A Little More About Education

This morning I read a piece on the LA Times website http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-unions-react-tenure-ruling-20140611-story.html concerning how a judge has thrown out the concept of tenure in the California Educational System. His argument was that it was “obvious” that making students remain under a poor teacher was bad for them. To quote the article, “In his ruling Tuesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu said the laws governing job security were unconstitutional because they harmed predominantly low-income, minority students by allowing incompetent instructors to remain in the classroom.”

What, they don’t harm rich white kids too? Of course they do, but rich white kids (and beautiful people, and tall people, etc.) have more going for them than just education. Education is how we are supposed to achieve social mobility within our form of liberal democracy.

Perhaps we ought to address the definition of what it means to “rise up” to a higher level? Could it be that by keeping these kinds of arguments at a conflated level, addressing them by ethnicity, gender or income level, we are doing them a disservice?

Is society the place to reconcile the issues of ethnicity and class that reverberate within our democracy? Perhaps we are leaving out the very person who matters most, the secular “man” who is the end goal of our entire system; the one to whom both minorities and white people are beholden for all of their insight into what sort of a country we ought to live in? Secular man respects all minorities, but is himself not a minority. Secular man respects the arguments of those who have always enjoyed the benefits of the majority, but is himself not a member of the majority, not in the sense of unexamined acquiescence. Secular man wasn’t born any way. Secular man makes himself from the arguments of the times he lives in, and from those of the past. Secular man scans the horizon for what sort of future may be coming, but takes that future in daily within the constructs he has been able to put together to help him make sense of life. Secular man does not exist as an island, but realizes that all rights begin and end with the individual. If people don’t understand what their rights are, then they will not understand how to grant the same to anybody else either. Nor will they understand the meaning of sacrifice.

Isn’t it secular man who is being harmed by the failures of our educational system? To wit, harmed by the very structure that the educational system calls upon for legitimacy? I complained in a previous post that the system puts out people who are supposed to be equipped to go and work for someone else rather than for themselves. The heart of my complaint is even more than that. What we are really doing is creating people who can’t participate within society in any capacity other than to belong to some group or another. Whether that group is defined by their skin color, gender, economic status, etc. it doesn’t really matter. Without the skills to think for yourself the empathy necessary to see another person for who they are, their trials and triumphs, obligations and hungers, may simply be lacking. Without that our only way to form a consensus in terms of what we understand society’s majority position on so many things to be is to look at the same old stupid racist and bigoted thing we disparagingly call the “majority”. If you can’t think, then you can’t use reason. If you can’t use reason then you are doomed to fall back toward the center as is, no matter how much you said that was the last thing you wanted to do. What you fear will consume you.

I’m going to point something out that’s obvious; we don’t track the progress of children across their entire careers as students. If we do track them it is in order to keep statistics about how well they “scored”, not how they have changed and adapted. Aside from the individual teacher in any classroom nobody knows how a particular child thinks. Nobody knows how they address problems. Nobody can predict in what way they will address a new thing placed before them. We do a lot of testing, but we don’t test for that. We don’t even care, so long as they do well according to some standard.

I remember when my nephew was young. In third grade he had a particular teacher who really helped him do well. I went to his school and saw his classrooms. I could see that everyone in his grade was being brought along in multiple disciplines. What else I could see was that his teacher was capable of understanding how each of the kids in her charge was approaching each of the subjects she put before them. She could see how they thought. She could react to them. She could anticipate them individually. She was a teacher at a grade level where that was still possible.

As my nephew got older that kind of influence went away, and his performance dropped accordingly. People like my mother blamed it on the teachers he had afterward. I can see that it wasn’t really their fault. You see, at any point after third grade or so the kids become too complex for a teacher to comprehend them quickly enough such that they can react to them or anticipate them, and the system doesn’t store the information necessary for an educator to go ahead and grasp that from the get go. Home schooling gets that. One room school houses of old got that. Our system doesn’t.

As we enter the world of tomorrow what is wrong with a classroom where no two kids might actually read the same book, even though the various books may all have the same title? Why not present one text to a child where every time that terms appear some aspect of their definition appears as well, whereas a kid who doesn’t need that only reads the term itself? Perhaps all children’s books would include periodic review of the concepts that have lead up to what they are reading now, only the frequency of that review, and the depth of it, would vary from one child to another? And maybe each child’s book will be more or less interactive, or more or less multimedia in its approach, based upon how it is that a particular child thinks?

And what is wrong with a classroom where the teacher knows because of information gathered across time that is now at their fingertips how well or not a particular child interacts with other kids? Why not call upon those who need calling, not just in order for them to learn about a subject by trial, but to learn how to handle themselves communally in terms of both confidence and equality.

Tomorrow can be better. We have it within our grasp to get there. We only have to realize the power of the individual.




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