Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

How To Improve American Education

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Friday, February 14, 2020

It will be interesting to see if Diane Ravitch picks up on this OpEd by David Brooks of the New York Times.

America’s educational model is lacking… and severely so.

Common Core is not the answer, nor is more testing.

And charter schools – private, often for-profit enterprises that siphon away tax dollars from public schools, funneling them to the charter schools’ owners and investors – are definitely out of the question.

Following WWII, the United States Army essentially rebuilt Japan and Germany, and gave to them most marvelous gifts, which were the essential building blocks for a new and transformed educational system, government, social reforms, and national economy.

It’s worth noting that, while “in Japan, the head of the occupation, General Douglas MacArthur, broke up the zaibatsu, the big conglomerates that were blamed for supporting the Japanese militarists, and introduced a range of reforms, from a new school curriculum to a democratic constitution, that were designed to turn Japan into a peaceable democratic nation,” America has fallen into the trap Dwight David Eisenhower warned about in his Farewell Address – building an economy based upon a “military industrial complex.”

It’s not as if there are no global models in other nations which have been successful, thereby forcing America to be stuck, constantly reinventing the wheel.

But America is the ONLY nation in the world which refuses to transfer to the metric system. Even the National Institute of Standards and Technologies has written that, “The United States is now the only industrialized country in the world that does not use the metric system as its predominant system of measurement.”

To be certain, global metrics such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which is administered to 15-year-olds every three years and “assesses the extent to which they have acquired the key knowledge and skills essential for full participation in society,” and focuses upon the core scholastic “subjects of reading, mathematics and science,” including a subject area which changes with every administration, such as “global competence,” which was included in the last survey, are important.

This critique should not be misinterpreted to demean taxpayer-funded public schools, but rather, be viewed as an internal objective criticism.

There’s little, if any, disagreement in principle that teachers should be left to teach, and to operate schools, instead of politicians – from whatever political party happens to be popular at the time. Furthermore, there’s just as little, or less, disagreement that teachers, who are our, or any society’s most influential members upon generations yet to come, should be paid significantly more than they already are. And the most disgraceful event of it all, is the macabre shadow of death which hangs over students’ and teachers’ heads, and burdens not their shoulders, but their minds and hearts, by not knowing, and wondering if at anytime they could be the next victims of a mass shooting.

What is particularly disconcerting to many observers from within, and without – regardless of their city, or state – is the abundant evidence of inequity in teaching support, which includes materials used to teach – such as textbooks, computers, and other necessary items – but also recognizes the often-horrific inequities naturally arising from those schools and districts which have more money, including physical plant conditions, even though they may be in relatively close proximity to each other.

In this era of tax-cutting, it’s difficult to imagine a school, or any government-funded endeavor to thrive with fewer resources, and reduced operational capabilities. And NO ONE wants to talk about increasing taxes, much less an even more efficient use of the existing resources which doesn’t involve fiscal reductions.

Education is forever. It is the only theft-proof thing known to humankind, and once you have it, you have it forever. Any advanced society should recognize and acknowledge that often-overlooked fact, and spare no expenses by investing not only in youth in K-12, but in technical and higher education, and continuing education for adults, as well. This speaks to the very heart of the matter of some political aspirants’ ideals for education. And, they are right.

Equally important, is a sense of public service, an inherent desire to “give back” to society of the talents, knowledge, skills and abilities one has. Of the untold numbers of people with whom I’ve ever mentioned this idea, no one, literally, no one, has ever derided it, nor said it was bad: Mandatory Public Service in much the same fashion as our Military Service Members.

Imagine the tremendous good it would do for our nation, and for the participants, if, following high school, they were to have 2, or 3 years of paid public service in some, or any capacity of their choosing, in and through which they would serve their local communities, state, or nation, and be compensated similarly as our Service Members, with wages/salary up to pay grade E-4, healthcare, housing & clothing allowances, 30 days paid vacation (leave) annually, educational benefits, and if that income was forever tax-free. Yes, FOREVER. A base income of $28,536 per annum is nothing to sneeze at, especially if all other expenses such as healthcare, housing, food, and clothing are paid for, and educational benefits are similarly guaranteed. The combined total compensation would average at least $50,000 to $60,000 annually, or even slightly more. And, it would ALL be tax-free, forever.

And to be certain, there’s always a cost – and it’s not always pecuniary. It’s up to us to decide if we are worth such an investment of time, resources, and money in ourselves. If we’re up for the challenge to better ourselves by the practice of such disciplines, but more importantly, our nation, by looking to the future of the generations yet to come.

The “finer points” of criticism of the state of public education in America could include a lack of mandatory foreign language learning, dearth of artistic/creative curricula such as visual arts, music, and dance/acting, and the money to fund it, but the intellectual and social growth which comes from the exposure to, and involvement in such programmes. (I simply couldn’t resist using the British spelling! ;-))

In short, like every coach of winning teams criticizes, encourages, and trains their athletes, so too should educators practice critique of their profession, and should be open to changes which benefit students, and educators alike – regardless from where they originate.

––//––

nytimes.com

Opinion – This Is How Scandinavia Got Great

By David Brooks

Opinion|This Is How Scandinavia Got Great

The power of educating the whole person.

David Brooks

People admiring the annual cherry tree blossoms in Stockholm.
Credit…Jonathan Nackstrand/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Almost everybody admires the Nordic model. Countries like Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland have high economic productivity, high social equality, high social trust and high levels of personal happiness.

Progressives say it’s because they have generous welfare states. Some libertarians point out that these countries score high on nearly every measure of free market openness. Immigration restrictionists note that until recently they were ethnically homogeneous societies.

But Nordic nations were ethnically homogeneous in 1800, when they were dirt poor. Their economic growth took off just after 1870, way before their welfare states were established. What really launched the Nordic nations was generations of phenomenal educational policy.

The 19th-century Nordic elites did something we haven’t been able to do in this country recently. They realized that if their countries were to prosper they had to create truly successful “folk schools” for the least educated among them. They realized that they were going to have to make lifelong learning a part of the natural fabric of society.

They look at education differently than we do. The German word they used to describe their approach, bildung, doesn’t even have an English equivalent. It means the complete moral, emotional, intellectual and civic transformation of the person. It was based on the idea that if people were going to be able to handle and contribute to an emerging industrial society, they would need more complex inner lives.

Today, Americans often think of schooling as the transmission of specialized skill sets — can the student read, do math, recite the facts of biology. Bildung is devised to change the way students see the world. It is devised to help them understand complex systems and see the relations between things — between self and society, between a community of relationships in a family and a town.

As Lene Rachel Andersen and Tomas Bjorkman put it in their book “The Nordic Secret,” “Bildung is the way that the individual matures and takes upon him or herself ever bigger personal responsibility towards family, friends, fellow citizens, society, humanity, our globe, and the global heritage of our species, while enjoying ever bigger personal, moral and existential freedoms.”

The Nordic educators worked hard to cultivate each student’s sense of connection to the nation. Before the 19th century, most Europeans identified themselves in local and not national terms. But the Nordic curriculum instilled in students a pride in, say, their Danish history, folklore and heritage.

“That which a person did not burn for in his young days, he will not easily work for as a man,” Christopher Arndt Bruun wrote. The idea was to create in the mind of the student a sense of wider circles of belonging — from family to town to nation — and an eagerness to assume shared responsibility for the whole.

The Nordic educators also worked hard to develop the student’s internal awareness. That is to say, they helped students see the forces always roiling inside the self — the emotions, cravings, wounds and desires. If you could see those forces and their interplay, as if from the outside, you could be their master and not their slave.

Their intuition was that as people grow, they have the ability to go through developmental phases, to see themselves and the world through ever more complex lenses. A young child may blindly obey authority — Mom, Dad, teacher. Then she internalizes and conforms to the norms of the group. Then she learns to create her own norms based on her own values. Then she learns to see herself as a node in a network of selves and thus learns mutuality and holistic thinking.

The purpose of bildung is to help people move through the uncomfortable transitions between each way of seeing.

That educational push seems to have had a lasting influence on the culture. Whether in Stockholm or Minneapolis, Scandinavians have a tendency to joke about the way their sense of responsibility is always nagging at them. They have the lowest rates of corruption in the world. They have a distinctive sense of the relationship between personal freedom and communal responsibility.

High social trust doesn’t just happen. It results when people are spontaneously responsible for one another in the daily interactions of life, when the institutions of society function well.

In the U.S., social trust has been on the decline for decades. If the children of privilege get to go to the best schools, there’s not going to be much social mutuality. If those schools do not instill a love of nation, there’s not going to be much shared responsibility.

If you have a thin educational system that does not help students see the webs of significance between people, does not even help students see how they see, you’re going to wind up with a society in which people can’t see through each other’s lenses.

When you look at the Nordic bildung model, you realize our problem is not only that we don’t train people with the right job skills. It’s that we don’t have the right lifelong development model to instill the mode of consciousness people need to thrive in a complex pluralistic society.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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