightly reworded clones reflecting a nationwide, counterculture agenda.
The fact is that tax-supported schools are not about proficiency at all. At best, "educational" facilities are warehouses to keep kids off the streets, entertained, and out of their parents' hair. At worst, they are politically correct centers of indoctrination under a banner of "mental health."
Until and unless this administration chucks the psychobabble and the fluff, forcefully rejects politicization of the educating process, and gets real experts (including, despite all odds, a few remarkably good teachers, with excellent track records) to lay out a strategy for overhauling schools from top to bottom, we can bring in new Secretaries of Education till the cows come home and still have an institutional behemoth that runs on "empty."
The bottom line: American schools still "ain't educatin'!"
Beverly Eakman is an Educator, 9 years: 1968-1974, 1979-1981. Specialties: English and Literature.
Science Editor, Technical Writer and Editor-in-Chief of official newspaper, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1974-1979. Technical piece, "David, the Bubble Baby," picked up by popular press and turned into a movie starring John Travolta.
Chief speech writer, National Council for Better Education, 1984-1986; for the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, Commission on the Bicentennial of the US Constitution, 1986-1987; for the Voice of America Director, 1987-1989; and for U.S. Department of Justice, Gerald R. Regier, 1991-1993.
Author: 3 books on education and data-trafficking
since 1991, including the internationally acclaimed Cloning
of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education. Executive
Director, National Education Consortium. Website: BeverlyE.com
Today's youngsters already are inundated with surveys: "health" (sex) questionnaires, mental health screenings, behavioral screenings, and personality profiles -- most of which pose as legitimate academic instruments