Skip to comments.The weighty truth about public education
Posted on 08/19/2003 3:27:09 PM PDT by hsmomx3
"Schools fail state standards," read the newspaper headline. No, the headline did not appear in the Arizona Republic about predominately Hispanic schools in Phoenix, Arizona, where it is difficult to overcome language and cultural difficulties. Nor did the headline appear in the Newark Star Ledger about predominately black schools in Newark, New Jersey, where kids are failing in spite of per-pupil spending of over $12,000.
The headline appeared in the August 14th edition of the daily newspaper of an all-white town of about 12,000 people in rural Pennsylvania, where my sister-in-law has been a public school teacher for 30 years and where my father-in-law has served on the school board. During a recent week-long visit there, I learned the weighty truth about public education from both of them and from my own observations and research.
The truth is, the academic problems in the small town are not due to low per-pupil spending, inadequate teacher training, large class sizes or lousy facilities. The truth is, Pennsylvania ranks near the top nationally in spending, and the hometown of my in-laws has new school buildings, small classes and the standard smorgasbord of "free" special education, preschool and special tutors.
So what is the problem in the small Pennsylvania town? I'll be lambasted for answering the question truthfully, but so be it. The problem is fat-ass single moms, shiftless absentee dads, and misguided social policies that have created an abundance of both. It is the same problem that exists in many big-city school districts.
There, I said the truth. Let the lambasting begin.
When my sister-in-law began her teaching career in the town 30 years ago, parents were married and behaved like responsible adults instead of musk-crazed deer looking for a temporary mate and a free lunch in the Pennsylvania woods. Now a high percentage of her students, and a much higher percentage of her problem students, come from single-parent families. Since single-parent families have significantly less money than two-parent families, half of her class is now in the student lunch program, which automatically entitles the school to other forms of federal and state aid.
The Shamu-sized kids should be put on a diet instead of being given free food. They can be seen waddling down Main Street or seen sitting on the trash-strewn porches of their dilapidated homes with their blimp-sized, tattooed moms, eating potato chips and watching satellite TV. Their dads are not around to fix up the homes. They are at the tavern watching satellite TV or in the woods playing with their all-terrain toys.
Behavioral problems are now so serious that my sister-in-law recently completed a state-funded teacher course on how to physically subdue unruly and overweight students without hurting them.
Discipline and obesity were not problems when my father-in-law attended a one-room schoolhouse in a small community outside of town. In great shape for his age, he writes with perfect grammar and punctuation, thanks to teaching techniques that are now considered outmoded, such as diagramming sentences and swats with a ruler. His father drove the school bus and stoked up the schoolhouse's wood-burning stove before class.
Many of the poor immigrants who settled the town in the early 20th Century were from Sweden, including my wife's grandparents. Many others immigrated from Italy. One of my wife's grandfathers worked as a roustabout in the nearby oil fields and lived in a small but immaculate house. Although per-capita income was much lower back then, there was much more parental responsibility and much less social dysfunction.
Today, irresponsibility is rewarded in the town, as it is throughout the nation. For example, my father-in-law lives in the house where he grew up, a house that is worth about $60,000. He has kept the old frame house in good repair, as his father did. A slothful neighbor has done the opposite. Feigning a disability, he let his home fall into disrepair. The state rewarded the lethargic leech by renovating his house at taxpayer expense.
My father-in-law is on the board of the local housing authority, having retired seven years ago from the mortgage department of a local savings and loan. Knowing the personal and financial histories of many public housing residents, he says that most of them would not need public assistance if they would get off their fat asses and go to work. But state and federal regulations do not let the housing authority consider subjective factors like initiative and responsibility in awarding housing subsidies.
My father-in-law took me on a tour of homes built with public money, pointing out ones that are much nicer than his house. His daughter tries to teach the unruly kids from those homes.
The parents of the unruly kids are being rewarded for being bad parents. If my sister-in-law's school does not meet state and federal standards, the underperforming porkers in the school lunch program have to be given the option of transferring to the school of their choice in another district, with the transfer being paid by their home district. In other words, the bad kids of irresponsible parents do not have to stay in a failing school, but the good kids of responsible parents have to stay put. Even the Bolsheviks in the former Soviet Union did not go that far in punishing hard work and achievement.
What does my sister-in-law say about all of this? She complains that the annual property taxes on her $120,000 home are $3,000, 70 percent of which goes to her employer, the local school district. She is demoralized over the district's red tape and wasteful spending, the undisciplined kids and their porcine parents, and the state and federal governments blaming her for problems caused by their bad social policies.
That, folks, is the weighty truth about public education. Too bad that neither the education establishment nor the establishment media is honest enough to say it.
Mr. Cantoni is an author, columnist and consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After figuring out that 18 year olds convey meaning with phrases such as "And I was like!", "Dude!", and "as IF!", I asked her if it was as bad as "everyone" says it is.
As the father of two daughters, aged 10 and 8, her reply hit me hard. "Dude, there are students rolling joints in class. The gay kids are kissing and playing grab-ass in the hallways, in plain sight of the teachers. The girls bathroom is full of HS girls smoking pot or barfing up their lunches to keep their weight down. Two of my friends are 18 and already have $5000 on their credit cards."
She told me they had a substitute teacher the other day and one of the "severely emotionally disturbed" children (read psychopath) they've had to mainstream into regular classes told her "I'm gonna cut that smile right off your pretty face."
This isn't paved over Metropolis, either. Some of these kids live where wheat grows right up to the road.
What makes us a powerful country and economy is the culture set up over the last 200 years. By this I mean the system of property rights that allows people to own homes they can borrow against, businesses they can make money from, etc.
I've heard of studies that show that the primary difference in the economic power of a country is the ability of individuals to keep and control property. This is the foundation that allows borrowing, capital buildup, etc.
Education is a good thing. But Bill Gates was a college dropout.
Most parents today want nothing to do with school or their kid's education. Schools are supposed to not just cover academics, but socialization also; since this isn't being accomplished in the home anymore.
Until you have spent some time in todays classroom and then look back on how it was 20 years ago; you have no clue. Its a reflection of our own societal dysfunction. Until America starts doing a better job raising kids; nothing in education will improve. Pay increases for teachers, benchmarks & testing, or privatization just circumvents the real problem which is how we have changed as a people.
And Bill Gates daddy was a patent lawyer. Young Billy Gates learned at home what he needed to know to get where he is today.
If you steal from others and have good lawyers, you can get rich.
And you seem surprised?........ I find this article to be dead on...... I volunteered quite a bit in my son's elementary school - the kids were pretty much a reflection of the parents and home life.....Some of those Mother's looked like they could hold their own in any bar fight!
I see kids that have been pulled out of local schools for various reasons. Kids that are not academically challenged in govt schools, Parents that homeschool for religious reasons, Kids that just want to avoid being somewhere on time, but the biggest group I see are from parents that don't exhibit good parenting skills. Many rural/native/bush families don't consider education important. Most are on some type of govt welfare and it's generational. The state gives the family a computer and dad sticks a cd in at 11:00 for a few hours each day. After a few years of wasting away, the kids get caught up by statewide testing and then usually drop out of the ed process completely. Pregnant at 13 comes next and another welfare family on its way.
Many kids will not develop academically without keeping their feet to the fire. Many parents I see don't even take an interest in their kids education. Times have changed.
I have taught in urban, bush, and native schools. The single central problem is how our country has changed socially and how this affects education. Violence, FAS, substance abuse, dysfunction, and thats just for starters. I just heard the otherday a senior at Kivalina had a rifle on the principal and the new year has just begun. Kid was drunk and threatened to kill the new principal. State police flew into the village and picked the kid up. Do you ever remember a kid putting a gun on a teacher at school?
Teachers are all for comp based ed but how do you successfully hold the students accountable? The big picture is to send these kids out prepared to succeed in life. The largest majority of kids I have seen are not mature enough to accomplish this on their own. Maybe 20% overachievers that would excell in any format. 30% complete losers, shouldn't even be in school. Then the 50% that just float through and for the most part get it together with time, maturity, and proper guidance.
You are completely right about the possibilities of comp based ed but I just don't think kids today could deal with the responsibility.