FIXING OUR SCHOOLS: A NO-BRAINER
Today’s column is adapted from Beverly K. Eakman’s new book, soon to be released: WALKING TARGETS: How Our Psychologized Classrooms Produce a Nation of Sitting Ducks:
How many education majors are specializing in any of the following: visual and auditory memory, visual identification, spatial and abstract reasoning, mental stamina (i.e., concentration), perceptual speed, hand-eye coordination, and thought-expression synchronization?
Don’t bother looking. You probably won’t find any. High-priced learning centers, on the other hand, make increasing use of cutting-edge scientific research to train their staffs in establishing a substructure of learning skills first, before trying to remediate anything. That’s how these places stay in business — for parents who can afford them when their offspring start foundering.
Suppose, for example, a child thinks ¼ is bigger than ½ based on the logic that 4 is bigger than 2. This is a fairly sure-fire indication that the student has an abstract or spatial reasoning problem. He’ll try to memorize his way through math. By fifth grade, he’ll crash. He’ll struggle with tax and budget issues. He will find that his memory, no matter how spectacular, will take him only so far in mathematics.
Or, consider reading. By the fourth grade, every child should be able to do it fluently and nearly effortlessly. But if the child has difficulty recalling sounds, he will need intensive and systematic phonics to enhance his auditory memory. Suppose his eye movement pattern, left to right, is laborious and jerky. If so, his visual speed is impaired and a machine that literally trains the eyes to move increasingly faster, left-to-right, in tiny increments can remedy the youngster’s problem until he or she is proficient at doing what most children are naturally adept at.
So, which of these nine areas above are the most important? Perceptual speed? Spatial reasoning?
If you answered “none,” move to the head of the class.
Nearly all of us are weak in at least one of these areas. The good news is that every single deficiency is remediable, without drugs, especially if caught early.
Now, suppose every child took a real diagnostic test to find his or her weakest learning element. Suppose, on day one of first grade or kindergarten every child was matched with a teacher whose lesson plans revolved around one of those elements on the list.
Well, after a year or so, the child who is weak in, say, spatial reasoning wouldn’t have that problem anymore. And what’s even better, there would be no stigma whatsoever. Neither the student nor his classmates would know why he spent a year with teacher Smith instead of instructor Jones.
Instead of doing what real educational experts have spent years perfecting based on the latest research and technologies, we (and, alas, other nations as well) have bought into the failed “mental illness” paradigm, which says, essentially, that academic success or failure is traceable to personality, upbringing and social factors. Accordingly, we slap stigmatizing labels on a seven-year-old because he can’t draw a stick figure of his mother (or something equally ridiculous), the implication being that the pupil has “issues” involving Mom that somehow affect the ability to add or spell. Then we throw the poor kid into an environment geared to behavior problems, not learning problems, and call it “Special Education.” There, he gets zero remedial help for the three R’s (teachers aren’t schooled in the basic learning elements, remember?), but he spends a whole lot of time engaged in the three F’s — frustration, fightin’ and fidgetin’.
To survive in the Special Education environment, the child adapts — either by becoming apathetic (i.e., “thick skinned” enough to tolerate any sort of abuse) or super-aggressive (so as to win never-ending turf battles with out-of-control peers). The losers emerge from this toxic environment either drugged with psychotropic cocktails or hating school or both.
If a child is drugged, the brain chemistry will change over time in ways not fully understood. Some become mentally challenged in earnest, another respond with anger to the point of violence, and still other children suffer bizarre, life-altering side-effects, such as an absent sex drive, frequently associated with antidepressants. By the teenage years, a drugged child may well be “unreachable.”
If you wonder why teens and young adults are committing crimes unheard of 50 years ago — microwaving their babies, bombing their schools, shooting coworkers — you might want to consider the academic climate they are being exposed to in school. Even some of the “model” curriculums are virtual sales pitches for bad behavior.
Bullying per se isn’t new; it has always existed in one form or another. But psychotropic drugs and Special Ed are relatively new phenomena. How much good has either of these approaches accomplished?
Over the years, the primary so-called professional association for educators, the National Education Association (NEA), has amassed some 300 policy positions, itemized as annual resolutions and set out in a published Legislative Agenda. The publication purportedly reflects all educators’ beliefs on assorted issues, from homosexual advocacy to abortion “rights” to condemning capital punishment. Parents, religious leaders, and even many teachers themselves have winced at the increasingly bellicose demands of NEA leaders, who, since 1948, have consistently taken the most extreme positions on domestic and international issues and spent their members’ dues on political advocacy.
The one thing the NEA hasn’t done is to make the job of teaching easier for teachers — or, in fact, even to take the job of instruction seriously.
From college onward, prospective and practicing teachers are told that they need to be part of their “professional association” (e.g., either the NEA or its lone competitor, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), which is almost as bad) to be considered true professionals. The unions, for their part, rarely take on a teacher’s case unless it involves either a salary dispute or promotes one of the union’s pet political causes.
Despite sporadic dissent, the NEA managed to consolidate its hold through a rigid, three-tiered membership scheme in the early 1970s, trammeling the rights of any heretic within the profession who dared express a viewpoint contrary to the union’s “approved” stance, and pitting teachers against their administrations in an ongoing battle for supremacy. They forced every school district to choose between the NEA and the AFT as their collective bargaining agent, and woe be unto anyone trying to become a “free agent.”
Consequently, the NEA has been able to run its state and local affiliates like little fiefdoms using Stasi-style efficiency through such adjunct organizations as “Uniserve” — spying on teachers and thwarting the careers of any educator reputed to be on the wrong side of NEA politics.
Each new crop of teachers, ever less educated than the ones before them, believe the NEA and the AFT are standing up for them when they call for things like increased funding of Special Education and “universal mental health screening.” What these educators fail to see is that this sort of activity adds to their workload and makes schools even more chaotic and violent.
For example, most teachers have been talked into the idea that mental health screening will help isolate potentially violent children (ignore for a moment that segregation, in any context, is unlawful). What they don’t see is that it’s not only school psychologists who will be doing the screening, but teachers, too. They now have a whole other job to add to their workday.
The NEA also doesn’t point out the long-term repercussions of screening, or that embedded in the mandate is a plan to examine teachers, too.
Psychological screening is a profiling mechanism. It’s sure to turn political (and ugly) once the entire initiative is in place, stigmatizing the politically incorrect (whatever that is in 20 years) along with the “loner” and the “genius.” Every person, in essence, will be punished for daring to think for himself.
Meanwhile, taxes increase to provide extracurricular goodies that educrats hope will “keep kids in school” — instead of with their families, whose childrearing once centered on Judeo-Christian standards that countered humanity’s baser instincts. With the parenting function all but transferred to the therapist via the state, using the school to “professionalize” parenting, mothers and fathers are relegated to breeding and feeding and providing financial support, but little else. Already, parents are deemed “amateurs,” while schoolteachers and psychologists are sold as “unbiased” and “professional.”
With four high-profile scandals involving the NEA and its gofers in 2003 alone, one would have thought there was a window of opportunity to de-fang a major leftist headache that has been helping to churn out good little socialists for decades. Stealing money outright from members, credit-card scandals at the highest levels, inciting students to march for abortion and protest the “War on Terrorism” in the aftermath of September 11: These did not make good press. Yet, even teachers themselves, to say nothing of congressional oversight committees, were afraid to pull the plug on the union’s tax-exempt status.
Which brings us back to those nine, make-or-break elements of learning.
The NEA and the AFT could have had at their disposal insights from thousands of teachers and educational experts (the ones with actual track records). These might have translated into better teacher-education courses, productive education research, and effective policymaking at the state and local levels.
Instead, the two unions chose the lower route of yellow journalism, pitting teachers against management, teachers against parents, and finally teachers against students. Now the educator stands alone, amid an onslaught of rotten apples from all directions.
Principals and superintendents no longer go to bat for classroom teachers, parents neither respect nor trust them, and pupils view their instructors as babysitters.
Why isn’t this enormously large behemoth that ridiculously calls itself a “professional organization” being allowed to continue letting kids and teachers down? Why are politicians so afraid of an organization with such a horrendous record of scandal? Why are teacher-delegates to the NEA’s own annual convention still balking at some of the leadership’s various diktats, even when they get rudely sidelined? What do Americans have to show for the kinds of institutional settings both unions have advocated and lobbied for — the dropped dress codes, the lax discipline, the biased curriculums, the graphic sex questionnaires? Why do we continue to throw tax dollars at failure-ridden social programs?
More to the point, why do we continue to label social programs “education” and psychological profiling “tests”?
The two teachers’ unions have played the American public for suckers. They frittered away their chance to “make a difference” — first out of financial greed; then, for raw political power. They have turned two generations of educators into social workers, and now our nation’s leaders have the audacity to wonder “what went wrong.”
Yikes! Talk about a no-brainer!
Building character and demonstrating knowledge-based proficiency are the only two endeavors that matter in childhood.
it’s time government re-thought its strategy … ya think?
© 2007 Beverly Eakman - All Rights
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Beverly K. Eakman, a former teacher-turned-speechwriter and lecturer, is the author of thee books (one a best-seller) on education, mental health and privacy issues. Today's column is adapted from her new book, soon to be released: WALKING TARGETS: How Our Psychologized Classrooms Produce a Nation of Sitting Ducks.
She can be reached through her website: Website:
Why isn’t this enormously large behemoth that ridiculously calls itself a “professional organization” being allowed to continue letting kids and teachers down? Why are politicians so afraid of an organization with such a horrendous record of scandal?