Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Education, Government, Dems 

We hear much today about the negative state of public education. One of my previous careers was as an elementary teacher who taught students in grades 4-6 over a period of years. I was fortunate enough to teach when teachers were expected to teach content. Our students' scores on Iowa Basic Skills Tests or other national tests were used as guidelines for instruction. My teaching also occurred before the teachers union became as powerful as it is.

I am quite aware that there are a number of teachers who are opposed to being measured on their teaching ability, opposed to being held accountable for what children learn. A number of Colleges of Education have become so preoccupied with their social agendas that they ignore the content components of teaching and replace them with someone's perception of "social justice." This approach is detrimental to teachers, parents, and students.

A wonderful but sad article on this topic is today's article by Jeff Jacoby, a columnist for the Boston Globe. The summary of his article is this: from the beginning of our nation, "parental rights and rights of conscience in the education of children" were the backbone of our children's education, not a political party's view whose leaders believe that parents "don't get to impose" their views and values on what their kids are taught in school.

What drove this article by Mr. Jacoby was a debate among Democratic presidential candidates at Dartmouth College. The controversial question described a second-grade teacher who, to the dismay of several parents, had read her young students a story celebrating same-sex marriage. Were the candidates "comfortable" with that?

This is Mr. Edwards response which was mostly accepted by all other candidates: "Yes, absolutely," former senator John Edwards promptly replied. "I want my children . . . to be exposed to all the information . . . even in second grade . . . because I don't want to impose my view. Nobody made me God. I don't get to decide on behalf of my family or my children. . . . I don't get to impose on them what it is that I believe is right."

Just exactly what is a parent's responsibility if it's not to teach their children values, morals, respect, etc.? Of course Mr. Edwards' children, as they move from childhood through adolescence to adulthood, will gain the freedom to make their own choices, so his views ultimately will not be "imposed" on them. But the role of parents in guiding the moral development of their children is a bedrock element in our society. Saying anything and everything goes is an abdication of parental responsibility.

Moreover, Mr. Edwards doesn't really want to apply what he said to other moral issues. Would he want to expose second graders to "all of the [racist] information" put out by the David Dukes of the world? Or is it only certain politically correct views about which "all the information" is acceptable? Mr. Edwards, by his comments and the acquiescence of the other Democratic presidential candidates, in essence advocates complete governmental control over the educational content delivered to our children.

There are topics that are not age appropriate. I believe it is detrimental to a child's development to deal with concepts like this at too early an age. Children deserve the opportunity to be children. Parents should have the right to insist that their children have that opportunity. Who is in the best position to make that decision -- a parent or an employee of the state? I would have thought that basic First Amendment principles would resolve those kinds of issues in favor of the individual parent, not the state. Denying such parental control invites comparison to the worst excesses of Soviet-era mind control.

Moreover, it is ironic that the very members of the school bureaucracy who want to deny parental involvement in the teaching of these issues simultaneously turn around and blame the lack of learning by students on insufficient parental involvement in the schools.

And please, everyone, note that parental control over the age-appropriate content of the values and moral education of a second grader is a completely separate issue from the debate on the merits of gay marriage.

The parents who protested this book lost in their appeals to the school administration and school board.

When will we return to real education, facts, content, challenges, learning to make decisions and stop the intrusion on values? Only when children are taught what they need to learn will they get real self-confidence and become responsible members of society. Wasting time on issues that are irrelevant at a given age is a slam on education in general, teachers who want to teach, and parents who expect their children to be taught something near to what they were taught. Finally the children who have so much instruction time wasted on social issues when they are lagging behind the rest of the industrialized world are being cheated of their ability to compete in the economy of their future.