Saturday, March 13, 2010

Educational Secession

I am becoming increasingly grateful that I no longer have to deal with school-age children, and do not envy in any way the choices friends with kids are having to make these days.

Although I was all set to extol the virtues of the Dallas Independent School District's current attitude about the value of school gardens as teaching tools (after having posted on the demise of one such garden a couple of years ago), all optimism was immediately dashed when the news hit the fan about what the Texas Board of Education is planning to do to social studies across the state.

If I had ever harbored any doubt about what I would do if I had to do it all over again, I have now been completely won over to the home school camp. Not only would my kids have a garden from which to learn real science, but they wouldn't have doctrine of any sort (religious or economic) shoved down their little throats. Fortunately for us, the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) wasn't full of ideologues when my children entered public schools, and they were pretty much allowed to study a large variety of viewpoints and to make their own intellectual decisions about the worth of various arguments. I saw little evidence of any particular bias in any of what they had to read, and since I made sure that they had access to primary sources to consult in order to get at the real meat (rather than the text-book pabulum most schools teach from) of important events, they could always follow through on questions that arose from various topics.

Long gone, however, are the days when eleventh graders are asked to write papers like the one I picked out of a hat for my Junior American History and English thesis: "An Examination of the Concept of Property Rights as Contrasted in the Writings of John Locke and Thomas Paine." To write the paper, I had to read Locke and Paine and to explicate their positions. I can't even imagine that this could happen today, because the students who show up in my own classes rarely even understand how to support an argument, and most don't seem to have heard of either Locke or Paine.

In Texas these days, Thomas Jefferson (my own father's hero) is a bad guy (for having coined the notion of the separation of church and state), and Phyllis Schlafley and the Eagle Forum have been elevated to the pantheon of historical importance once occupied by Jefferson himself. I suppose that I should be thankful that Sarah Palin's tweets haven't made it onto the list of required reading (yet).

At the same time that this silliness is taking place here, the rest of the country (with the notable exceptions of Texas and Alaska) is busy scrambling to come up with a uniform set of standards students will be expected to reach by the time the leave public schools. No Child Left Behind has resulted in the lowering of standards in some cases, so the latest effort seeks to raise the bar and expect more, rather than less, of our graduates. Alaska and Texas are the only states that declined to participate in the standards-writing effort, and according to the New York Times article by Sam Dillon, "In keeping his state out, Gov. Rick Perry argued that only Texans should decide what children there learn."

What Perry and his revisionist crew don't seem to understand is that our students are neither naive nor fundamentally stupid. Many of them graduate from high school without being fluent in English grammar, basic mathematics, or even general history and geography, but they do seem to know when they've been hoodwinked. My students, once given the opportunity to learn for themselves, seem to rise to the occasion quite well, despite the handicap of a mediocre public education. In some cases, it's as if the blinders are being removed from their eyes when I encourage them to answer their own questions. I can only hope that the new social studies requirements don't completely numb the inquisitive and make it that much harder for them to learn once they've been set free from what passes for education in this state.

In the quest for academic excellence, at least, Texas seems already to have seceded from the Union. One can only imagine what future graduates of Texas schools will have to overcome should they choose to seek jobs and/or further education outside of the state. But maybe the SBOE just wants all its graduates to stay in Texas. The Lone Star State will, of course remain totally unaffected by climate change, peak oil, or any of the other problems concocted, according to our esteemed politicians, by left-wing alarmists bent on destroying our free enterprise system. We can't even call it capitalism any more, because that's also been sullied by the left.

It's just as well, I guess, because the next generation of Texas graduates would have been taught that none of this will happen--or that if it does, it's all part of God's plan.

And if we're bent on purging figures the SBOE doesn't like from the ranks of historical importance, it probably wouldn't take too much work to alter the figure of Jefferson on Mt. Rushmore to make it look like Phyllis Schlaffey--if the gang of five on the Texas Board of Education could persuade South Dakota to go along.

Photo Credit: Mt. Rushmore, Thomas Jefferson Up Close, by Scott Catron, via Wikimedia Commons.