Monday, September 28, 2009

Education and culture

Lots of people are already talking about this one:

WASHINGTON — Students beware: The summer vacation you just enjoyed could be sharply curtailed if President Barack Obama gets his way.

Obama says American kids spend too little time in school, putting them at a disadvantage with other students around the globe.

"Now, I know longer school days and school years are not wildly popular ideas," the president said earlier this year. "Not with Malia and Sasha, not in my family, and probably not in yours. But the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom."

The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

"Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

How much time does the president think should be added to the school day? It's unclear, but this quote from the article provides a hint:

Aside from improving academic performance, Education Secretary Duncan has a vision of schools as the heart of the community. Duncan, who was Chicago's schools chief, grew up studying alongside poor kids on the city's South Side as part of the tutoring program his mother still runs.

"Those hours from 3 o'clock to 7 o'clock are times of high anxiety for parents," Duncan said. "They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table."

3 o'clock to 7 o'clock?? Schools to be open weekends? Get away from the "agrarian" model (e.g., promote year-round schooling)?

What an unholy trio of bad ideas.

Let's face it: what the president is promoting here is the "daycare" model of education. We've been moving that way, in terms of our public schools, for a number of years now, with such things as school-provided breakfasts and after-school programs designed to keep kids after hours. Trouble is, all that has been targeted at only some students, mainly underprivileged ones. I think the goal here is to have these things available--and even mandatory--for all students. I wouldn't be surprised if the end-game of the liberal educators is to have children arrive on the school campuses before breakfast and return home after dinner, and to be constantly in the care of teachers and other government employees for the whole day.


I think the reasons can be traced to a few of the bedrocks of liberal philosophy: the notion that women must work outside the home to fulfill themselves; the notion that professional educators are much better than parents at raising and educating children, and the notion that the only reason our public schools aren't churning out geniuses by the truckload is that they don't have enough money--which they'll certainly get if the schools become de facto round-the-clock daycare centers instead of places of instruction. Add to this the number of social programs and politically-correct "education" units which can be added in longer and more numerous school days, and you can almost sense the salivation going on amongst the members of the U.S. Department of Education over the prospect of more school days, more school hours, and much, much more money.

I can't think of any other business--and, yes, education is a business--in which a failing model which consistently did not produce the required measurable objectives would essentially claim that all they needed was a lot more time and a lot more money, and that this claim would be taken seriously for the square root of one divided by 2 plus negative one fourth of a second. And yet this has always been public education's claim--they need more time, and they need more money, if they're going to be able to produce the kind of scholars who can compete on a global level, particularly in math and science.

The problems with public education have been discussed ad infinitum, but one of the underlying problems is one that won't be solved with more classroom hours and longer school years. That problem is cultural. Currently, children from two-parent, married, stable homes do better, not only in education, but in many other areas of life. Yet we've decided that the two-parent, stable, married household is an irrelevant lifestyle choice, no better and no worse than serial divorce and remarriage, single parenthood, or any other combination of adults and children living together.

I know that some single parents work very hard to make sure that their children don't fail. But we can't deny that it's much harder for them to be involved in their children's education than it is for the two-parent family. And what is going on at home does impact what happens at school, even if we want to pretend that adults and their self-fulfillment comes before children and what they chiefly need: their own father and mother, involved in and caring about their lives.

We can't solve the problems of the home lives of American children by taking them away from their homes for longer and longer stretches of time. But the statistics aren't getting any better: in 2007, almost 40% of American children were born to unwed parents. Roughly 12 million of America's 73.9 million children are being raised by single parents. Divorce continues to impact our nation's children.

President Obama talks about our children not spending as many hours in school as other nations' children. But our children reflect a different troubling statistic: only 63% of American children grew up with both biological parents in 2005; according to the source at the link, this is the lowest figure in the Western world.

We can't fix what's wrong with American schools without looking at what's wrong with the American family. But that means being politically incorrect. It means admitting that children do suffer disproportionately when adults play house and move on, whether through divorce/remarriage or through the simpler, less expensive (generally) method of never bothering to marry in the first place. It means recognizing that all the money in the world could be poured into schools without helping a vast swath of American children whose home lives work against them no matter how many hours of the day they spend sitting in a classroom. It means taking responsibility, as adults, for our actions and behaviors.

In the end, it means repudiating the hedonistic, "anything goes" mantra of the Sexual Revolution. But that's not something that can happen with a big government program or more funding; that's something that can only be changed with a cultural shift away from the insanity of the recent past and in favor of stability, maturity, traditional morality, and a kind of "putting our children first" that doesn't translate into a mere political slogan. That's something that can only be changed one family, one community at a time. Putting children in the hands of government educators, many of whom espouse a very different kind of morality, for longer hours and more days isn't going to help that process; it may even hurt.


Ellyn said...

I dismissed the President's comments with a flippant, "at our homeschool we're already schooling year-round and for extended hours." But I honestly do shudder at the thought of further government encroachment into the American family.

How can the problems and deficits of our educational system be solved by a prescription of more of what isn't working?

I am similarly appalled at calls for formal education to start at earlier ages - especially for those children deemed 'most at risk.' Having the educators come between the children and their (implied) incompetent parents does not appear to have stopped the self-perpetuating cycle of ignorance and bad outcomes that proponents of Head Start and its ilk would have us think.

Todd said...

"How can the problems and deficits of our educational system be solved by a prescription of more of what isn't working?"

I say the same about many political pro-life efforts, but that's another story.

I think trying to connect a longer school year to hedonism is a stretch. Likewise the meme about government control of children. Conservatives seem generally happy about an expanded military and federal control in lots of other areas. Schools are run locally. They generally welcome parental involvement. And if they don't, well, one can always insist.

As for schools open on afternoons and weekends, we already have it. It's called sports. A far better case could be made for carving the culture of sport out of school administration, and make use of saved time (and budget) for educational enrichment.

I think a better effort would be to make education smarter: moving things like foreign languages to grade school, and ensuring ample time for music and the arts.

And yes, summer vacation is a curiosity I wouldn't mind seeing pared down. A three-week vacation at Christmas, more time off during a long and demanding school year. There's some sense to consider there.

Baron Korf said...

It takes more than just a stable family. It also takes a real attitude at home that education is important.

Of course in public schools they don't educate kids much, they pass them. They are trained to perform tasks and reguritate ideas, but aren't taught to think, if anything they are taught not to think, just remember. At least that was the majority of my experience.

Only correct practice makes perfect. Before we say that more school is the answer, why not make sure that schooling is helping the kids first. And, as always, it would be best to leave politics out of this.

c matt said...

Only correct practice makes perfect.

Exactly. Like a coach of mine once said, repeating the same thing over and over doesn't make you better - it only makes you able to do whatever it is you repeated. If what you repeat is flawed, then you will only be able to do what is flawed. We already spend billions on our schools, yet we get crap out. The problem is most teachers really do not know how to teach. They just can't get ideas across (part is student apathy, but part really is lack of knowing how to effectively communicate). And I've seen this at all levels (seems particularly bad at the college level where most profs are interested in research or publishing rather than wasting time with students).

But, year round school is not necessarily a bad idea if done correctly - that is, not increasing the number of days in school, but spread the vacation time out more. We had year round at a private school in Corpus Christi and it worked out well. The kids had about 5 weeks off in the summer, which was plenty before they started getting bored. They also got a week in the fall, two or three weeks at Christmas and another week and a half or so at Spring Break/Easter.

Anonymous said...

My question in all of this was whether the Obama girls would move to the public school system if all these proposed "improvements" were enacted. Not likely!

Dawn Farias said...

I may have said this here before, I don't know, but... I used to teach high school math. One of my favorite sayings was: The problem with the schools is that the teachers are afraid of the administrators, the administrators are afraid of the parents, the parents are afraid of the kids, and the kids? Well, they aren't afraid of anybody.

From my experience teaching, I'd say that pretty much sums things up.

Magister Christianus said...

"what the president is promoting here is the 'daycare' model of education'" That is exactly what this is.

"the notion that professional educators are much better than parents at raising and educating children" This is the truly frightening part of this. I posted on this myself at

Anonymous said...

Implications of the statement '40% of children born in the US to unwed parents' and '12/73.9 million children living in single-parent households', I believe is the bigger issue here...healthful pregnancies lasts 9 months, (acknowledging the alarming trend of increased premature births rates in my mid-eastern state), but measuring a generation at 15-20 yrs, would probably mean it would be easier to and more efficacious to provide valuable educational opportunities after school and during an extended summer time when these parentless families CANNOT provide adequate supervision and guidance.