Hammering Screws Into...


By William Westmiller

The education crisis is not about tools, it's about technique. New federal and state programs to reduce class size, hire more new teachers, and improve facilities are focused on structure rather than content. Efforts to fix a warped methodology by construction, technology and body counts may reflect the limits of government monopoly thinking, but they won't correct the failures inherent in public schooling.
Teaching is all about communication between instructor and student. The structural environment for that discourse has little effect on the results achieved. We could revert to log cabins and a dozen books if only the style, methods, and means of knowledge transfer were open to innovation and honest appraisal. In the current static system, that's not possible.
Legislative assemblies are not a vehicle for educational innovation. At best, politicians respond to the insistent demands by educrats, contractors, and unions who have a financial stake in the distribution of taxpayer dollars. When legislators do focus on content, the result is more rigid conformity and more expansive central control. These are the exact opposite of what the educational process requires.
Teaching is still an art, not a science. It will stay that way as long as we pretend that universal, monopolistic and institutionalized remedies will goad eager minds into conforming with fixed, fantastic and mechanical formulas. Weaving a web of high-tech wires through our classrooms won't buy us a new, better, and faster acquisition of scholastic knowledge. The Internet and computer technology are certainly valuable and exciting resources, but they have nothing to do with learning. High-tech hardware and data lines are vacant tools when the craving is for simple knowledge about basic skills and established truths.
Thousands, even millions, of new, inexperienced teachers won't solve the problem. A few dedicated and creative teachers, given meager resources and minimal freedom can make a huge difference. Just one of those teachers, in England, only a few decades ago, developed instructional methods that are world-renowned and universally applauded. Maria Montessori had an overloaded classroom of retarded students in a lower class neighborhood, but she had ideas which spoke directly to the cravings of curious minds. There were no ping-pong courses or midnight basketball. No computers or fancy audio-visual technology. Only a few, inexpensive and very effective methods of training young minds in fundamental skills. Achieving that simple objective is the highest and lowest expectation of any responsible parent. To give their children an opportunity to learn basic skills and established truths, to find their own place in the world.
Federal educrats are pushing hard for educational hegemony by scattering billions of dollars to the winds. They focus on the height and breadth of political monuments - in this case, gravestones - to their educational failures. Institutionalizing their vision across the nation will only ensure that their worst failures become universal, rather than isolated, disasters. Even their best guesses are compromised by consensus, a constant trickle of politically correct compromises, and pro-forma constraints.
Most of the elitist "wisdom" about learning falls to a simple attack of common sense. Social promotion may conform with the Spartan ideal of militaristic conformity and sacrifice to the state, but it's one of the most obvious barriers to individual achievement. Cramming children into the next curriculum step, purely on the basis of age, is neither an "advance", nor a benefit, to those who are falling down the stairs. Whole language immersion is complete confusion for any student who can't relate spoken words to small groups of letters on a written page. Turning reading instruction into a guessing game, with no relation to phonic communication, isn't a bad idea; it's inhumane torture. The worst of the lot is grading for self-esteem. An "A" for effort when comprehension is absent will certainly destroy any self-respect that a student might acquire during years of false and frivolous accolades. These are just a few of the most obvious forms of educational duress in the current system.
What concerned citizens must learn is that not even the highest-paid political appointees can know what is best for any child's education; simply because children aren't a monolithic, macro-brained conglomeration of small robots subject to the imagined bromides of remote bureaucrats. They're all individual people. All with unique talents, hopes and dreams that don'tconform to cookie-cutter nostrums.
The only way to improve education is to allow a full flowering of every talented teacher with the advice and consent of every child's parents. Only in a free market of ideas will the whimsical elements of learning be transferred to scientifically sound teaching practices. Every day we delay leaves millions of children in the backwaters of institutional servitude. As one of our lesser lights accidentally observed, "The waste is a terrible thing to mind".
Whatever financial machinations are required, it is essential to return educational control to the level closest to students. Whether that's school vouchers, tax credits, charter schools or simply closing down failed government projects, it must be achieved before we can have any reasonable hope for our children's futures. The choice is between intellectual freedom and institutional chains for the next generation of eager and curious minds.

©1998, William Westmiller
California Coordinator of the Republican Liberty Caucus
Past Candidate for the Republican Nomination for (24CD) Congress
Former National Secretary, California Chairman, Libertarian Party
hammer.c09 ~860 Words

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