Public education has taken on a life of its own. She has a specific character and a predictable personality. I contend she is animated by the father of lies. We will call her the Empress. The Emperor’s invisible clothes in the tale can be likened to the programs the Empress uses to clothe her massive body of schools. Just like the Emperor, the Empress is “so excessively fond of clothes” that she spends all her money on them. These outward signs of vanity are garments woven from invisible threads invented by the swindlers we know as “educational experts.”
The Empress adorns herself with new and ever-changing signs of achievement. One hour she shows off higher test scores, the next she touts diminishing dropout rates, after that she struts diversity, and then she puts on higher literacy rates. The higher test scores are generally an arbitrary measure of a lowered standard. The diminishing dropout rate is a narrower re-definition of the word dropout. Her claims to diversity are couched in the most rigid uniformity. The higher literacy rates possess almost no similarity to what an ancient grammarian would call literate. And yet still, the public applauds these invisible successes as if they were real.Mr. Rummelsburg bases his assertion on his twenty years of teaching in the public schools. I have been teaching at the local community college for the last three years. I cannot verify that Mr. Rummelsburg's analysis is correct, but I can tell you that our public education system is broken. Students are graduating from our public high schools and they need remedial math and remedial English instruction before they can continue with college level work. This is not the exception. This is the norm.
For example, my presentation on the skeleton begins with a picture of a man holding a skull and is captioned, "Alas, poor Yorick". If I am lucky, one of the 24 students in the class might recognize this as Shakespeare. It is rare that anyone can state that it is from Hamlet. But perhaps reading the works of Dead White Males is not necessary for future success in anatomy and physiology. The ability to read and comprehend the text book is, however, critical. Words like subsequent, contiguous, and superficial are foreign to their vocabularies. When I give the instructions, "List in decreasing order of complexity," most of my students do not know whether to put the most complex or the least complex first.
Math skills are even worse. When studying the heart, we use the equation:
Cardiac output (CO) = Stroke Volume (SV) x Heart Rate (HR)
When I write this equation on the board, there is panic. Oh, no! We are going to do math! If I give the students two of the variables, they cannot solve for the third. They do not know now to manipulate the units of the variables. They cannot change liters to milliliters. They are not even aware that the units on both sides of the equation should match. And the mere thought of multiplying or dividing fractions sends them into a tailspin. I found out that my students do not know that miles per gallon or MPG is a mathematical ratio. They have no idea how to calculate it. They think MPG is just a ranking system like 4-stars or 5-stars. Bigger is better.
The root of this problem is multifactorial. It begins at home with the breakdown of family life. Parents, rich and poor alike, are so busy with their own lives that they make little or no time to engender and share in the educational process. Schools are all too often more concerned with social engineering and indoctrination than with teaching foundational academics like math, language, history, and basic economics. Reading lists are purged of classic literature and replaced with selections from Oprah's Book Club in the name of diversity. We have developed a culture that is so focused on self-esteem that our children do not understand failure is a possibility. We hesitate to celebrate academic excellence because it might make the average student feel uncomfortable. Everyone gets a participation trophy because actual performance is irrelevant. After having four children graduate from a public high school my assessment is that if you are in an AP or honors classroom, there is a chance--not a guarantee-- you will be educated in the subject. If you are in a general education classroom, it is more likely that the teacher will pencil-whip the grades and you will move on whether you learned anything or not.
I do not know the complete answer to this dilemma. However, I do know that the problem does not stem from lack of funding. We have poured millions and maybe billions of tax dollars down the black hole of public education for decades and have nothing to show for it. National standards and oversight are not the answer. It is time to fire the Department of Education and give control of education back to local communities. They cannot do any worse.