Friday, February 15, 2008

Flunking


“....brainpower is the scarcest commodity and the only one of real value. Any human organization can be rendered useless, impotent, a danger to itself, by selectively removing its best minds while carefully leaving the stupid ones in place.” (Heinlein, Friday 37)

Working for the government has, in my experience, been both rewarding and frustrating. The public schools once attracted bright people, but that is no longer typical. One of my former student teachers was the valedictorian at her high school and became a wonderful teacher herself, but she was atypical as well. As the “old” teachers move on, there will be a dearth of talent in the classroom. The better teachers at my children’s school are in their 60’s and 70’s, and there are some talented ones who are a couple of decades behind. Among the younger ones, a great teacher is a rarity. A quick look at the average SAT’s for the college of education vs. the school of business at the University of Georgia will provide a quick confirmation of the lowering of intellectual standards in education.

Why are the better students shunning teaching careers? Many point to low salaries, but that is often not true. I just saw a full page ad for a local school system’s job fair, and the salary range was $37K to $80K, numbers that might not be attractive in some areas of the country, but those are not too bad in northeastern Georgia.

No, there are many forces that drive the better students away, and the number one deterrent may well be their experiences in high school. My own children have had a roller coaster ride, with fine teaching talent one class period, followed by a hack who is working harder on a graduate degree than teaching the next class period. (Additional degrees add some $7K here in Georgia, so there are plenty of doctors who don’t have any medical training.)

Modern classrooms are mine fields, with behavior and mentally challenged students sharing the same teachers and classrooms as regular ed students, due to government mandates. If you don’t believe me, just google “least restrictive environment” and read up on it. Some teachers refuse to administer tests, instead having students do “projects” which are casually awarded a grade based on an oral report. Essays are unread, leading to a big shock when the post-secondary instructor actually evaluates student work. One must postulate that the reason state and federal governments mandate tests is that teachers no longer use them. Smart students who have just endured four years of this treatment are not going to rush to gain teaching credentials.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote “Harrison Bergeron” as a not-so-subtle warning about government seeking to make everyone equal. In this story, intellectual equality equals stupidity. Mr. Vonnegut’s and Mr. Heinlein’s cautionary narratives certainly ring true when one contemplates the woes afflicting modern educational institutions.

Private schools and virtual schools may give concerned and better informed parents a way out of this morass, but many students will never understand what they missed by being born in an era when the public schools flunked.

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