Education call to arms

May 18, 2011


A growing number of news services are reporting on the dire and desperate conditions that our nation’s schools are facing in providing high-quality and continuously-advancing, state-of-the-art education. America’s schools and their students, our children, are losing the battle. This is just the tip of the iceberg of a growing national emergency, a very loud and clear “call to arms”.

There is nothing more critically important than education to our nation’s future. Everything that is America today, our phenomenal advancement in technology and our high standard of living, has its powerful roots in our educational system and home-grown imagination, creativity and innovation.

Major developing issues facing America, including our deteriorating infrastructure and destructive impacts of world climate change, demand premier excellence in technical education to understand and resolve.

Our children are in very serious trouble. We must demand and require premier excellence in American education, to always be the very best on Earth, being second to no other country.  We cannot and must not accept anything less. This will require the direct involvement and a major culture change by all Americans.

Proficiency and mastery of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education by American students has become deplorable, horribly destructive to our nation’s future economy and security. Increasing numbers of students are not taking mentally-challenging STEM courses, or do not have access to exciting and rigorous STEM curriculum and enhanced hands-on STEM activities. Internationally, U.S. students rank 17th in science and 25th in mathematics. America’s future is extremely bleak unless we take very firm and decisive action immediately to rapidly reverse this situation.

It has been expressed repeatedly that American students must become “critical thinkers”. But, for over 30 years American adults have not been demonstrating our own critical thinking when it comes to our children’s education. It is time for all Americans to openly recognize and address the reality that we have been creating new generations of students who are being ignored, misguided and discarded, starting at home, where critical thinking and support must begin.

We can no longer continue passing the full responsibility of our children’s education solely to our schools as we have done for 50 years. It is imperative that American communities must become directly involved in guiding and promoting excellence in our schools and providing much needed enhanced and rigorous STEM educational opportunities.

America’s recent educational idea of “No Child Left Behind” has brutally become “America Left Behind and Out in the Cold”. Our academically-gifted students have become ignored and forgotten, as we have tried to shove every student into a one-size-fits-all education, resulting in severe national mediocrity in education, dramatically reducing the ability of high-achieving students to move forward quickly and receive the superior education they vitally need and must have, to achieve, succeed and become the future leaders of our nation.

A May 15th CNN TV program “Education in America: Don’t Fail Me”, based on the exciting hands-on and minds-on international U.S FIRST Robotics student STEM education competition program, squarely hit the target dead center. Its very moving, sobering and powerful message is that we must make urgent and dramatic improvements in our schools, especially STEM education, beginning firmly in elementary school. America is rapidly losing the educational and economic competition with other countries, which will have major, destructive impacts on our ability to advance and survive.

The message is beginning to be heard from Paso Robles to Lompoc. A first-ever, grassroots event on May 24th, the Central Coast STEM Education Forum, will bring together 100 top leaders in education, business, government and non-profit STEM education organizations.  This already “sold-out” event will attempt to recognize and understand our children’s educational challenges, brainstorm ways of making improvements, and strongly promote the development of community collaboration and partnerships to significantly enhance STEM education inside and outside of our schools.

Community involvement and support is a key element to making this new effort become reality. If you wish to learn more about and become involved in supporting this effort, please contact the Endeavour Institute and the Discovery Institute of SLO .

Walter Reil was a member and president of the Atascadero Education Foundation supporting K-12 performing arts and STEM education public outreach, including designing and chairing the installation of a hands-on STEM education laboratory in the Monterey Road Elementary School.

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Children today are different. It doesn’t suprise me they get poor grades, have emotional issues, health issues, and demand anything they want from others. Why is this? Children today have little respect for others. You see it in their interactions with peers at social events, school, and see it in their postings on social networking sites. They care primary for themselves and if others get caught in the fallout…well that’s just ok. Educating our children must be deeper than just school taught courses. It must include how to respect others, how to give to others, and how to work to others. They need course in society involvement and moral responsibility. We are lacking in the basic molding of our future government leaders and our future business persons. Everyone places their child in that familiar “not my child!” category when, in fact, all children have the ability to be “that child”.

I grew up in the 70’s and had a decent childhood. I know right from wrong, treat people with respect and empathy, and have no desire to make sure my needs are fully met before those of others. I am not greedy, smarth mouthed, or mean. Looking back, I am proud of the way my parents raised me. Thanks, Mom and Dad. You done good!

Children are different today, because parents are different today. They have decided that video games are more important that human interaction, junk food is more important than real food, and that being “cool” is more important than being a person of substance. All of these hurt the short and long term development of the person.

Why are parents today different? TV, media, and the psychologists who went to work for the advertising companies. Tons and tons of money is spent manipulating us, and successfully so.

Spot on Paul; I would add another dimension as “why” todays parents of young children are different, to a degree than parents of the past. In addition to having more distractions than ever in the form of all of the electronic media and communication arenas, you also have the sad fact that more and more are stressed out about simply earning a decent wage so that they can provide for their families. Two income families are the “norm” today, unless one of the parents is fortunate enough to make a “head-of-household” wage, been connected so that they have a great paying job, or they were industrious enough to start their own business that affords them the ability to earn enough to live well. For all of the rest in society, the stress of “keeping their heads above water” does affect their interactions with their children and ultimately the children’s ability to function well in school. Yes there are numerous problems in our education structure that need a serious examination, but the impact of the parent/child relationship does affect the child’s ability to learn in the best of situations. And Paul, your comment about advertising is very perceptive; I’ll wager that most don’t recognize how much advertising actually affects them because so much reaches us on a subconscious level.

All good points.

There are so many reasons that our children are having the issues they are. There was the mistaken line of thought that we should always praise our children even when the child hasn’t done anything to be praised about. This leaves children not having to work towards goals. One must fail once in awhile to learn.

Expanding on what Bob said about head of households. Now days both parents work. On top of that kids are much more involved in activities then when most of us were kids. Other than when I lived in Europe I don’t remember anyone playing soccer, there weren’t soccer teams, now the majority of kids participate in AYSO (I remember saying that this soccer thing would never go over in this country). There was little league, boy and girl scouts and a few other things but today there’s soccer school clubs, gymnastics, many after school league teams. My point is that kids are more active but have less parental involvement. Moms and Dads are too tired to get involved with homework and cooking healthy meals. So pop the kid in front of the Play Station and buy them a fast food burger so mom or dad can try and catch up on the laundry. I know I sound old fashioned but we need a parent at home to care for the house and the children. It is my observation that most well adjusted kids have a parent at home (generally). Because of the ‘good job sally, you got a D on your report card’ attitude that went on for years, we’ve really scr%wed up our kids. Don’t get me wrong, we should give our kids atta boys when they do a good a job. Every class room as a brib bowl. If a kid turns in their homework or raises their hand, they get a piece of candy. Lifes not like that. We should’t teach our kids with treats and that just doing the right thing is above and beyond. Kids should not get candy just for doing their homework.

Exactly, typo, exactly!

I never liked the “esteem-focused” teaching methods. That doesn’t mean dump on them, but when they fail or fail to put forth effort, a little shaming can go a long way. Today, there appears very little shame, and we are seeing the apathetic results.

Well said. Community involvement is the only solution. I would add that the problem is federal meddling in education (add the state to that). NCLB was the brainchild of George Bush AND Ted Kennedy (plenty of blame to go around). The notion of “accountability” was noble, but the feds can’t do that. Imagine what good could be done if we eliminated the Dept of Education and sent all the federal money spent on education to the local boards, who are responsible to the very community that needs to take responsibility for education. They can do it if they have the means (spelled $).

I can’t imagine a worse idea regarding putting all decisions in the local boards hands. LMUSD has a long history of having bonehead school boards, a few good people, more bad than good though. They are in part responsible and the reason our district is having so many problems. Saying community involvement sounds great but in reality it’s always the same two or three people that get involved. I have been to school board meeting and other than a very few times they are lucky to get 5 people in the audience. I’ll bet that 90% of the parents can’t even name one school board member. Same goes for city council meetings and BOS meetings. It’s always the same people and there’s very few of them. That is why we need people other than a waitress (prez of LMUSD school board) overseeing our childrens education, as much as the right hates anything to do with the govt. we need them to keep things fair. The govt. isn’t always right, they’re don’t always make good choices and there are some issues that need to be worked out ie bureaucracy but we elect the govt. the govt is you and me and that is how we get involved. If you wait for community involvement you’ll be waiting a long time.

I don’t care whether I get thumbs up or thumbs down. The only thing I wonder is why I get an up or down (mostly downs). I would like someone to counter what I say, I appreciate and respect that. Give me a good logical reason to change my mind. It’s easy to just say,,,I don’t like you so I don’t like what you said, that’s for morons. There are only about two people that post here that are right wingers that put out honest good debates, the rest just say silly things. They don’t have logical reasons to disagree, they simply disagree because they don’t like people on the left,,party line thing and really kinda dumb. Personally, if I disagree with someone I have a real reason to disagree and I can’t resist speaking up and throwing my two cents in.

No big deal, just kinda odd to me.

Typoqueen, Children who are homeschooled and those who attend private schools excel in comparison to those who attend the public schools. This is a fact noted by the gov and I only need look to my own neighbors and their group who are collectively homeschooled. While these kids are technically high school Sophomores and Juniors they are all now completing either their first or second year of math and science at Cuesta college. Why is it that these children “all” excel, are they just “all” smart or do the parents just do a better job? These kids sit down twice a year and take the same tests that are administered to the students in the public school system. All 7 kids pull a 4.0 on those tests every time.

I will add that all these children are versed in music and various arts. They all started out learning the piano and from there, they went on to learn instruments of their choice. My neighbor play’s 2 instruments including the piano and she play’s well, her sister play’s 1 instrument plus the piano, and both can name the artist or author of most any literary, canvas produced or sculptured masterpiece.

I could go on but you get the picture, I might add that they all (the group of 7) love school and I’ve never seen a group of kids that embrace learning with such pleasure and enthusiasm. They also all participate in out of town debates, spelling bees and participate in play’s!

Some people say that they can’t afford to home school or pay for a private school because they work. These parents of these 7 children also work. Some work 4, 10 hour days and teach one day, other’s have always only worked part time and one doesn’t work at all. I’m all for providing vouchers to people who home school or use private school. Why should they pay for a school system that is inferior and that they don’t utilize? In short, education should be managed as close to home as possible, beginning at the school board level which I believe parents would involve themselves in if they had more say. Tell them their children’s education is in their hands and those of the officials they elect and I bet, the parents will fill the meeting rooms.

Cindy, I agree about home schooling and independent study, most kids do quite well with them. But they take parental involvement and not all kids are motivated or have the ability to do those things on their own. Not all parents are in a position to have their kids home schooled. There are many kids with learning disabilities that need a teacher and a structured environment. Most kids that are home schooled are either wealthy or middle class, rarely do you see children from low income families home schooled. With a voucher system schools would become extremely segregated. The poor and the kids with disabilities would be left to attend worse schools. If all kids are given an equal chance for a good education it seems more fair and better for everyone. IMO everyone needs to pay taxes to our schools because they don’t just serve people with kids. As a society we need smart educated people. An educated population serves everyone. Not everyone drives but everyone pays taxes for roads, not everyone needs to use the fire dept or or PDs but we all pay for them because there are somethings that as a society benefit us all even if we don’t personally use them.

And so then as a Nation, we should achieve nothing more than mediocrity? If it takes a village to raise a child, then why not give the village the power to do so?

We didn’t have mediocrity before No Child Left Behind. We used to turn out the best of the best. It does take a village and I almost used that in another post here when I mentioned that all of children have a right to a good education, we have to take care of our children and it takes more than just mom and dad.

YUP, and there in lies the “village’ ie: close to home. ;)

but you’re talking about home school and independent study, not the village school.

Cindy, when you say,

“Why should they pay for a school system that is inferior and that they don’t utilize? ”

you hit the nail on the head.

In other words, why the hell can’t we have a true free market in education. The “problems” in education would disappear in the twinkling of an eye.

Because, typo, whenever someone replies to you, you will often just slip into name-calling and projections/assumptions. It’s not really fun to argue with one like you (debate/disagree/what-have-you).

Using various buzz words like “right-winger” “dumb” “morons” etc. don’t really invite people to open a dialogue with you. I could be wrong, but quite often you are not an easy person to communicate with.

I’ll attempt a reason why I marked your original post down:

I can’t imagine a worse idea regarding putting all decisions in the local boards hands

Seriously? You cannot imagine something worse than local control? How about giving control of your life or your kids’ lives over to a really unknown bureaucrat in Sacramento or (worse) Washington, D.C.? You don’t like Lucia Mar’s board… then RUN for a position yourself! You can do that. Can you run for something in Sacto or DC? Not as easily. Therefore, like the current board or not, you do have more control over what is done.

I believe you are absolutely correct in the assumption that most cannot name their school board members. My wife and I are very active in our children’s education (though we are San Luis Unified), but as I tell my kids: you TAKE your education from the school, you do not GET it from the school. What I mean by that is, they are not to sit there and BE educated, but they need to SEARCH for their education, using their teachers and schools as one tool in that search. My wife and I, our church, and the wonderful arts and nature around us are the others. Even heated political debates. I am very careful not to say “oh that guy is full of it because X, Y and Z” rather, I will say, “that one is misguided, but obviously believes X, Y and Z” – thus allowing my kids to make those “Learning Leaps” of logic and cognition.

We are all different, and I would never want to put anyone into any “box” or label. Perhaps between just the two of us, we can convince our neighbors (with school children or not) to take an active interest in the various people running for the school board. Usually, school boards are just springboards to other offices (much like homeowners association boards are). This is not helpful to the people (esp. children) served by the boards. I can go on and on (as I’m sure you know), but I’ll just end this here.

r0y, when have I called you names? I rarely agree with you but I don’t remember calling you a name. I don’t feel that ‘right winger is a derogatory term. I don’t feel that necon, righty, lefty, lib etc. are derogatory terms, they are descriptive terms that describe certain personalities or political views. Is there something shameful about being a ‘right winger’? I’m proud to be a lefty. Rarely do I call names. The only time I call names is when I or some else are being verbally attacked but I don’t start it. Or when I see racism which seems to be on quite rampant as of late.

I have always been fairly politically active. But it’s very difficult to get others involved. My high school was shocked when I organized a sit in and a we had a majority of the students join in but that is rare. I understand that these days people are very busy, they have a lot on thier plate and they simply don’t have the time to get involved so I don’t blame them. I know that I don’t have the time to be on the school board. I do wish that people would find the time to involved, even if it’s just attending the meetings. I know from experience that everyone says that they’ll be there and that they’ll help but when push comes to shove they usually don’t. You are right about the school board spring board into other things issue, 100% right on.

You also often misinterpret people’s postings. I did not say you call ME names, but it was a generalization, you will often just slip into name-calling and projections/assumptions.

Here, in most of your posts we are in agreement: everyone should pay taxes for education (or anything that benefits society: roads, cops, fire dept., parks, etc), wealthier children are more likely to get home-schooling, etc.

All points well received, and with little or none of the gripes I had with your posts (other than a few from the one I quoted from in my earlier reply); overall, we’re allies on this one – not in lock-step, but definitely on the same side of this coin.

It’s hard not to be, as common sense guides us. The only point I think we’d start to differ is defining “the Village” as you and cindy got into it. I believe (could be wrong) that cindy is essentially saying the village should be immediate family/circle-of-friends, or smaller community-sized; while it looks like you’re suggesting the village might be larger (city, county, state, fed?).

Anyway, it is healthy when the arguments are such. At least we all know (right, left or middle) that something has to be done with education. Being mostly a libertarian, I would love nothing more than less government involvement, however, as you aptly pointed out, the special needs and very low-income kids (or even trouble-makers, rich or poor) can potentially have a hard time with schooling.

A former principal and teacher friend of mine (who disagrees with many of my views) told me he would LOVE to have vouchers, as well as a say about who is in his class, as he could just “hand back” the trouble-makers ( and kids who do not want to be there) to the parents and say, “Not in my class – good luck with your kid” and be done with it. Instead, he has to take them all, and have kids that bring down the rest (even w/o NCLB). The solution is not going to be an easy one.

You also often misinterpret people’s postings. I did not say you call ME names, but it was a generalization, you will often just slip into name-calling and projections/assumptions”

I don’t believe that I often do that. Over the past two or three weeks I’ve had a lot of crazyness in my personal life so I have mis-read a few posts. When brought to my attention I have re-read them and corrected myself. That is not the way it always is though. At this time in my hectic life I probably shouldn’t even post here but it’s a bit of a break in my very busy hectic day. That should pass soon though.

Well said, rOy, well said.

Wow. Waitresses aren’t qualified? How about the housewife? How about the retired teacher? How about the businessman? Oh, yeah, they have a lawyer on the board (former PREZ) – that worked our really well! What we do know is that the further away the decisions are made, the less people will feel like they can do anything about it.

I have nothing against waitresses, many years ago I was a waitress. I suppose if Martin did a better job then I wouldn’t even use that to throw at her but she doesn’t. The problem is that they are handling budgets in the millions and making decisions that effect our children’s education. I believe that for the most part we need educated bright people handling the responsibilities of a large school district. Collen doesn’t have that ability IMO, she’s a helluva waitress but someone in her position needs to have a mind for business.

Your point about the lawyer is well taken. There we have a highly educated person that was an utter failure as prez of that board. During his tenure on our school board our district paid out huge bucks on legal actions due to our lawyer board member’s advise. Just because someone has an education that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are smart.

Maybe a community truly gets what they deserve when they continue to elect those with little common sense and those with axes to grind. Big assumption, but assuming they elect true community representatives, that’s still the best place for the decision making to occur. The needs of the children of SLO County are different than the needs of the children of Merced County and a state or federal one size fits all “program” just will never work.

“The problem is that they are handling budgets in the millions and making decisions that effect our children’s education.”

Your words, and this time YOU hit the nail on the head. Your words prove that only a free market can solve this problem. If all kids were attending private schools, then we would not have to worry about what OTHERS were doing, where they choose to put their kids in school, or how they spend their money, only how WE are doing it. We should be making our OWN economic decisions, not decisions for thousands of others!

I agree that the “No Child Left Behind Act” was just that: an act. In keeping everyone dumbed-down, indeed no one is left behind, but it is because no one is moving forward now. I’m tempted to go into Einstein’s theories…

Anyway, the reason we are seeing such a dumbing down is essentially two-fold, yet identical: ignorance is easy to control. Whether it is via the profiteering side (“There’s a sucker born every minute”) or the political side (“Let’s vote for Hope and Change!”) Ignorance begets ignorance, and it does spiral out of control. It is usually, when it gets so bad for a society, that a conquering occurs of some level. Historically, wars, famines, disease (all things that *can* be attributed to lack of education) often “thins the herd,” genetically speaking. More modern societies, as brutal as they may seem, are still safer than societies of centuries ago when we all lived and died by the sword.

Once a society gets “fat off the land” and educate themselves, they often become lazy and content – uncaring about politics (queue the Roman empire). I think the United States is lazy and content because we do not have to worry about where our next meal is coming from, nor do we seem to care. This might be changing, I hope so.

Changing the education system for the better is a solid uphill battle. You said it yourself: “home-grown imagination, creativity and innovation” – both of which are constantly squashed by large government and mass-marketing. Political and Economic control of the masses: much easier when they’re kept ignorant.

As important as the lower, K through 12 system is, it is our University system that has completely failed our society. No longer are the best and brightest minds in Academia, they’ve slowly eroded out over the past century or so by homogenizing themselves into a group-think mentality that is quite pervasive (not absolute, but near it). This usually results in limited diversity (oh the irony there), lower standards, and a classic “good-old-boy/girl” network.

Thankfully, the really bright people, outside academia and the government, have began to push back. Your links to the Endeavour Institute and the Discovery Institute of SLO are both nice starts. There is also a guy trying something COMPLETELY different and has established the Khan Academy (which has attracted Bill & Melinda Gates’ interest).

Thank you for an insightful op-ed piece.

Thanks for the link to the Khan Academy video — very interesting. Despite my skepticism about the future of our society in general, ideas like this give me a bit of hope.

Well said, rOy, but watch out for that Bill Gates. He is no friend of the common man. Not by a long shot.