When I was five, I nabbed the book my mother was reading out loud and used my fledgling phonics to sound out the captions below the pictures. Since then, reading has been one of my favorite pastimes.
But when I was in second grade, my English curriculum dictated a unit study on the Beatrix Potter stories. Every story was read, and then a multitude of vocabulary words and comprehension questions were given.
Over the weekend, The Washington Post brought an interesting West Virginia school fight to the forefront.
As the WaPo explains, schools in Mercer County have long held optional Bible classes during the day. Among other things, the classes teach character and classic stories from the biblical text.
Many parents are supportive of the classes – even to the point of raising money for them – but others are not. And those other parents have decided to bring a lawsuit against the classes, alleging “that the program violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment” and fails to offer alternatives for children who choose not to participate.
In the last few years, there has been a resurgent interest in making Latin a part of the school curriculum. After all, the benefits seem too good to pass up, particularly those which show that Latin boosts reading, math, and science scores.
It is likely these benefits that attracted a Philadelphia inner city charter school, Boys’ Latin, to make the ancient language a cornerstone of their curriculum. And according to The Wall Street Journal, the students are excelling in the study of Latin:
This month the school received the results on the introductory level National Latin Exam, a test taken last year by students around the world. Among the highlights: Two Boys’ Latin students had perfect scores; 60% of its seventh-graders were recognized for achievement, 20% for outstanding achievement; and the number of Boys’ Latin students who tested above the national average doubled from the year before.
Proposals to make public university and college attendance tuition free were floated by Democratic candidates during the 2016 presidential election primaries. Bernie Sanders was and still is one of its most ardent supporters. Hilary Clinton advocated it during the general election. For many Republicans—such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and President Donald Trump—it is a vision of socialist central planning, evoking the question: Who pays?
Is tuition-free higher education a distracting illusion? Is it simply smoke and mirrors, meant to curry votes or draw attention from initiatives to reform higher education (e.g. introduce more vocational and technical training)?
When I was younger, I heard that a sign of a good music teacher was an instructor who welcomed parents to sit in on a child’s lesson. Recognizing the value of this advice, I incorporated it into my own private studio when I began teaching several years later. Sure, it was a bit awkward at times, but in general, it paid off for all involved – particularly in the instance where I laid down the law, student threw tantrum on floor, and observing parent took my part with a vengeance. Good times.
Unfortunately, not all educational venues view parental observation as a good thing. Jay Matthews wonders why in today’s Washington Post:
“When I am about to go I want to tell my kids and grandkids how much I enjoyed watching them in action — talking, writing, building, playing. It helped me understand the essence and individuality of their lives.
But I have relatively few memories of them in school. Our education system does little to encourage parent observations. The few times I was allowed to watch my children in class taught me things and left vivid recollections. I wonder why schools don’t try harder to make that happen.
Many educators have the view that parents can be nuisances and their school contacts should be limited. Usually there is just one back-to-school night a year. Parents sitting and watching in the back of a classroom doesn’t fit ordinary school culture.”
The trouble with our way of educating is that it does not give elasticity to the mind. It casts the brain into a mold. It insists that the child must accept. It does not encourage original thought or reasoning, and it lays more stress on memory than observation.- Thomas Edison
In 1855, when he was eight years old, Thomas Edison enrolled in school for the first time. After 12 weeks, his teacher, Reverend G. Engle, called him “addled,” or unable to think clearly. Edison apparently hated school and its heavy focus on sitting, memorizing, and repeating. As biographer, Louise Egan, explains: “Tom was confused by Reverend Engle’s way of teaching. He could not learn through fear. Nor could he just sit and memorize. He liked to see things for himself and ask questions.”
When it comes to improving education, a lot of emphasis is placed upon the STEM subjects: science, math, and the like. Proficiency in such areas, it is argued, is necessary if the U.S. wants its students to be successful on a global scale.
Such a supposition may be true; however, new evidence suggests that student success may not be found solely in the number and quality of math and science courses our kids take. In fact, one of the greatest instigators of student success may be in the quality of school English courses.
When I graduated from high school a number of years ago, there were a few – but only a few – rumblings concerning the high cost of college and the need for a more sensible, cost-effective path to a career, such as that offered by apprenticeship. I was curious about this alternative, but found it practically impossible to pursue because drinking the must-go-to-college Kool-Aid was the thing to do.
Times have certainly changed. Today, apprenticeship and vocational forms of higher education are viewed in a much more favorable light.
Yet despite this surge in interest, vocational education still endures a fair amount of skepticism and prejudice, as witnessed by one teacher in a column for The Guardian entitled, “I’m tired of justifying the value of vocational subjects.”
As we at Intellectual Takeout have recently pointed out, today’s college students aren’t devoting very much time to studying.
The typical modern student spends less than 3 hours per day on education-related activities, i.e., attending class and studying.
Undoubtedly this phenomenon is in large part due to the swelled ranks of college students combined with a less rigorous curriculum. If you look back to 1961—shortly before the federal government broadened its offering of student loans—students spent an average of 24 hours per week studying in addition to their 15 hours of class.
And, as you might guess, if you look back even further you will find an even more rigorous course of study for college.
Several studies have shown that private school choice programs save taxpayers money overall and even financially benefit local school districts. The primary reason for this: on average, private school tuition levels are lower than the state per pupil funding amounts allocated to residentially-assigned public schools.
Moreover, these private school choice programs generally fund students that wouldn’t have attended a private school absent the scholarship since funding is targeted to the least-advantaged students. While these types of programs are fiscally beneficial, accepting public funds can have serious unintended long-run consequences for private schools and children.
I typically support education reforms which decrease the monopoly public schools have on public funding. As discussed in any basic economics course, even within an imperfectly competitive system, minimizing monopoly power increases competitive pressures and leads to higher quality at a lower cost. However, we must not forget the basic principle of opportunity costs. What is wrong with publicly-funding private school choice programs, and what should we do about it?