Sunday, July 16, 2006

Just Another Fable in the Educational Landscape

As much as I respect the views of values of host/author Karen Braun, she has posted an outlandish and unverified statement as the notion of a recent posting at Spunky Home School. Her first error is placing faith in statement by former justice Sandra Day O’Connor who until the recent term of the Supreme Court was President Reagan’s biggest mistake. After the recent, abominable Hamdan decision, Anthony Kennedy now holds this distinction. Regardless of the pathetic judicial decisions handed down by O’Conner or Kennedy, the statement of justice O’Connor endorsed without academic citation or proof by Karen Braun is absurd on its’ face.

Sandra Day O'Connor believes we have a civics crisis in America due to a lack of teaching in the public schools,
"Public schools have pretty much stopped teaching government, civics and American history. ... I truly don't know how long we can survive as a strong nation if our younger citizens don't understand the nature of our government. ... That is something you have to learn. It just isn't handed down in the genetic pool."

Karen Braun says, "How true that is."

One would think that a responsible teacher, parent, adult, let-alone a former supreme court justice might consult actual research and produce some empirical data that is directly and indisputably correlated to the teaching of civics, history, and government in the public schools when making such a broad indictment of public schools and public school teachers. This attack on public education and public school teachers is symptomatic of the type of irresponsible criticism leveled by those in the anti-public school alliance on a non-stop basis. We at Thespis Journal have found these common threads among home schooling advocates: a prevailing and constant need to bash public education while failing to acknowledge any good in any professionals in the public school, and the shameless and unrestrained desire to over generalize flaws in our culture and society and make the indirect and unproven connection to public education. There is also a failure to acknowledge the widely varying degrees of success and achievement between large urban public schools and the largely successful and highly functioning suburban local school districts across our nation. It is embarrassingly inconvenient and weakens the arguments of the public school opponents significantly when one begins to discuss the portfolio of success developed in suburban and rural schools across America.

At any rate, let’s look at the one article cited by Karen Braun when she takes her latest swipe at public education. First of all the citation comes from the tabloid USA Today, and quotes not only former Justice O’Conner but also Justice Kennedy. The article quotes research that shows the alleged ignorance of the public on one basic constitutional and civics question. The remaining data in the article loosely and rather disingenuously tie together snippets of documentation which show the lack of constitutional expertise in the public at large. Spunky Home School makes a broad intellectual long-jump (something we caution against in the public school) and simply joins the other strident voices in our society which seek to make the public schools the scapegoat for failed parenting, lack of family values, lack of a strong work ethic, and all the ills which can be hung in a wreath around the neck of the crucified public school system. This line of logic rivals for idiot of the week Madeleine Albright and her cohorts in the liberal media who seek to make President Bush singularly responsible for the behaviors of Hamas, Hezbolah, and Kim Jung Il.

O’Conner, Braun, and the author of the article, Nat Hentoff, take the research and attribute this ignorance to a poor public education in a sweeping and unfounded statement that does not meet the rigorous guidelines of a junior research paper at our high school. Our budding authors are schooled in the basis of properly proving a point. The use of spurious surveys to prove an unrelated point is a considerable deduction of points on any research assignment. The survey cited in the USA Today article asked only one question of public high school students, and while the responses were unsatisfactory, the method and question used could have reflected any number of emotions, knowledge, views, and background. The survey does not specify the grade level of the students interviewed. The response s are typical of ninth grade students, but very atypical of seniors who have completed their high school curriculum. Simply knowing about the first amendment does not correlate to having an opinion about it. Assuming that all students are interested in a discussion of the first amendment with someone they don’t even know demonstrates the sheltered assumptions, and general lack of knowledge that people who never set foot inside a public school would use to bash public education.

The remaining research in the article has nothing to do with public education, and demonstrates only the complexion of society today. If suburban and rural public school districts are so terrible, Karen Braun, or no author should need to stoop to such levels to illustrate a point about the quality of public schools and public school teachers.

All of the suburban and rural school districts in the this region of Ohio require two years of American History, some form of a civics course (designed to meet the unending battery of high stakes tests that prove almost nothing), and a year of American Government. While it is a difficult topic for many of the teenagers produced by our culture and society today, the public school can not determine for parents, a child, or their extended family what values to live. If many students and their parents do not hold the constitution in high enough esteem to make truly learning and internalizing by providing the requisite answer demanded by former Justice O’Conner, the public schools can do little besides repeatedly presenting and assessing the material.

Knowing about our history, our political processes, and the relevance of our constitution to our daily lives are basic issues in a quality education. Karen Braun, Sandra Day O’Conner, and all of the rest of the anti-public school alliance can forget blaming all their ills on public education. Conservative Americans still value the role of individual freedom and responsibility. You can’t go on blaming the public school for everything much longer. Your credibility is stretched beyond the limits of believability now. Implying, by association, that the public school educators think that the popular site MySpace can teach a civics lesson is proof that Karen Braun and Sandra Day O'Conner must not know one real, live, breathing teacher. None of us would ever think something so inanane! We'll leave that type of thinking for those who lack the faith in a fair, fully funded educational opportunity for every child.

The USA Today article that set off this latest fiasco!
SpunkyHomeSchool's fantasy of civics in the public school
Read About Betsy's Summer Vacation, and she teaches history!


Steve Walden said...

Are there good people in public education? Certainly. Are they working hard? You bet. Are they making a difference? Sure. Are they giving children the opportunity to make the most of themselves? No. That's impossible. There is no way that one teacher with 40 students can know each of them in a real and substantive way like a parent can. Parents who choose to home educate their children allow their child to proceed at their own pace, which is usually significantly faster than the schoolroom. Performance on standardized tests bear this out. For further research and factfinding, I point you to the work of Dr. Brian Ray. While this is not specifically dealing with civics, it does indicate overall performance exceeds the education received in public schools.

But do you really need proof? Or are you making an obfuscation? The onus is on you to disprove their statements. "Irresponsible criticism" is what French aristocrats suffered during the 18th and 19th centuries. Does that mean it was wholly unwarranted? My belief is that if you attempt to disprove the body of work already in place against continuing faith in the NEA and public schools, you will meet with significant failure.

Andrew Pass Educational Services, LLC said...

If there's a problem with public schools teaching civics, I'd argue that much of it has to do with No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind mandates testing reading, writing and math. But it does not yet mandate science. Unfortunately, the old dictum "what is tested is taught" tends to be correct. I'm at a loss as to how leading public officials can advocate the importance of spreading democracies without making sure that our own students learn about democracies.

Andrew Pass

Anonymous said...

Here in New York City we have city and state assessments in history, beginning in 5th grade, I believe. Then there are two high school history Regents exams that must be passed with at least a 65. First, the Global History Regents is taken after a four semester series of courses, usually at the end of grade 10. Then the average kid takes the US History and Government Regents at the end of grade 12. They cannot graduate high school without demonstrating at least competency if they have an IEP and learning disabilities. The special education or resource room kids can get between a 55 and a 64 for the Regents Competency credit towards a local diploma. Otherwise, they must take Regents Competency Exams in both areas of history, and get enough questions and write enough to pass; I believe the passing grade on any RCT is a 65.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

First, I've got to echo Andrew on his excellent point, as many of us have discussed in the Edusphere.

Second, the vast majority of public schools do not have class sizes of 40 (another example of a fable), and I did not understand this post to be denigrating homeschooling as its main point. Rather, the topic here is the promotion of an assertion regarding history and civics education.

My high school students have a total of two years, minimum, of United States history and government. If they choose the AP/honors path, that becomes a minimum of two and a half years.

However, the fears over failure to meet AYP in reading and math under NCLB have had a deep impact upon the teaching of history and civics in the elementary and middle school years. History teachers have been instructed by administrators in several school districts in my area to use their classes primarily to support the language arts curriculum.

Yet another problem is the lack of history specialists as teachers throughout the K-8 spectrum. This is a personnel issue,not one under the control of teachers. If a reading teacher is tossed one class of history, it is obvious what will get short shrift.

Do we really value civic education? Then let's let our actions match our sentiments.