Friday, December 14, 2007

"Public" School Is Government School

"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." -- George Orwell

The school board is a political body. Therefore, we must not be surprised to hear political language from its elected members. We also need to keep in mind the fact that, even though we elect them, the local board does not represent local residents; it is, by law, an agent of the state. Nevertheless, as long as board members pretend to work for us, we should expect them at least to talk about education once in a while.

Is it OK for the school board to twiddle its collective thumbs, or should it have an agenda for action? Is “good schooling” really the objective of any of our school board members? Surely, after they all campaigned for “improvements,” we should be hearing a few ideas about what that means, but we don’t.

Before a board member can present an idea about how to improve the schools, s/he would have to admit that something is wrong. That is always difficult for school board members, because they do not like to be associated with anything tainted. Remember, their positions are political. They never get around to dealing with the failure that exists.

The system ignores the wishes of parents. In fact, the employees often reject ideas by parents who take an interest in the school operations. The administrators seem to resent any real involvement by parents in decision-making or policy discussions. Thus, when they say they want parent involvement, aren’t they simply lying? Through doubletalk and outright lies, the school boards marginalize parents. They listen only to administrators, and thus work exclusively for their employees.

I suggest that the board use its meetings more constructively than it does. Instead of wasting them on trivial details, they should invite guests (not school employees) to speak on the important educational issues. The meetings could then proceed with discussions about those issues, such as the following:

* Which should the schools teach: knowledge and factual information or feelings and opinion-shaping?
* Should students learn fuzzy math (math appreciation) or real math – you know, facts?
* Should children learn to guess at words (Whole Language) or should they learn how to read words accurately with Phonics?
* Are science, history, spelling, geography taught to all, or just some.
* Why is special ed so huge?
* Should the teachers offer information, or do we merely want employees to be “facilitators” who hope that our children “share” with each other what little they know?
* Why are honor rolls bloated while test scores are poor?
* Who is guarding against corruption?
* Why are there no Gifted and Talented classes?
* Health comes from nutrition and exercise, but my town's schools sell junk-food-for-profit and continue to reduce recess – Why?

If public schooling has truly become therapy (feelings), as many experts are saying, then surely the system’s doors should be closed. The schools offer low quality instruction, parents are conned and the children are cheated. Some board members talk about education as a “village” responsibility. They're wrong; schooling is the schools' job.

Ned Vare is a Yale graduate, an architectural designer, artist and author, a former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

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