Friday, September 27, 2013

Schools As Institutions of Democracy? Whose Democracy?


I read an article today - I couldn't help it, the title begged me - called "Why Schools Must Talk About Trayvon Martin".  I had to find out why tax dollar supported public schools MUST talk about Trayvon Martin. 

This was a blog on EdWeek, written by a special education teacher in Boston and his thesis was that since schools are supposed to be institutions FOR democracy, we should be having "contentious conversation" because this discussion should ameliorate societal ills.

Perhaps this is why the National Social Studies Standards (now Oklahoma's own Oklahoma Academic Standards) calls America a Constitutional Democracy instead of the Republic it really is.

The whole blog smacked of John Dewey - the Father of Progressive Education - who believed that - among other things - schools were little microcosms of the world and that we could just change all of society by keeping kids in school and away from their parents.

I simply could not let the post go without commenting, and this is what I said:
"The questions around promoting contentious conversations are messy. We raise schools up as institutions for democracy, even when they have historically fallen short of this ideal when it comes to persistent social ills, such as segregation, student dropout rates, poverty, and school violence."

Oh I totally agree. That's why I would immediately institute a conversation about Christianity and its contributions to America in my classroom - certainly a 'contentious' topic by any real examination of world views today.

And, though I'm a Christian - don't worry - I can handle the topic evenhandedly, and make sure all religions - including atheism - are also discussed. There will be nothing to worry about - I'm a teacher - I can handle it.

Since classrooms are really extensions of the great social experiment that is 'democracy', there is no reason this topic shouldn't be discussed in depth.

Who is the "we" that believes in raising up schools as "institutions for democracy"? I'm a conservative and I certainly don't believe that. I expect schools to teach the absolute BASICS and let parents - who are the experts in raising their own children - do all the "contentious" stuff at home.

Yes, there are a lot of 'throw away' kids out there today and most are produced by the very system that claims to help them. Many may not have support systems outside of school, but schools are not - and were never meant to be - a place to "cure social ills". That was historically the role of the church.

I always find it curious that the people who seem to scream the loudest about democracy (and the First Amendment), are the last to really practice it. I wonder if that's why people "often feel uneasy about such dialogues" in schools?
As a past public school educator and now a home educator, I think it IMPERATIVE to confront this nonsense when and where we see it.

Public school's lack of results today is simply an extension of Dewey's failed prescription for public schooling.  How can I say "failed"?  Well, let's look at the observable evidence.  Since the 1970's SAT scores have been falling. 

College Board National Report on 1996 College Bound Seniors - http://professionals.collegeboard.com/profdownload/CBS%2096%20National.PDF 

Progressive education began under Dewey in the late 20's and has been churning out teachers from Dewey-seeded teacher colleges since that time.  In fact, the liberal bend of universities is well documented, particularly by David Horowitz.

When I speak, I often refer to a section in the book "To Kill A Mockingbird" where Scout gives an account of the new teacher (she has red nails and high heels) and how she told Atticus to stop letting her read from the Wall Street Journal because she was now in charge of Scout's education and she would take care of that in class.  Scout then goes on to regale the reader with her frustration that this "Dewey Decimal System" of education as Jem called it, forces her to create project after project while everyone she ever knows - like Jem and her dad - were smart because they read books - something she itches to do over 'projects'.  That story was to have taken place in the 1930's - as Dewey's legion were crisscrossing America to take root in primary and secondary schools from cities to sleepy rural towns.

If this has been going on since the 30's, what in the world would it be like today?  Just what we're seeing - Common Core and all!