Last year, the writer Norman Mailer spoke to Parade Magazine about the deplorable condition of children's reading ability in this country. The magazine asked for readers' responses. I wrote to them as follows:
To the editor of Parade Magazine:
Your lead article for Jan. 23, “One Idea,” asks: 1. Do you agree with Norman Mailer? and 2. What one idea will change America for the better? My reply is as follows:
I disagree. Mailer correctly identifies a huge problem – the poor reading skills of America’s public school children – but he mistakenly blames TV commercials, when the failing school system itself is the true culprit. (If anything, commercials help people to learn English.)
The public schools have the children captive for twenty thousand hours over twelve years or so. Despite that opportunity, they fail to teach millions of children to read or calculate well. The failure is the schools’ – not TV.
Mr. Mailer is among millions of people who think that all the school system needs is a tweak here, or more money there, and it will educate us well. However, he and those others are wrong. In terms of its own goals, the school system is working just as it is designed -- to indoctrinate and to offer only a minimum of learning. Early documents show that the mediocrity of the state-run schools is intentional. If the government wanted high literacy, that is what it would produce, but it wants something else entirely: a workforce – a dumbed-down populace that will be predictable, docile, and dependent on government and other institutions.
What’s going on? The system employs a reading instruction method (whole language) that prevents many children from learning how to read adequately, and it also employs math instruction programs (called "fuzzy math") that ignore the teaching of basic algorithms – the tools for calculating accurately and the steps needed in order to learn more advanced math. One result of such poor methods of instruction are the recent scores on international tests (PISA, TIMSS, et al) that show how poorly American schools rank when compared to those of other industrial countries. (for specific reasons why the US methods are ineffective, go to the website of Fordham Foundation, www.edexcellence.net, and see their piece, “The State of State Standards.”)
The failure of the school system does have a solution, and that is my One Idea for changing America for the better. It is as follows: Education is in the wrong hands. The central fact of the public school system is that it is not owned or run by “the public,” but instead it is owned and run by government. Therefore, despite what we are told about "local control," there is no such thing. Education in America is under federal and state control, and that is its problem.
For education to improve, it must be separated from government control and be allowed to enter a free market of privately owned, privately operated, and privately (parent) funded schools that will offer what parents want for their children and are willing to pay for. For those who cannot afford direct payments for education, the private sector has many ways of providing the needed funds, such as scholarships and tuition grants. When school taxes are no longer collected, the great majority of families will have (retain) that money to spend for the amount and quality of education they want for their children.
The future of education is the free market where the internet and private schooling compete for students. Today, a million or more are homeschooling with great success, and thousands of websites offer learning of all types from many of the world’s best teachers and experts. Meanwhile, the public schools are getting worse every day in comparison, because of their bureaucratic and political entanglements, the teacher unions, their archaic methods, poor programs and culture of corruption.
Education is too important to leave in the hands of a coercive monopoly run by politicians and bureaucrats. We have choice in everything except the most important thing: education. That must change through privatization.
Thanks for the opportunity to comment.
Ned Vare, Guilford, CT