Educating the Masses

If you were in charge of the educational system, what would you do and why? Mull that one over while I tell you how I would go about it, and I’ll make it easier by stipulating grandly that price is no object.

Snicker. Will people never stop falling for my sucker bets? Very seldom does money expended on education equal excellence of outcome, as Washington, D. C., has been demonstrating for decades. No doubt you remember that Hillary Clinton had a free hand revamping the schools of Arkansas, resulting in a national rating of dead last, so we can conclude that lawyers aren’t necessary either.

Our computers have a wonderful feature that allows us to reconfigure to the last time at which they were running correctly. This strikes me as a good, high tech idea, so let’s figure out when we last had good schools that defined “educating the children” as something other than phoney self-esteem, rebellion against parental values, and submission to authority.

It is neither vain nor hyperbole to say that your children, if they finish four-year college degrees, are extraordinarily unlikely to know as much as my generation did after being graduated from high school about the time Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista. At that time many college diplomae did not guarantee the level of erudition possessed by HS graduates in the early thirties. In the Fifties the white illiteracy rate was 5%, but the graduates of all-black Kemp High School were only a point behind. This next story is like trying to explain that there was a time when there was no MacDonald’s or iPods, but there wasn’t any other ethnicity in a town of about 40,000. The school board nearly had a nervous breakdown when the first three Hispanic students showed up because they couldn’t decide what to do with them. (DO try to see this as funny because it IS.) You see their problem: you can’t build a highschool for three kids; you can’t send them to Kemp because they aren’t black, but they shouldn’t be in lily-white Stephen F. Austin, either…eventually, they put them over with us. The only girl spent her entire time with her head hunched low probably because she didn’t know what else to do. One of two brothers was very quiet, but Anastasio Hererra was a tall, handsome, outgoing, very bright young man and he made a place for himself easily. Stash was not only my lab partner in Chemistry but went on to become the first Hispanic elected to the “state” legislature! We’re proud of him, and I had dinner with “Andy,” as he is known now, and his wife not long ago.

That is merely an interesting anthropological sidenote. The important part is what we were taught at SFA. Every last student from my class of about 400 was graduated honestly (although three of the boys had to do summer school) and Nancy whatever-her-name-was who got pregnant in the 9th grade and had to drop out — and we’re still talking about it fifty years later. Back then the white illegitimacy rate was 5%; for blacks it was 25%. The current rates have gone to 25% and 80% respectively. I took 3 years of Latin, 4 of Algebra, Geometry, Chemistry and real biology, not keeping a small shark alive all year and then watching the teacher dissect it — an actual course in Houston two years ago. We had our hands in formaldehyde frequently from the very start. Every student was required to master typing and those not going to college had to take two years of bookkeeping and shorthand, and guess what? They had sufficient skills to get office jobs whether they had spent the morning on academic subjects and afternoons as apprentices or not. Speech was required, and I studied Physics, Spanish, Texas and US History. Driver’s Ed? I think there was such a course, but I learned at home, like most kids. Home Ec? Don’t be ridiculous. We were being educated, not baking cookies, something else I learned at home. Our books were full of facts, not political correctness and “diversity.”

One obvious way for our children to learn what we know is to teach them ourselves — if there is the interest and a parent who can remain at home, the latter being an increasingly rare luxury. The home-schooling movement has been growing for some years now and perusal of the top scores on the SAT yearly will reveal the efficacy of this method. Time and again those scores demonstrate that high achievement is found in two groups: those who are home-schooled and those who have a cultural heritage of valuing education. Clearly it is not possible to provide every child Chinese parents (although many of the methods tried by legislators and unions are about that impractical) but home schooling is within the reach of many.

Given no restrictions on cost virtually all of us would enroll our children in the best private schools available — and a major goal of the Republic of Texas is to reduce taxes to the point that you can afford to send your children to the Academy of the Sacred Heart or Harlingen Military Academy or any other school of your choice. It is a given of free market capitalism that where there is demand supply will be forthcoming because there is profit to be made. Our goal will be to provide true school choice over a very wide range without taxing those who do not have children enrolled in various institutions of learning. TANSTAFL, people. There is absolutely no reason why any of us should pay for the education of the children of others. We can anticipate that private schools will both expand and spring up to meet the need — and their standards will of necessity remain high because parents will demand what will be seen clearly as value for their money. Already Academies offering music, sports, and lab sciences have been established to round out the curricula of those being schooled at home. The tuition must be an excellent swap for safety and not having to put together home biology and chemistry laboratories.

You might ask, “What about traditional neighborhood schools?” By all means, if you and your neighbors want your children to walk to nearby Travis Elementary, pool the dollars you choose to spend on their education, hire your own teachers, buy your own books, pay your own utilities, and make your own repairs. You have no right to demand that from your neighbors. Remember, we are talking of a Republic where over a hundred taxes have disappeared, including income and property taxes, fuel, alcohol, and cigarette taxes. In such a nation individual families will be able to afford whatever means of education they prefer including hiring a governess or a tutor. Yes, some people earn more income than others — and guess what? Some of us hold that what you earn is yours to spend as you like.

However, we will suppose that there are those whose income is so small that at least one “public” option is deemed necessary. Here, too, there is a simple free-market solution. Subject matter appropriate to each grade level should be made available on public TV and run twenty-four/seven. Would that be for free? Of course not! Nothing is for free. Make the sacrifice and get cable TV. However, we do have a public fund from taxes on oil production which will be more than ample. This method would be very inexpensive to set up and quite economical to broadcast. Find the very best, most erudite, most interesting teachers, choose from old textbooks for the basics, and each lecture and other segment need be recorded only once. A particular advantage of having phonics-based reading taught constantly is that this is the best and only hope for those currently illiterate to learn to read quickly, easily, and well. The length of this article precludes regaling you with details of how I know such a reading program would work, having developed and copyrighted mine twenty-years ago. If enough of you want to know I will write a separate article on it. For now, just go with the concept that reading, arithmetic, geography, and history can be taught beautifully in the comfort of your own home. Chuckle…take it from someone who has been rescuing illiterate nine-year-old boys for a very, very long time: little boys cannot sit still and do anything else. If your bright, wiggly son is sprawled on the floor eating cheese and crackers, playing with his Vroom-Vroom cars, and patting the dog he can learn a great deal more quickly. I never require my remedial students to sit still and be quiet! Sitting inhibits their learning, strains their composure, and reminds them constantly of every bad classroom experience they have ever had. Test their beginning knowledge? Whatever for?! It is far easier and far less stressful to start with “B is the name of this letter but the work it does is making the sound ‘buh.'” The child feels good when he actually knows something, he sees reading as a system that makes sense, and, sure enough, if he pays even moderate attention he will learn. Gentle laughter…the first lesson starts, “It isn’t your fault that you can’t read, and it still won’t be your fault if I don’t teach you. That would be my fault for not explaining how correctly. However, no one has failed to learn in twenty years and you aren’t going to, either. It’s even going to be a lot of fun!” And it is. I make it fun. How long does it take? Usually a couple of hours twice a week for three to six weeks, depending upon how badly the kiddo has been abused and confused by being expected to learn to read English when it is taught as though it were Chinese ideographs and not a phonetic language.

In addition, such instruction can be made available easily and inexpensively through the home computer. This would be particularly useful as the students advance and allow for inter-active testing. Remember: we’re going to clean the reading mess up first. So far as I’m concerned — should I be named Secretary of Education anywhere — you may have your HS diplomas any time you are able to pass all the exams. I don’t care if you are nine or ninety, only that you can demonstrate mastery of reading, writing, arithmetic, history, algebra, civics, “keyboarding,” and such other subjects as I deem wise and necessary. (Hey, anyone else who wants to set up a course of study, have at it. For fun, ask Google to show you an 8th grade exam purported to have been given in Kansas about 1870. Bear in mind that eighth grade was as high as school went, then. I can pass it, but I doubt that I could cover myself in glory, and I have three degrees and have done graduate work in five fields! Why? For fun, of course! Other than contract work after the children were older — editing, writing instructional materials, and doing analytical project reports — I was a classic stay at home Donna Reed housewife. We all adored summers because I taught the kids daily…) Hey, I probably won’t demand more than 90%.

Now, I do not suppose that my plan will be popular with teachers’ unions because we won’t need nearly as many teachers, will we? The best will be employed privately, and it may be that those who school at home personally or through multimedia might like to hire a retired teacher once a month or once a week to do the icky things like give tests and soothe any anxious feelings that Mama isn’t doing a fine job. The rest of them can take up more productive work or move to some state that still thinks class size and money are important.

We don’t have classes that are too big or too few teachers; modern public schools teach the wrong things with the wrong methods. Well, sure, if you insist I’ll agree modestly to let you call me a genius but the simple truth is that all of the kids in my schools learned well, and all the kids over at Kemp did nearly as well. I wasn’t even Valedictorian or Salutatorian, despite being the class nerd! (BITTER subject! PE was a required subject, and I am and always have been an Olympic class klutz. It doesn’t matter if you make all A’s, that courtesy “C” you get for showing up, suiting out, showering, and trying not to have a nervous breakdown destroys your GPA. I assure you, if the game involves a ball, sooner or later I will get hit with it. In eight miserable years no teacher ever succeded in teaching me to play even one sport acceptably.)

That only leaves us one small problem: those whose native tongue is not English. Once again, the experience of many decades and having attended quite a few different schools suggests an answer: put all those who need it in special schools where English is taught and don’t let them out until they have learned. Spanish is as simple as phonetic languages get, and almost anyone can be taught to read it in about fifteen minutes. Teach the kids to read and carry on instruction in arithmetic in Spanish while focusing on English. English is the language of business and they must learn it, but understanding how to read Spanish will be a great help when they get to English because the basic principle is the same: see the letters, say the sounds, and run them together to get words you know that make sense where you find them. Any kiddo with an average American television addiction has at least an 8th grade working vocabulary. The “test” I just gave you develops enormous reading comprehension because the student is concentrating on whather or not what he said makes sense; if it doesn’t, he made a mistake. He isn’t trying to tell “cat” from “dog” by appearance, that being what “Look-Say” is all about. He already knows most of the words he needs to read a wealth of material, and once he has mastered my idea of the basics (ALL there is to know) he can use a dictionary. He already knows it isn’t “The princess sayed.” It ought to be, but we have an agreement to say “sed” when we see “said.” D’you know, there are only about two dozen of those little horrors and your preschool child knows all of them?! Yup. You won’t hear one say, “I loave you, Mot-her.” The only word Andrew, then 5, missed on an eighth-grade Reading Assessment Test was “carburetor.” He didn’t know that Americans say “CAR-buh-rayccb-tor,” so he read it as “car-bew-ret-or.” Which it should be. How long does it take to go through the ten rules of reading and about 250 sounds and letter combinations encompasing everything there is to know about what reading really is and how we really do it? About an hour and a half! After that the child masters one segment at a time. Takes about six weeks, working just a little every day, to teach a child who has not been exposed to “Look-Say.” Think of all we can teach in those endless hours they won’t spend for five years learning to read somewhere between third and eighth-grade level in most cases. Further, an extensive study done in Seattle showed the 90% (you read that right: 90) of all juveniles who went before a judge that year were functionally or totally illiterate. Do you suppose there is a correlation, there?

Right now you and I are usually the sole guardians of what our children and grandchildren are learning. If we can regain responsibility for choosing the schools and teachers they have even if we lack the luxury of teaching them ourselves test scores will rise again. Unless you would prefer to argue that children today are inherently more stupid than those born about 1940? Obama cut a program in DC which provided $7,000 vouchers for a few lucky kids. The kids learned, and each voucher saved $4000 that would be spent if they were in vastly inferior public schools. Parents loved it, the children delighted in it, but unions and statists loathed it. The argument was the same — although unspoken — as at the time of the Industrial Revolution: “Send them to school? Teach them to read? Whatever for?! They’ll get ideas above their stations.”

For over fifty years our schools have been under the control of those who lean very far left. The only way to take them back is through propositions, referenda, or restoring the Republic. That’s either republic, folks, the Republic of Texas or the republic the founding fathers set up and hoped we would be able to keep.

Linda Brady Traynham

February 23, 2010

The Daily Reckoning