Stats and anecdotes suggest that our public schools could be much better. This is not a new story. In 1983, the government conducted a long investigation. The final report, titled “A Nation at Risk,” stated that public schools are so bad they must have been created by an “unfriendly foreign power.”
If you intend your children to be well-educated, you may need to help them overcome the obstacles created by commonly-used methods. Here are six major areas where you might intervene:
◼︎ Reading is crucial. English, a phonetic language, must be learned phonetically. The Education Establishment, starting in 1931, introduced the counterproductive idea that children can memorize English words one by one as graphic designs. Very few people learn to read this way. If your children come home with lists of sight-words to be memorized, teach phonics immediately. (That is, each letter represents a sound; and these sounds blend to form more sounds, thus b + a is ba.)
◼︎ As for Math, children should begin with the simplest things, master them one by one, and move forward to the complex. In New Math, circa 1965, college-level subjects were introduced with elementary school subjects. Reform Math, introduced in the late 1980s, added the foolish idea of spiraling from topic to topic without mastery. Additionally, Reform Math refused to teach the most efficient algorithms. Homework emphasized elaborate word problems that are sometimes impossible to solve. (Children need Saxon Math or any commonsense approach to arithmetic.)
◼︎ Constructivism—a method that is also called Inquiry, Discovery or Project-Based Learning—prohibits teachers from teaching. Students are encouraged to do their own work. The teacher, now called a facilitator, can only go this far: “What do you know about X? Surely you can find interesting things about X on the Internet.” If your child is in a constructivist school, do everything possible to teach on the side. Common Core, by the way, injects Constructivism at every opportunity.
◼︎ Self-esteem, the theory, requires that a school have no failures. Everyone gets a trophy and an A. Unfortunately, this theory guarantees there will be no success. Entire subjects and skills are kicked out of the public schools because some children won’t be able to learn them. At that point the school is in free fall.
◼︎ No Memorization is an educational approach that regards the acquisition of facts as a waste of time. Memorization is just too difficul for children to do. Teachers may discuss knowledge; but the children are not required to know knowledge. Further, the schools claim that children are learning critical thinking. If you know nothing about bugs, what useful comment could you make about a bug? All education starts with a foundation of facts.
◼︎ Fuzziness. Throughout the public schools there is a prejudice against precision, correct answers, and exact statements. There is a tendency to encourage children to be vague, to guess, to approximate, to be fuzzy Children are taught to come up with an answer, any answer, and if they can make a case for it, they get an A. Children need to know that there are correct answers out there and their job is to find those answers, and to know why they are correct.
In general, parents should encourage what can be called parallel or complementary education. That is, do what the schools won’t do. There are wonderful books available, libraries, desk reference encyclopedias, Google, Khan Academy, tutoring services, TV programs, or anything else that helps the child learn what the schools have neglected.
It might be good to have a frank discussion about the politics of education. Explain that there are politicians who think that leveling and mediocrity are good. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if a student keeps a low profile. But privately they have to take control of their education and push ahead on their own when necessary.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains educational theories and methods on Improve-Education.org.