A Conservative Cure for Sick Schools
While most Republicans have no problem dismissing Democratic claims that misidentify perceived problems and ignore the reality of proposed solutions, our party continues to tout school vouchers as the cure for our sick education system based on political expediency and anecdotal evidence.
Theoretically, parents would use vouchers to seek out the best schools, allowing children from all families the same avenues for superior education as wealthy families. From the libertarian perspective, the voucher system would be advantageous for families who capitalize on greater control of their children's education, and it fits nicely into the tenet that government does nothing as well as free market alternatives. From the religious right perspective, vouchers afford parents the ability to take their children away from the secular progressive bias prevalent in public schools.
Since libertarians and religious right factions often pull the Republican Party in opposite directions in areas other than tax policy, conservatives happily embrace this area of mutual interest.
I wish I could state without qualification that a voucher system would be superior to our long-established public education system, but I believe it would be no more successful than government boondoggles of the left.
We must not forget that public schools can work. As a baby boomer who graduated from high school in 1971, I received an excellent education at public schools in my blue-collar neighborhood. I never felt academically disadvantaged upon encountering students from wealthy areas. Sadly, that may no longer be the case.
Many presumed high school graduates I've encountered at a local community college seem incapable of speaking simple English despite twelve years of schooling that culminated in a diploma. Beyond the embarrassing inability to contemplate meaningful thoughts expressed in coherent conversation, these students and many of their contemporaries seem to believe it acceptable to use variations of the F-word as noun, verb, adjective, and adverb.
However, this should not be construed to condemn the entire system. My children's education in public schools laid the foundation for top performance at state universities leading to successful careers in fields of their choosing. Liberals would complain children of privilege have access to better schools than poor children stuck in failing schools, but this ignores the responsibility of parents working to provide for their own family's welfare. The intention to educate our children properly is not bound exclusively to choice of neighborhoods or what happens within classroom walls; the lion's share involves parental involvement at home, where adults must ensure that children not only do their homework but pursue additional studies in areas of specific interests like music, history, literature, and computer programming.
When I was in school, a teacher introduced me to the concept that we had, thanks to founding father Benjamin Franklin and successive generations, access to a free world of knowledge at the public library. Learning how to learn, she pointed out, surpasses any specific date or name memorized through rote.
We now have access to virtually all information in the world through the internet, which can still be accessed for free at the public library, but most kids in failing schools apparently prefer to use technology to play video games and exchange social media viruses rather than advance learning.
In the final analysis, if neither students nor their parents truly value education to the point of redirecting their powers of intention, then changing schools will not be enough. While a voucher system would help some families, to a greater extent it would devolve into funding underperforming schools that offer kickbacks to politicians.
The top performance of private schools has been spurred by the self-fulfilling prophecy of parents willing to seek out better schools for their children. They also have a financial stake in their children making the most of that experience. Families without that mindset and personal investment are unlikely to see similar results.
As true conservatives, we should recognize that our historical obligation to provide public education to every child is not the problem, and a voucher system is not the solution. Traditional conservative approaches would lead to true resolution.
First, discipline must be restored to the classroom, and to accomplish that, troublemakers must be banished. Rather than funding private school for those already motivated to learn, we should remove thugs from our neighborhood public schools and redirect them into remedial education facilities where a military bootcamp-like discipline is combined with trade skill training.
Once the troublemakers are no longer harassing students who want to succeed and those who can be convinced to follow suit, teachers will have a safe environment in which they can focus on instruction rather than dissipating their energies to control hooligans. It should further be noted that when students are attentive, having 30 to 35 kids in a classroom does not impair learning, or at least it never did when I was in school.
Second, teachers must emphasize the basics that will empower students. Who decides what is important? The conservative goal has always been to prepare students to thrive as free individuals, which should still be the goal. While many of us have a kneejerk reaction to the term "liberal arts," the Latin origin is "Artes Liberales." Artes means "subjects of learning" and Liberales translates as "proper to free persons."The bedrock subjects of grammar (reading and writing), logic and rhetoric remain essential, and social studies classes have traditionally been venues to sharpen these skills in school.
For maximum impact on preparing students to succeed upon graduation, social studies must return to focus on geography, economics and history from an American exceptionalism perspective. In recent decades, the multicultural approach intended to make students feel good about their unique backgrounds has failed. Eliminating hyphenated American studies and blame-America bias in education would propel student assimilation into the shared culture of American success and away from hyphenated victimhood.
The upper-tier subjects of Artes Liberales were arithmetic, geometry, astronomy (science), and music.
Mathematics has become more critical than ever in our high-tech world. Unfortunately, many math students rely on formulas stored in calculators rather than understanding the underlying concepts. I would require math through geometry to be learned without electronic calculators and require "showing work" in order to fully exercise minds, but this is not a Luddite stand against technology.
Computer science should be studied as a mandatory science class. All science classes must be centered on provable concepts, not politically motivated theories. When unproven theories are introduced, they should be balanced by contrary opinions. Unproven theories can be great subjects for practice of rhetoric and logic, but they should not be confused with objectively observed cause and effect, like Sir Isaac Newton's theory of gravity.
Music has recently been dismissed as unnecessary by bureaucrats, but children who study music generally perform better academically, because music builds valuable connections within the brain. Plus, music can be fun, and school should always include a bit of fun so children look forward to attending.
I would add physical education to Artes Liberales.Throughout most of history, daily tasks and walking everywhere kept people physically fit, but today obesity has reached epidemic proportions. American kids need P.E. more than ever.
Standards for graduation should be consistent throughout the nation, but more power must be returned to classrooms regarding how these goals are achieved. With this freedom, teachers must also accept full accountability. If their students fail to reach minimum standards, those teachers must be subject to dismissal regardless of tenure. The students, for their part, should also be held accountable, with failing students held back to retake that year of study rather than pushed up through the system with "social promotions."
While not a tradition of public education, uniforms should be mandatory. This would eliminate many unnecessary distractions, including clothes that identify gang affiliation, economic status, and sexual provocativeness.
With these changes, public schools would produce graduates prepared for higher education and capable of immediately contributing to society through gainful employment. Vouchers would be unnecessary.