Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Local Control over Education?

How involved should the federal government be in local education standards? The Bush administration began a No Child Left Behind policy that turned testing into the main objective of educators. Obama is seeking to adjust that with his own twist Obama on Education. Although most educators hate the no child left behind emphasis on tests (provided by some corporation somewhere), they aren't as yet impressed with his tweaks.

Should the federal government impact curriculum choices in the states? Can it afford to be uninvolved? Was segregation something that would have ended without federal involvement? How far should the feds go in forcing certain things like say teaching in English? Or politically correct ideas which might change with each season?

Most likely by now any reader here has heard about the Texas board of education changing the criteria for what must be taught in the social studies curriculum in Texas schools and thereby impacting what will be taught in schools throughout the nation.

If you are an extreme right winger, you are probably thrilled-- about time. If you are a scholar, you are horrified-- the end of serious education. If you got your news from Fox, [Fox on Texas textbook social studies standards American history] you got one version of what this means. New York Times a different one [Texas Conservatives Win Vote on Textbook Standards]

If you think Thomas Jefferson talked entirely too much about separation of church and state, you might not mind that he's not going to be in the curriculum but a French theologian, John Calvin will be. Or would you? Should children be taught that Joseph McCarthy was a hero? Some think so. [The Rehabilitation of Joseph McCarthy in Texas Textbooks].

I suppose one might take this in stride with it's just Texas, except there is an impact evidently on all textbooks by what Texas chooses. Publishers evidently cater to the big states and they won't be printing various versions for other states. [T is for Texas Textbooks].

Since the people deciding on the curriculum for Texas are not historians, not sociologists, not economists, not even theologians, who are they? Partisan right wingers who mostly have a political agenda they want taught. Is this the beginning of the end of public schools when these decisions are not made by educators but by those who think Newt Gingrich's Contract with America was more important than the author of the Constitution? Is it any better when the left wing pushes through changes like that we don't need to teach about Edison or the Wright Brothers but should teach about Amos cookies, whatever they are.

Paul Krugman wrote about this issue in January. Texas Textbooks where he quoted Paul Samuelson.
“I don’t care who writes a nation’s laws — or crafts its advanced treatises — if I can write its economics textbooks.”
I understand the conservative concern that states should have power over education except shouldn't educators be the ones making these decisions? Shouldn't national textbooks by put together by experts in their fields? I don't think liberals should have any more say over the information in textbooks than conservatives. It should be historians who decide what was historical and so forth. The agenda should not reflect partisan politics nor what is political correct this week. I am naive to even hope that would be how it ends up.

To me the idea that textbooks are not put together by experts and maybe haven't been for some time, is very disturbing. I have grandchildren at stake in this battle. I don't mind them being presented with different sides of a debate, but how do you leave Thomas Jefferson out of a book about the history of this country? How does a French theologian, however famous, make the grade? Has our country gone nuts?

All I can say to parents and grandparents-- check what your children are being taught and make sure to put your own knowledge into the mix! It might be the only place they hear it.


Paul said...

If I had a child of school age , I would home school that child. Public education in America is not up to standard in many cases.

Ingineer66 said...

While the state of our education system is in total disarray I have a fundamental problem with home schooling kids. They miss out on the social interaction and extra curricular activities that are as much of the education process as the Three R's are.

Annotated Margins said...

Of the several reasons why I stopped teaching, standardized national tests and the degradation of "real" education effected by political intervention in the education system (shift of emphasis toward testing) were the biggies. But the danger of local control is what we are witnessing in Kansas, Missouri, Texas—the rewriting of history and science to fit a selective moral ethic. The responsibility, however, lies with parents. Another reason why I became disillusioned with public education was the lack of parental involvement. All I want is a government that truly makes education a priority over the almighty dollar, thus changing the mindset of the country to focus on finding real solutions rather than succumbing to partisan, shoot-from-the-hip educational re-engineering.

20th Century Woman said...

There is and has been for some time a strong current of anti intellectualism in this country which is at the heart of this problem. Education has become indoctrination. Facts are considered unimportant and ideas dangerous (unless they happen to be the dogmas of some religion or political group).

It is scary.

Rain said...

I am also worried about our system but I believe a strong public education system is crucial to a strong middle class. I agree with ingineer that it is also part of teaching socialization. Besides so many women must work today that home schooling is only possible for a few families. And not all who might desire to home school probably have the skills to do a good job of it. I have known families who did home school and sometimes it worked and sometimes not so much.

I feel we have to fight for public education, that teaches facts and doesn't let either political party turn it into their own soapbox. There are too few hours in the school day as it is to teach something that is PC today and meaningless tomorrow. Textbooks and their standards are critical. When they are wrong or teach something someone wants to believe, not what really happened, that's the end of calling it education. Then it's brainwashing.

I also was bothered by the Texas demand that the books teach American 'exceptionalism.' That is the latest phrase coming out of the extreme right. Glenn Beck supposedly was horrified to find out Bruce Springsteen is singing about the pain some people know in this great land. He wants to ban any possible reference to things we have done here that have not been good. How does that work?

You know if you teach the facts, have good discussions, kids can weigh for themselves exceptionalism or not. This demand it be taught is a tactic of fascism and should scare us all no matter which party is putting it out.

The US is a great place to live but has always been better for some Americans than others; and if we cannot admit that, we are deceiving ourselves. No education system should be based on deception, and I don't want it based on political correctedness either.

Ingineer66 said...

I guess I am somewhat shocked as you are Rain that the textbook contents are determined by a political board. I thought textbooks were reviewed by the boards and if they liked them they used them, not dictated what the book actually said. And even if a book is used the teacher still has the opportunity to leave out selected chapters and add in material they deem more important. Just like everything in this country politics is playing more of a part. If people would just keep their heads down and do the job they are supposed to do no matter what that job is, we would be a better nation.

Maybe we are becoming more of a democracy where every person gets a say in every decision instead of having representatives make informed decisions.

You are correct we should be teaching facts and let the kids learn from those facts. Even with all of our faults and mistakes this is still the greatest nation on the planet. You do not need to only paint a rosy picture to convince somebody of that.

Kay Dennison said...

I think 'selective' education is so very wrong and I hope the sane people of Texas fight back!

I feel that every child should learn the *real* history of this country -- not some edited to appease certain sects of Christianity version.

Then again, that would be sane and right and this country has forgotten both.

Sorry, it's been that kind of week!

mandt said...

“If a man neglects education, he walks lame to the end of his life” (Plato) everything old is new again

Parapluie said...

Writing history is one of the most complex activity of mankind. Teach facts? History is a reflection of what happened and not the real deal. Of most importance, students need to understand primary sources and how differing people will report and process what happened differently. They need to learn to exercise logic and critical thinking. If they are guided to learn how to use the library and if they learn to have confidence in their own thinking, they will be educated citizens. What the texbooks say is just a challenge to a well guided student.

Rain said...

Getting into what you just said, parapluie, is why we have the right and left wing trying to write textbooks that slant everything to the direction they prefer. History can be taught about dates, about critical conditions at the time of economics, social agendas, but to encourage the children to see it a certain way goes beyond the facts. When I was in school, we memorized a lot of dates and sequences. A teacher can go beyond that but IF that teacher presents their solutions as facts, then we have what is happening to our text books.

Part of what school is about is learning to memorize and use facts. There are facts out there. What they mean is where debates happen. I don't want schools teaching social agendas because whose will it be?

Paul said...

I understand your feeling about home schooling and socialization Ing66. It is a valid concern. I am all for public education, but often it seems that the welfare of the child is secondary to other issues e.g. teacher salaries et ceters, union contracts et al. I was fortunate in having attended a good grade school. Today the quality of public education is very uneven at best. A parent has a moral obligation to have her, or his, child have the opportunity for a good education.

Rain said...

We as a people have that obligation, Paul. Some parents won't care but we should care for their children and the future good of our country. It's our future.

Parapluie said...

Of course we agree that we don't want our children to be brained washed. This is not done by selecting a group of facts to teach and keeping to the facts. Any group of facts are selected on the basis of a cosmic view. What you call facts are not the real happening or state of being. All observations are made by people who have some point of view.
The one thing citizens of a democracy need to learn is critical thinking.
When I was in highschool the history text book was not important. We went to the Portland Public Library and did research finding primary sources. We made a thesis which could be a generalization. Then we had to support it with primary source quotes. We were not allowed to support our idea with glittering generalities. Some of our assignments had to do with revolutionary forms of government and how their cosmic view was the basis of their own writing of history. The one most important lesson for our future citizens is critical thinking guided by wise teachers.

Rain said...

In the case of this discussion, we are talking about textbooks for K-8. There is no way what you are talking about could be done at that level for most students. If we don't teach the facts of history and yes, there are facts, real dates, real events, then all the assumptions of what they mean are put together with this idea there is no absolute. There are facts. They can be taught. And especially with children, that's the best approach because if we go at it from a viewpoint of slants, then we are at the mercy of this political group or that one. You might like it if a liberal was teaching what the Revolution meant but you won't like it so much if it's a conservative. If you keep to who George Washington was, what events happened and what happened next, they can learn that with plenty of years later to debate what it meant.

One of my big objections to school today is too much politically correct teaching. My daughter talks about all the time that is spent with that in the classroom and that doesn't leave so much for things that are less argued over. To me a lot should be taught by the parents but realistically that isn't happening in too many homes.

This particular debate is over textbooks though,not what a teacher might teach to go with them. In the past textbooks were a start. My concern is when you leave out Thomas Jefferson from that textbook and you put in Newt Gingrich, where does that take you? I wouldn't like it better if it was some liberal emphasis. School has so little time to teach facts and when they aren't doing that, when they teach it's all relative, I do not think that helps with life.

If they taught (when the kids are old enough) the various ideas on what led up to say some battle or some political change, that's not bad but good. But if they leave out the exact details, don't expect the kids to learn the 'facts' then I think it is heading to a very shallow approach to life-- wise logical processes or not.

Ingineer66 said...

In my opinion for K-8 American History should start in 1620 and stop in the 1950's. I guess with some mention of 1492. Report the facts and leave all the debate on the modern times for High School and mostly college. Young kids do not need to know about Clinton or Gingrich or that stuff. Teach the basics and build the foundation.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

Yes . This Country Has Gone Nuts!
That is unbelevable....No Thomas Jefferson???
And Joe McCarthy gettimg a makeover???
Help Us All!