Friday, January 28, 2011

America is on the wrong path with education

At his State of the Union address President Obama spoke at length about education.  He, like many Progressives before him, focused on programs that would increase "investment" (spending) in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (S.T.E.M.).  Delaware has taken the lead on this program.  Joe Biden being the Vice President is one reason, the fact that Delaware is small and easy for them to use as a test market contributes as well but really the biggest part of the reason why Delaware has become a leader in Progressive change in the education industry is that the Governor (Jack Markell), Secretary of Education (Dr. Lillian Lowery) and the head of the largest school district (Dr. Marcia Lyles) are all affiliated with the man who created this progressive education ideology, Mr. Eli Broad.  The idea is that by preparing our children for jobs in these emerging industries we will be able to churn out children prepared to hit the ground running in these fields. While that may be true, it does it at the expense of History and Language Arts programs.  So what you might say?  Those are antiquated and unnecessary in today's society?  Well, maybe that's what we're SUPPOSED to think.

There's no doubt that a focus on S.T.E.M. classes will make our children smart.  Educating them specifically to perform certain trades will certainly churn out a talented and gifted workforce in the Science, Technology and Engineering fields.  The problem is that it will make them smart at the expense of intelligence.  You might be asking, "Aren't smart and intelligent the same thing?"  Well let's explore that:
Intelligent -
1. having good understanding or a high mental capacity; quick to comprehend, as persons or animals: an intelligent student.
2. displaying or characterized by quickness of understanding, sound thought, or good judgment: an intelligent reply.
3. having the faculty of reasoning and understanding; possessing intelligence: intelligent beings in outer space.
4. Computers . pertaining to the ability to do data processing locally; smart: An intelligent terminal can edit input before transmission to a host computer. Compare dumb ( def. 8 ) .
5. Archaic . having understanding or knowledge (usually fol. by of ).
7. quick or prompt in action, as persons.
8. having or showing quick intelligence or ready mental capability: a smart student.
9. shrewd or sharp, as a person in dealing with others or as in business dealings: a smart businessman.
10. clever, witty, or readily effective, as a speaker, speech, rejoinder, etc.
11. dashingly or impressively neat or trim in appearance, as persons, dress, etc.
12. socially elegant; sophisticated or fashionable: the smart crowd.
13. saucy; pert: smart remarks.
You may have noticed that I highlighted a few things.  A synonym for intelligent is "enlightened".  Remember, our founders understood that man can only rule himself when he is enlightened.  Enlightened is defined as: factually well-informed, tolerant of alternative opinions, and guided by rational thought.  The difference between smart and intelligent is clear.  Intelligence is about the capacity to reason and understand, it is the path to enlightenment.  Enlightenment is the ability to "Fix REASON firmly in her seat..." as Thomas Jefferson said.  Smart is about being quick on our feet especially with regards to responses to requests for information. 

In this case, being smart in your chosen field makes you a talented and productive worker but it does little to prepare you for life outside of your profession.  STEM classes teach you to be able to quickly adapt and to recall off hand information.  Think about the way math is taught.  It's a MASSIVE amount of repetition and memorization.  Why?  Because the idea is to make the information quickly accessible to your brain.  Quick: What's 2x2?  I bet you said 4 out loud didn't you?  Now, if I asked you to name our 4th President, could you name Madison as quickly as you answered 4?  Chances are that answer is no.

We must teach our children to REASON and infuse them with knowledge.  This is the CORE of a well rounded, enlightened and educated individual.  It's the foundation of building a knowledgeable populace.  Now we know that STEM classes make our kids smart, but what makes them intelligent and enlightened?  History and Language Arts, the very classes we are pushing out of our schools (I would argue religion as well).  History is essential in so many ways.  It teaches us where we've come from, it provides us with a background and it shows us what has worked and what has failed in the past.  It gives us a frame of reference with which to REASON and formulate decisions.  From a practical standpoint, learning history requires plenty of reading, plenty of focus and an ability to rationalize.  History provides us with facts and it asks US to create our own opinions from it.  The other subject I mentioned was Language Arts.  This is not the spelling and reading classes we have now but instead a more grounded course that challenges children to think critically.  Language Arts classes use original sources and literary pieces to display how language has been and is used but they also teach children how to create their own usage.  They push children to create from their own experiences and depth of knowledge.  Combining history and language arts a core of intelligence and knowledge mixed with critical thinking and THAT enables a child to become enlightened.  An enlightened child can more easily focus and retain information. 

With an enlightened base our children would EASILY be able to transition to any vocational specialty they choose.  An education system based on this model (and coupled with religion) produced out founding fathers like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and John Adams.  It produced Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge and Martin Luther King.  It helped us create most of the inventions in the 20th century and helped us beat Russia to the moon.  So why would we be led to believe that history and language arts are no longer important?  Because a thorough look at history would upset the apple cart.  People would see that our current system is NOT the system designed by the founders.  It's moving toward a system that has been tried time and time again and which has failed.  The people would learn facts that would cause them to think outside of the box and to "question with boldness".  This thinking and enlightened populace would not need many of the laws and regulations that exist today.  The jobs of the current establishment would be in jeopardy. 

In Delaware we are being used as a guinea pig to determine if STEM programs work.  That's why we were chosen as the winner of the Race to the Top program.  That's also why we spend the 11th most in the country on education and our results rank around the bottom.

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