Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Rethinking society and K-12 education

The book of Deuteronomy is a series of sermons from God, given by Moses just before the nation of Israel crossed the Jordan river into Canaan, the Promised Land.  Deuteronomy reviews the history of the nation, reminds the Israelites what they are to do upon entrance into Canaan, and reviews the laws that God gave the Israelites.  Moses begs parents:

Deuteronomy 6:4-9  Hear, O Israel:  The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your hear and with all your sould and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hears.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Proverbs 1:7  The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 2 outlines the benefits of seeking wisdom.

In education, our first goal ought to be the fear of the Lord.  Seeking God first, we fit the world to that framework.  The scriptures are not the only thing we study.  But fitting the two together, we get a more complete picture of God.  Knowledge cannot be idolized, as it is in some academic institutions.  We also seek to instill wisdom, which grows with knowledge and understanding, with light shed from the scriptures.  Those three, fear of God, knowledge, and wisdom, will build the learner.  We start with a bit of awe of God, add knowledge, gain wisdom, and we'll end up with more awe of God.  It will spiral, and it's an endless cycle.  This is the cycle of learning.

I believe that in heaven, it will be like going to school every day with the best teacher in the universe.  We'll have eternity to pursue fear of God, knowledge, and wisdom, and we'll frequently be in the concert hall, giving praise to God for His mighty works and thanking Him for being pleased to share His company with us.

How does this suggest we ought to run K-12 education?

First, parents are the primary educators.  Their power in this needs to be recognized, understood, cultivated, promoted, and utilized!  The focus of the field of education ought to be on the parents, NOT THE KIDS!  Get the parents up to speed, and the kids will be just fine.

Second, the focus of society should be on the kids.  I've written that there is NO economic reason to have kids any more.  A hundred years ago, a large family was an asset.  Kids were needed to help run the farm or the business, and it was up to the kids to take care of their aging parents.  Today, we have a fairy tale belief that kids should be allowed 16 - 18 years of educational play, it's illegal to put children to work, and that somehow with proper education that they'll know how to show up to work on time, put in eight hours, and do their best work.  That costs money!  Children aren't required to take care of their aging parents because parents are supposed to have a retirement account to take care of that.  If nothing else, there will be social security.  (More folks my age believe in visitors from outer space than the likelihood there will be any social security remaining when we get there.)

This isn't bad news for kids.  We now can have kids because we just want them.  We are at a place right now where we should be able to cultivate every good thing in a child.  We have the resources to give them everything they need, except.....  time.  We're in such pursuit of those resources and maintenance of our possessions that we have forgotten why we're doing this.

Rocket science is great stuff.  Cloning tissues and stem cell research will promises to save us from everything except the common cold.  All this knowledge, and no fear of the Lord or wisdom, and what do we have?  Pursuit of material possessions and knowledge are our idols, and our future is in daycare.

So let's slow down some.  We know enough to give everyone on the planet hot running water and a refrigerated drink.  The moon and the outer planets can wait.  Put the kids first.  Run your business and bring your kids.  If things don't move any faster than the little ones, then so be it.

Put schools where the parents are, right inside their work place, where parents can see what's going on and provide the object lesson for math and English.  Let the kids get their work ethic from their parents, helping out with the business as it is appropriate for them.  There will be much more 1:1 contact between adults and kids.

There are a few places we don't want kids.  Kids should probably not be around health care, law enforcement and other emergency services.   But kids should be allowed to try dangerous things.  Gever Tully runs The Tinkering School.  See his video about that:

Third, find time to discuss, discuss, discuss with kids, all of them.  The communications skills they learn, the insight they get from other adults, the wisdom that will grow from these discussions will glue together their fear of God and knowledge.  Turn off the TV!  Get into their faces and help them find out who they are, which is more important than imprinting yourself upon them.  You probably can't do that, anyway, because it wasn't you who made that child.

Recognize and cultivate the power of parents.  Cultivate the parents.  Slow down.  Talk.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Stop assaulting family values!

Let's just start with what human beings do.

From the moment we're conceived, we need to trust the adults around us to be there.  Mom in particular at first.  A baby grows in her body.  Later, if she's nursing, her very body is in tune with the infant, responding to changes in growth patterns, producing more food as the baby demands it.

Any mom will tell you it's a whole lot easier doing this with another adult on the premises, supporting every part of the activity.  

Children are made from one man and one woman.  It doesn't matter to me what science may be able to change about that.  It won't generate possibilities more than it will generate confusion.  We'll have a lot of  'splainin' to do to those products of conception, especially if they are smarter than us, because they were scientifically designed that way.

Children thrive when there are two adults committed to looking after them, because one adult cannot do it very well by him or herself.  By committed, I mean until death parts them, the adults from each other as well as the child.

From our teen years, we seek the one person with whom we can spend the rest of our lives.  Why is that?  Is it just a fairy-tale romantic notion that there would be someone out there to whom we could be permanently attached?  Or is it something built into us, making it possible for the offspring of that attachment to know that the adults around them will be there, no matter what, barring disaster out of their control?  What is there about that security that is so important to a child?

Children need a mom and a dad.  And it is arrogant to think that we, individually, have everything a child needs.  Dads can't nurse a baby.  Moms don't have the power to provide for a child like a dad can if she's nursing a baby.  "Oh, excuse me, honey, you're just going to have to put aside those hunger pangs and be quiet while I (shoot, butcher and cook this gazelle) / (am in this business meeting)"   No, babies don't do that.

Here's my premise:  The most basic family value is a child's ability trust and believe that the adults who brought that child into the world will, barring natural disaster, be there together under the same roof until natural disaster (death) really does part them.  The second family value is that those parents will love that child, putting themselves between the child and disaster.

Family values don't come easily.  Human beings don't naturally mate for life like some members of the animal kingdom.  We have to learn to treat each other well.  We have to learn how to be good enough to commit to a life-long relationship.  Our example is God Himself, who loves us no matter what, knows EVERYTHING we do, knows that the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak, and did indeed put Himself between us and disaster.  We do well to study the words that He wrote to us, the examples that He preserved for us, including the good, bad, and ugly about us.  His rules are pretty simple, but not one of us can keep only one of those rules.  I'll paraphrase them here for modern readers, and I encourage you to look up the original wording and all the commentary the Bible provides.

1.  There are no other gods.  There's only God.
2.  Don't try to make a god out of anything else.
3.  Don't speak evil of God.
4.  Let God show you that He can provide for you one day each week.  Honor God and take a sabbath off from work, and don't make anyone else work on that day, either.
5.  Honor mom and dad.  (Specifically named as "father and mother".)
6.  Don't murder.
7.  Don't have sex with anyone other than your spouse.
8.  Don't steal.
9.  Don't lie to get someone in trouble, and don't fail to tell the truth when someone is in trouble.
10.  Don't want what's not yours.

These rules, combined with wisdom, which is what the rest of the Bible is all about, will keep us safe from most man-made disasters.  Those are the ones that destroy people, relationships, and families.  God added that if as a society we pursue justice and righteousness, that He would withhold many natural disasters.  People would live long, productive lives and be able to celebrate the births of their great-grandkids.  I believe this!

Notice there's no commandment to send your child to school.  Not anywhere in the Bible is there such a commandment.  In fact, the Bible tells PARENTS to raise and teach their kids.  It tells kids to seek wisdom.

In some other post I'll discuss why we have schools at all.  My last post proposed that schools are places to warehouse children while parents, both of them, are out earning an income, and that the income is more important than the children.  Schools will teach what is important to society, and so schools teach both boys and girls how to earn an income.

No, there is nothing wrong with that.  Both boys and girls need to learn how to earn an income.

What's wrong is that schools don't support family values. In some cases, schools actively undermine family values.  It's what you get when parents fail to direct the child's education.

Schools operate under the premise that they know better than the parent about what's best for the child's education.  I was in that education class in college when they told us that WE were the professionals who knew best, and we could tell parents that.  Now I will GRANT you that a variety of adults can recognize gifts in children that a parent may not or may not have any experience to recognize, but that is not the same as assuming their knowledge takes precedent over the parents.  I often work with kids whose parents have unreal expectations.  But my job is to do my job, and teach the best way I know how.  I've sat down with parents and said "This isn't working, and this child is NOT ready for this class."  I've sat down with parents and said "Please don't hold this child back from that experience."  I've sat down with kids and said "The parents you have are the parents you have.  How can we make the best of this?"  As a parent I've sat with teachers and said "What do you think is going on here?"  But I will NEVER tell a parent that I know their child better than they do, because that's just not true.  

There are teachers who actively leverage students away from their parents.  They ask students to question their parents' beliefs without asking them to question their parents about those beliefs.  It sounds like it's a lesson in asking students to think for themselves, but these teachers are really asking students to let teachers think for them.

Drama is a very effective teacher, and TV is full of anti-family values.  One could hope that schools would be able to say to students:  "What you see on TV is make-believe.  It's not real.  People can't behave that way in real life and get away with it.  Stop watching that.  We don't act that way here, we don't dress that way here."  But I'm afraid that the values of TV producers have found an audience in teachers, who surprisingly, can't think for themselves.

I want schools to tell kids that teens shouldn't be dating, that dating is reserved for adults who have something to offer another person, including the means to pay rent on a place of their own and transportation to get there after a failed date.  I want K-12 schools to tell students they are much too young to be worrying about their sexuality, that they have to get many more parts of their lives in order before they can worry about having sex.  I want schools to tell kids that the first person they have sex with ought to be the last person they have sex with, barring the death of a life partner.  I want schools to tell students that sex produces children, and that a marriage built to love and protect children should precede sex.

That's the ideal, and that's what we should be teaching.  If you don't think this is a topic for public education, that it belongs in churches and homes, then you're right.  Parents SHOULD be  the primary educators of their children.  I have written elsewhere that K-12 education should be directed by parents who choose which philosophy they want their kids to have, and that it's impossible to teach from a values-neutral viewpoint.  Every church should have a K-12 educational program.  Parents should be able to choose which ones educate their kids.

Go here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hRGZLSVph3A  to view the call to withdraw your children from public schools.

Monday, December 15, 2008

How to get an educational reform

We will not, CANNOT get an educational reform without a societal reform that gives the parents back to the kids.

If we can get the societal reform, we will not need the educational reform.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Busted families and education - the 'need' to warehouse kids under age 18.

Part of the reason for my meandering educational career is a paper I wrote for a graduate level philosphy-of-education class about 1991.  The paper explored who should have the final say about a child's education, the parents or the state.  It wasn't a very good paper, and I only got a B- on it.  My ideas were pretty raw, and despite trying to look at situations with a choice-and-consequences kind of view (rather than 'right or wrong'), I ended up dumping lots of personal feelings into the paper.

In 1991, my oldest child began Kindergarten.  Despite urgings from family and friends, I resisted pre-school.  I had a college degree, was finishing a Master's, had taught successfully for several years, we had a play group and cousins.  I didn't see the need to clutter up our lives with another commitment to be somewhere at a particular time when the parent-child ratio was so much better than the teacher-student ratio at any pre-school.  I liked doing things with my kids.  I could do them just fine, thanks.

But writing the paper opened my eyes to what people think about the need for public education.  By that, I mean that people believe that schools are a necessary part of a childhood experience, and also believe that schools are necessary to a functioning society.  We've also been taught that the school knows better than the parent.

Well, given our current, peculiarly American view on work, schools perform an important function for our society.  But are they the right functions?  Are they good functions?  Will they protect our society or contribute to tearing it down?

In America, there is a buck to be made!  In this land of opportunity, absolutely anyone can become a millionaire with hard work and a bit of good fortune. You don't have to win the lottery or be on a game show.  Opportunity plus instinct equals profits on everything from Beanie Babies to iPhones.  Among the parade of aliens in the Star Trek series, the Ferengi were the mercenary merchants of anything.  If there was a market anywhere in the universe, they would find it.  They had 285 Rules of Acquisition which their children learned like the Pledge of Allegiance.  Here are a selection of them, from http://www.sjtrek.com/trek/rules/
  • Once you have their money ... never give it back.
  • Never pay more for an acquisition than you have to.
  • Never allow family to stand in the way of opportunity.
  • A man is only worth the sum of his possessions.
  • Small print leads to large risk.
  • Opportunity plus instinct equals profit.
  • Greed is eternal.
  • Anything worth doing is worth doing for money.
  • A deal is a deal ... until a better one comes along.
  • A Ferengi without profit is no Ferengi at all.
  • Satisfaction is not guaranteed.
  • Never place friendship above profit.
  • A wise man can hear profit in the wind.
  • Peace is good for business.
  • War is good for business
Doesn't this sound like US?  We ARE the Ferengi!  And we've failed unless we own the 3500 square foot house, have a student loan to match our mortgage, two cars and an RV in the 1200-square foot garage and a third car when the kids get a driver's license.

Which brings me to the topic of this post.

Somewhere in the last 100 years, children lost their status as economic asset and in this country are now 100% economic liabilities.  There's no financial reason to have a child whatsoever.  Children only cost money, they don't make money.  People with large families (more than 3 kids) are condemned for putting a strain on the earth's resources.

Since children cost money, that means that to afford them we have to make more money.  Where are we going to put the kids when we're out making money?  Daycare, from the earliest possible moment.  Pre-school, because the word sounds so much better and more productive than 'daycare'.  Then school, starting when the child is four or five, whether the child is ready for it or not, and not because the child needs to learn (you will hardly be able to stop that from happening), but in school because the parents need to work.  We tell ourselves we're putting them there to learn, but I propose that in our society, that's only a secondary reason, and only one of them.

Financial strain is a leading cause of divorce.  Divorce is a leading cause of financial strain.  Never-married and single parents are the heads of most households that are below the poverty level.  And then our school system preps kids to enter the job market and become Ferengi, and does zero, absolutely nothing to prepare kids to commit to and maintain lifelong relationships.

Is it any wonder that it's so hard to do school?  Perhaps we're raising kids for the wrong reason.  Maybe deep down inside we all understand that acquisition is pointless.  Are we hoarding because we don't have lives worth sharing?  If we have lives worth sharing, worth risking the economic liability of having kids for, why do we warehouse them so that we can work to give them more opportunities?  More electronic games?  A bigger house?  We're never there, so it's not like they can have their friends over.

Here we sit, in the most prosperous society the world has ever known.  We know how to make money.  We know how to make luxuries for everyone of which the emperors of the past could not even conceive.  We don't have a clue why we've acquired so many things.  We can't stay married until death parts us.  We can't make the world a better place for everyone.  We aren't even allowed to be the parents and primary educators of our kids.  And we can give them anything except a family.