Education: Response to Twitter Conversation

A few days ago my Twitter friends Lenore_Happenstance, Booalready, and ailec were bouncing some thoughts around about education on Twitter. The thread was sparked by the news of the draconian budget cuts and school closings about to happen in Kansas City, Missouri. Ailec challenged us to suggest what we think could improve the state of education in this country.

My thoughts on education are difficult to compress into 140 characters, even if I were to generate a stream of updates.

I believe in public education. I believe that it is appropriate for our society to educate all of our children in safe, technologically adequate schools staffed by well trained and dedicated teachers. I believe that teachers should be paid salaries commensurate with investment of time and expense we demand they make in their education. I pay my school taxes each year without complaint, and believe that whether or not I have a child attending school, I benefit when children are educated. They are the future of our civilization and culture.

The local school has a good reputation in our area. It’s a small school with fewer than 700 students and a student to teacher ration of 12:1. We’re not an affluent town (almost 60% of the students get a free or reduced lunch) and we are not diverse (about 98% white). A statistic of importance: 35% of the local high school graduates go to college. That is not a thrilling statistic when, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national rate is 68.6%, almost twice the rate our school produces. The kids that go on to college, though, hold their own at very good schools. I’ve met several of them over the years.

So, what did we do when it came time to educate our child? We opted out of sending her to the local public school, and kept her at home. For the most part, her classroom was our dining room table. The first time she set foot in a formal classroom, she was 16 years old and a junior in high school, and that classroom was at a local university. We didn’t do this because we knew the statistics I list above, it was simply what we wanted to do, and we thought we had the skills and time needed to pull it off.

A. had a rigorous education. We enrolled her in accredited distance learning programs, and she had teachers, assignments, and grades. She studied all of the subjects included in a classical education - English, literature, history, mathematics, science, art, and music. She learned to diagram sentences and wrote her first research paper in sixth grade. She wrote, and wrote, and wrote, pages upon pages every week. Her school day was shorter but more concentrated than schools can manage, and her school year tended to be longer. She had quite a bit of unstructured time most days to pursue her own interests.

What did we give her? A lot of attention, and standards. Mistakes were OK (I think, I hope), but sloughing off was not. We also gave her the opportunity to spend a lot of time with adults. We were involved. Our goal was to teach her how to teach herself.

My answer to the question about how we can fix our schools begins with the proposition that we have everything we need right now to do so. We don’t need lots more money or technology. What we need is parental involvement. Not adversarial involvement that says “my kid’s always right” whenever a child comes a cropper in some way, but attention to the skills needed to learn anything, interest in the work that children do as they learn, and standards.

As Diane Ravitch has discovered, our schools are not marketplaces. She is giving interviews saying that schools need to be like families. I think our schools need families, too, that value education and make it a priority in life at home as well as in school.


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