The Failure of Public School in the United States – Part Two

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

(Continued from our last post, and excerpted from my new  book, Poor Cheated Little Johnny)

Money goes elsewhere, too.  While in my twenties I taught for Los Angeles Unified in a magnet High School.  There I discovered the “joys” of the inservice.  These are regular training sessions for teachers where “experts” are employed to discuss education.  The experts are paid.  Their effectiveness cannot be denied, I mean, just look at the numbers, the striking success of education today.  (And DO look, because schools definitely do not want you looking at the numbers.)

Attending my first inservice, I was treated to a mass of verbal gobble-de-gook from a friendly, local psychologist who had clearly never taught before in his life.  Now, let me preface this by stating that I was employed as a “teacher’s assistant” and was supposed to help a teacher out in the classroom.  Instead, I was given five classes a day to teach without supervision of any kind.  And I had not one single day of college experience as a student (though I had taught at USC by that time).  So I taught five English elective courses each day.  Only that school had no money for a library, so I had to bring in my own personal books and give them to the students. It’s hard to teach a student anything about literature without, um, literature.  The school claimed to have no money for textbooks, or pencils, or real desks.  We used long tables.

But the school had money for inservices.  They had money to pay “experts” with not a sniff of experience in education, to teach us how to educate.

At the end of that first inservice (the last I was willing to attend), we were asked if we had any questions.  Being the obnoxious and snot-nosed child that I was (and am), I raised my hand and asked the lecturer “How much were you paid to do this, today?”  He looked at me with blank owlishness for a moment and finally answered “$200”.  (This was around 1980, a lot of money back then, more than I was being paid for a week of teaching I can assure you, and that before the government took its share of my “earnings” so that they could use it to pay me.  Sigh.)  I said “I DO have a suggestion.  Next time you guys want to improve our ability to teach, instead of an inservice give me the $200 and I’ll buy the books I need for my classroom”.

I walked out after that to avoid being pelted by wooden school chairs, spittle and blackboard erasers.  I was not popular with the teaching staff, I’m afraid.

But I was right.  That money was wasted in the same way that money is wasted by school districts everywhere today.  Look, generally to teach at the Elementary School level, a person needs a degree – in education!  They’re supposed to be educated in the area of education.  And while it is good and interesting to learn the newest ideas in one’s area of endeavor (at least the ideas that one hopes might work), when coming out of college with said degree one ought to be able to get a good result in the classroom.  I mean, sure, the new teacher is a bit green, a bit wet behind the ears – but the new teacher should also be brimming with enthusiasm and ideas based on their own alleged education, and this should compensate to some degree for a lack of hands-on experience.  Should it not?

Really, that newbie teacher has an outstanding student loan of somewhere around $100,000 plus, right?  (Owed to the government or the school.  Good gigs.)  What was all that money spent for?  Should not these young teachers be ready, after all those years and all those dollars spent to receive a “higher education”, to do the very thing that they’ve supposedly been educated to do – teach?

And if newbies want to learn some of the tricks of the trade, how about they ask some of the teachers who are in the same school and have been around awhile?  Instead of inservices where everyone sits around trying to stay awake while an outsider gets paid, how about we hold sessions of “story-swapping”.  Problems and solutions could be shared amongst teachers and administrators, out of sight of the public and on “safe ground” where such issues might be freely discussed, and agreed-upon solutions reached by the very fellows that one is sharing the school and its difficulties with.  In this way, time and energy would be used in an immediately productive way by people sharing ideas, people who know all too well what they face.

Anyway, I don’t mean to get too practical here.  And schools do spend money occasionally on practical things…such as metal detectors.  Hey, they’re expensive!  In 2007, Cleveland (they’re having a hard time in Cleveland) spent $3.3 million on school metal detectors.  But we need them!

I mean, really (no joke) we can’t have kids with knives and guns walking the halls of our schools.  But how did that happen?  Why the remarkable and terrifying rise of violence in our schools?

Violence and rebellion are indications of forms of dissatisfaction, are they not?  Historically, rebellion and revolution is born out of sensed injustice, hence the American and French revolutions, Simon Bolivar and a hundred other liberators.  Given that our children are being robbed blind of any chance at a productive or interesting future (and of their present days and nights), have they not good reason to be extremely distrustful, unsatisfied and even rebellious.

I’m not in any way saying that violence is okay, not from anyone, it’s not.  But in an attempt to at least understand this frightening trend in our schools – how about the idea that our kids are on to us?  (And of course drugging children doesn’t help.  People on drugs are not renowned for rational action.)

I do believe that where public education is concerned, money is the root of many evils.  At the end of the year that I taught for L.A. Unified, I was expected (nay, required) to give out grades.  I had a student at the time in 11th grade, a perfectly bright and talented young man bussed into this school from the Inner City who was in two of my classes, a drama class and a class on literature.  He was terrific at drama when receiving the needed help, but I could not pass him in the lit class.  Why?  Because he could not read, hardly a word.  He signed his name with an “x”, the classic and sad stereotype.

I met with the head of the department, who had hired me as her “assistant”.  I told her that I did not understand how this young man had made it to 11th grade as illiterate as he was.  I told her that I wanted to fail the young man and have him held back, hopefully to enter some sort of remedial program.  (I was about 24 years old and didn’t know better at the time.)

I was informed in a no-nonsense manner that I could not fail him, that I was “just a teacher’s assistant” (though not one single time during that year had a “teacher” visited my classroom!).  Then she told me the bitter truth.  If I failed the young man, then the school WOULD NOT BE PAID FOR HIS ATTENDANCE. A “D” in lit class and end of story, or at least any story that young man’s life might have told.

I quit the next day.  I wanted to teach.  The school district just wanted to make money.

As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Steps (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!

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