Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education?
DeVos Post number 3.
Not really. I started with that for continuity, since a lot of folks have seen my previous Facebook posts regarding Betsy DeVos. This post is about education in general.
I have been thinking a lot about education the past several days, due in large part to the controversy surrounding the Betsy DeVos nomination for Secretary of Education in the Trump administration. There has been a huge amount of animus toward her, and I have been curious as to why. The debate on my threads has been intense and impassioned. I have enjoyed the thoughts back and forth on the issue. But I think the problems we face in education go much deeper than simply the Betsy DeVos nomination.
It is inarguable that the education system in America is in dire straits. The statistic I recently heard (I did not vet this) is that the United States currently ranks 25th in science, mathematics, and reading. Twenty-fifth in the world! At one time, we lead the world in nearly every metric, but not now. But as poorly as we do in actual understanding, I also heard that our high school graduates rank near the top in their confidence in themselves. Educationally, our kids suck compared to the rest of the world, but they feel pretty darn good about themselves. So why is this? It is far too easy to blame “the teachers,” “the unions,” or “the parents.” Although I think there are issues within each of those categories, I think the issues run much deeper than those easy targets. Here are my thoughts. Admittedly, they are rather general and simplistic, but for the purposes of this post, they will suffice.
Public education is indeed the bedrock of American education, and our public education system has been the model for education around the world. Historically, education in the United States started in “one-room,” with one teacher for all grades. As students got older and moved through the grades, they helped teach the younger kids, and on and on. Huge amounts of individual attention. On the other hand, education was rather optional, and families that didn’t think education important would just not send their kids, or sometimes the kids were needed at home to help with the family business. Very, very few went to University after high school, and often “grammar school,” or primary school was as far as most students went in their education. Teachers didn’t necessarily need a degree, many lawyers learned through apprentice-type programs, and most jobs that now require a degree were learned on the job.
After education became mandatory, there were loose standards for advancing through the grades. Students usually needed to pass some sort of primer to move on to the next grade, with a fairly comprehensive test that one needed to pass in order to graduate high school.
Post-high school education was relatively strict, teaching a broad curriculum. As emphases changed, the curriculums became more specialized, with degrees in multiple areas. Today there is nearly an unlimited number of “specialties” in which one can major and get a degree. And that includes a number of specialties within the field of education.
There are multiple problems that I see for those getting a degree in education.
First, much of college education is structured around innovation. Partly this is understandable. Who, after all, wants to “rest on someone else’s laurels.” Most people want to make their own mark on the world. And the thought is that there is “always” a better way to do something. I don’t happen to believe that. I think there is definitely a place for rote memorization, and for learning to do things “as they always were.” Understand, I am NOT opposed to innovation. Otherwise, we would still be using an abacus for math, and if lucky, a slide rule for complex engineering issues. Heck, I’m so old I remember when a Texas Instrument calculator was about the size of a small iPad, could add, subtract, multiply, and divide, and ran around $100.00. So no, I am not a luddite, and I am not against innovation. But I think innovation should be measured, and should replace something only when it is proven to be better/faster/more effective than that which it is replacing. And I do NOT think that which we currently have is better than that which we used to have.
My father, when he was 79 years old (about 15 years ago or so), came to our home for a visit. While he was there, we found one of his old one-room schoolhouse primers. In it were several Algebra problems which my father figured out in his head. I couldn’t have solved them with an engineering calculator, paper and pen, and five hours to try. Admittedly, my old man was good at math; I am not. However, that doesn’t explain all of it. My education was good. Not excellent, but good. Our daughters’ education was very good; my wife and I saw to that. But what of those that don’t have “activist parents,” or dedicated teachers? Not sure. I agree that there needs to be a baseline. But common core isn’t it. Not with how math is currently taught.
I understand the theory of Common Core. As I understand it, the purpose of common core math is to teach kids an intuitive understanding of mathematics and how the numbers all relate to each other. And I know that some kids already think in a way that common core math reaches; that when common core math is shown to these kids, they instantly “get it,” because that’s how they already analyze problems. But many, many children do not think in a way that common core reaches, and will simply not understand common core math. In my opinion, I think common core math should be offered as one method of learning, but not demanded of all students. There is absolutely nothing wrong with rote memorization of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division tables. This works as well, and works far better for some. Let me end this paragraph with this thought: I wonder if common core math is kind of like the metric system. Yes, there are applications in which metric is far, far superior to the English method we currently use. But metric will never be adopted as the standard in the US, certainly not in my lifetime, anyhow. It’s superiority is irrelevant. The Standard measurement system is so entrenched that to switch over would be nearly impossible. In the computer world, it is no different with Apple products. It is inarguable that there are applications in which the Apple operating system is far, far superior to the PC. But Gates is a marketing genius, and the PC is far too entrenched to ever be moved out of its current position.
As I said earlier, I think that “innovative” educational approaches are demanded, and perhaps to the detriment of what has worked, and worked well, for ages. But that is not the only issue.
One of the objections raised on Facebook regarding charter schools as opposed to public education is that charter schools might “put profit before education.” This is a valid concern. But my observation is that since the 1960’s, the socialist left/liberals/progressives (in my opinion, “a rose by any other name…) have done an excellent job of co-opting education; it appears that education is currently used to “put ideology before education.” And I believe that is inarguable. This is not to say that every single educator is a leftist intent on indoctrinating their students, but I am saying that such indoctrination is pervasive within higher education and it has been very effective, to the point that many, many secondary education teachers now follow the same ideology and use their position as teachers to influence the political leanings of their students. Debate is not encouraged, and opposing thoughts and beliefs are not only discouraged, but mocked and vilified. And herein lies the basic problem.
At its best, education teaches one how to think. This is what I learned, although much of that was self-taught. I fear that much of current education is not so much about how to think as it is what to think. And that is a definite problem.
What is the answer? Not sure. But with our current world standing(s) in education, it is imperative that we do something, and do it soon. The status quo will not suffice, and the United States is on an educational slide that will harm our country for generations if it is not arrested and reversed.
Betsy DeVos has a passion for education. She has no formal learning in that area, nor first-hand experience. But she has been confirmed as Secretary of Education under the Trump administration. Although I am not an avowed “Trumpie,” President Trump has my support, and thus far, DeVos is the only appointment, decision, or executive order by President Trump that I am not entirely behind. With DeVos I am neutral, I am withholding judgment, and I am puzzled. Time will tell what policies will be enacted in the Department of Education, how those policies will be implemented, and what effect such policies will have on the education of our children in the United States. If those policies succeed, 100% of the credit goes to the Republicans. Not one Democrat supported her. If she fails miserably, 100% of the blame goes to the Republicans. Not one Democrat supported her. Time will tell. I hope she succeeds, and I hope the educational system tailspin in which we find ourselves is halted and reversed.