Wednesday, January 23, 2008

That Readin' Thing

Anyone who knows me understands that I have zero respect for our current public education system. I am not alone.

Jerry Pournelle responding to the Suprynowicz article:
I am not an enemy of the locally controlled public school, just as I am not an enemy of universal manhood conscription. It is good for a republic to have the social classes mix. Catholic schools do as good a job of that as public schools, or did when I was in First Grade. My family was from the ruined old aristocracy, now solidly middle class, dependent on my father's salary. Next to me was the scion of the noveau riche family that owned the Coca Cola franchise. In the seat ahead of me was a boy perhaps ten years old, still in first grade, an amiable giant who became my best friend. Most of my classmates were middle class suburbanites but there were also Italian truck gardener children. There were two grades in a room.

When we moved to Capleville the consolidated school, also two grades to a room, was the only school available. Once again there were the rich and the poor, farmers and intellectuals, a complete mix of rural Shelby County. Of course I went to high school at Christian Brothers, which was considered the college prep high school; most CBC students went on to college as a matter of course. Catholic High, run by Jesuits, did not sent 20% of its student on to higher education. The city of Memphis had a school system that was similar. Central High was the college prep high school, while the local neighborhood high schools were "terminal", in that most of the graduates got jobs or got married soon after graduation. Memphis had a third alternative: there was Memphis Tech, which taught drafting and wood and metal shop, and was considered a good place to have come from if you wanted any kind of technical job that didn't require calculus.

So long as local schools are locally controlled, and raise their fund locally -- that is, transparency and accountability are preserved, those who spend the money control what is done with the money -- the public schools will not become the enemy of the republic. I am not at all sure that today's centrally controlled schools funded by the states, hell bent to keep up attendance and leave no child behind, are responsibly to anyone at all. They are like the Golem created to defend a community but which terrorizes it, answering to no one. And no child left behind means that no child gets ahead.

Interestingly, I have found few intellectual communities including the national security bureaucracy who dispute that assessment of the school system. In the Homeland Security conference last week, a high ranking California homeland security official said "We are faced with an increasing requirement for technically competent employees while our schools are increasingly unable to produce them." No one in a conference of 1500 government and private industry security experts questioned the assertion. When I called attention to it to everyone I met, I got no quarrel. Everyone agreed: yet it was as if it had not been said.

We have an increasing need for technically competent high school graduates, and a school system decreasingly able to meet that need. And the band plays on. And No Child Is Left Behind.
On a related note, The Onion is sometimes too real to be funny.

Parents; it's really simple. If you want your children to know how to read (and by extension know how to self-educate) then they have to read. Be the adult. Shut off the damn TV and get a library card for your kids. Cheap books are available used from a variety of sources. There is probably a used book store within walking distance of your home where you can not only purchase used books for next to nothing, but will take books you've already read as trade for little or no cash. If not, Amazon can hook you up easily enough. Debbie and I just purchased over a dozen new and used books from there delivered to our door for a little over $100 (the price of dinner and a movie for the family). And don't be too concerned about what they are reading (obvious caveats aside) or if it's "good" literature or pulp fiction or magazines or even comic books. Oh. Sorry. Make that graphic novels. Our Amazon book order had everything from Richard Feynman's lectures on quantum electrodynamics to Patricia Cornwell to Wil Wheaton's latest.

Read. Read. Read. A hundred pages a day as a minimum. And the internet doesn't count.

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