Saturday, June 04, 2005

Public education...Storm, meet Pot. Pot, meet Storm.

"Students face consequences if they choose to accept evolution in a family or a church or a community that patently rejects evolution ... It might affect whether you get a date to the prom, or whether you get that summer job or not," McCoy said. "You may even anger close family members. Conversations about evolution can make family reunions very tense. "

It is bound to happen.
The same thing that happens to the children of divorced parents is now happening to students as the debate over teaching evoloution rages on.

Mixed signals is the worst of all shortcomings in management, in parenting, in education, in politics, in every human endeavor that requires the transmission of information. And mixed signals is what students are getting in this debate. The odd part is, it makes no difference if a well-meaning parent is home-schooling or sending the student to a private school with a curriculum that has the Good Faithkeeping Seal of Aproval. The finished product, the student, will still have to live and work a world that is, according to their training and instruction, deeply flawed to a dangerous point. Lacking the adult interpersonal skills that allow us to sit together in the same place with publicans and sinners, and others of ignorant, illicit and misguided creeds, adolescents and young adults are still trapped in that idealistic place where everyone who can't agree with them is simply ill-informed. All they need to do is pursuade others of the truth, and in time ignorant people will see the truth and the truth shall set them free.

We are witnessing the indoctrination, polarization and intellectual vaccination of a generation of young people prepared to engage in another civil war over principles, if necessary to defend and protect what they know to be "right." We are already teaching them the skills of actual combat in the proving grounds of the Middle East. After all, it's not about land, or oil, or international politics. It's about principles, you know. When the seeds of mixed signals are sewn, a lifetime of irresolvable conflict is the harvest. Social workers, pastoral counselors and others who work with children can attest to the fact that children will love and often try to protect a parent or parents who are abusive or negligent.

The bonds of affection in healthy families are stronger than disfunctional ones, to the point that children from that family can express the family identity even more than that of society around them according to how well the family has succeded in passing on its values and beliefs. But in the long run, society carries the heavier weight. How else to account for the changes in first-generation immigrants whose children don't speak the mother tongue as well as their new language? Whose grandchildren engage in habits or wear fashions their grandparents find unacceptable?

How else to explain the desegregation of public schools and accommodations, followed by private schools, clubs and churches? I remember widespread creation of "private schools" in the South, meaning "white schools." An avalanche of social opinion eventually prevailed, as in the case of smoking. Prejudice survives along with the use of tobacco, but the voice is sotto voce, just as more and more buildings are designated non-smoking. For me the question is not about faith versus science. It is about how faith approaches the world, not only its science, but its whole being. How can we teach our children to be IN the world, but not necessarily OF the world? Not how can the world teach our children, but how can we teach our children...

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I am a supporter of both public and private education. There is a place for both in society. I know people whose private school education was far superior to what I received in public schools. Thank God, I say, that those people are well-prepared to make excellent, achievement-oriented contributions to the world. I had enough experience with Applesoft Basic to appreciate that there are programmers who have a passion for writing tight programs so that I don't have to write my own (even though many of those people tend to be at the margins of education...geeks, you know...which is why I don't worry about the flaws of education, public or private).
I hear voices calling for the abandonment of public schools. At its most benign, the message is to get your kids out of the public classroom at any cost, as though there were no important differences among the spectrum of public schools. Quickly, for their sakes, get your children into a private setting (never mind what agenda, curriculum or quality it may have) because private is by definition better than public. As we worship more and more at the altar of market economics we conclude that the marketplace holds the best possible remedy for just about every problem. No one seems to notice the self-fulfilling prophetic nature of such advice: the students taken away will be the very ones whose faith, values and family support will most likely ameliorate the problems they purport solve by quitting.
Try to picture a society that does not support public education at all, which is where I sense a lot of people wish to go. When I was in Korea I spent my off-duty hours teaching English conversation to high school students, as well as young professionals who planned to study in America and wanted to be conversationally prepared. Korea in 1966 could not afford to provide public education for all its children, so beginning at about year six, students had to pass tests to continue receiving free public education. By the time a student got to college he or she had already been tested three times by the system so that only the brightest students could take advantage of post-secondary education.
There were private schools in Korea at that time, as well as private tutors. But private education was the resource of financially able families whose children, for whatever reason -- sloth, indifference, dullness, or other problem -- failed to pass the tests to remain in public school. Korea was desperately poor, so without free public schools the future of the country would have been bleak. Private education was a safety net for underachievers, not the repository for the best and brightest as in America. Knowing that some of my students were better at speaking English than others, I asked the Korean English teacher how to speak to them as a group. Should I use simple words and make a conscious effort to speak slower so that more of them could understand what I was talking about. He told me not to worry about those in the middle or at the bottom, but to speak with the best students at whatever level they could understand. "The rest will follow," he said. And there was no hesitation in his answer. As an educator, he knew that his role was to set the standard and let others strive to reach it. Anything less would be cheating those who were near the top. The rest, as he said, would follow.
He didn't say it, but there will always be followers. Followers always outnumber leaders. My instinct is that as Christians we should be producing good leaders for the public good, not trying to transform the public into a Kingdom of God on earth. Anything else strikes me as another attempt to build a Tower of Babel. Christians have a duty, alright. But it is not what is being advertised. Their duty is to be good Christians in the world around them, and teach their children to be the same. And since followers will always outnumber leaders, it would be wise to teach their children to be good Christian followers. St. Paul didn't attack the institution of slavery when he sent Philemon back to his master. Elsewhere he even advised slaves to set a good example for their masters. I have managed a lot of people and know from experience that leadership in a peer group is more important than leadership at the top. There is a lesson here, but there is too much noise in the public debate for it to be taught.
Two weeks ago when we turned on the air conditioner for summer, we found, much to our frustration, that the compressor was not coming on. (Why do we wait until the weather is uncomfortably hot? Why not try it out in early spring to avoid frustration in case it stopped working over the winter? It's like using the stapler. We only run out when we are attempting to staple something...anyway...)
So we called for service. We called the best and most reputable heating and air company in the county, a business now in it's second-generation of private management, still owned and operated by the man who started it years ago. We learned to our surprise and delight that the owner of this business, who had personally come to make arrangements for the installation of a heat pump when we were finishing the basement, a prosperous man who owns rental property and has a street named for him...this man cannot read and write. He flies his own airplane, but has no license because he cannot pass a written test.
The moment I met him, I knew that he was a man of good character. You can tell from how a person carries himself, shakes hands, or things that he says. Sometimes you just know. The moment you meet someone. I have met millions of the public myself and I can tell when I have met someone like him. You aren't gonna tell him anything that he hasn't already heard. Just know that you have met one of the good guys.
Finding out that he couldn't read only underscored my good feelings about him. I already liked him, but I like him better now than I did before.
Go on. Tell me about education.

1 comment:

pgepps said...

Very interesting. I think we'd disagree about a few things, but there are such differences in our starting-points and reasons that I don't think we'd ever have to argue about it. Leastways, not unless someone makes you Prez and me VP.

Cheers, and I'll link this post over at my place,