How to Fix the Schools

Posted on February 1, 2020

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First, let me state up front, and as loudly as a written column can be, that I admire and support our schoolteachers across the board, from K-12. On the other hand, there is no institution or activity that we are part of that can’t be improved. In that spirit, let me share with you a letter to the editor in the WSJ a few weeks ago.

The writer is in California. They are not all flakes out on the West Coast. What did he write?

“Go back to teaching reading, writing and arithmetic and stop trying to turn out ‘woke’ social justice warriors.” Amen. I’m not sure what “woke social justice warriors” are but I suspect it is being taught to be sensitive to everyone from the LGBTQ community, to Hispanics, women, Muslims, African Americans, Indonesians and every other category defined as not being a WASP, that’s old language for white Anglo Saxon Protestants.

I think I understand what he is saying. If we are going to promote the old ideal expressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence, that all men are created equal, why emphasize all our differences? That only serves to divide, not unify, us.

It is transparently clear that we are, in fact, all different, by whatever standard you want to apply including race, gender, language, country of origin, religion, etc. etc. But emphasizing and defending differences is not what made us great. It was the essential truth that we are bonded by the simple affirmation that liberty and freedom are granted to us all by the founding documents on the country. What you do with them is what is important, not emphasizing all the strikes against you in the forums of social justice.

Our letter writer continues: “Teach scientific biology instead of the politically correct version and make sure parents understand the mandatory sex-education curriculum.” Science, in this case biology, is the study of life and living organisms. A “politically correct” version imposes political tones to biology. Don’t impose your politics into science. Poverty, for example, is not driven by biological factors, but by how people chose to govern themselves which is politics.

And parents who think that sex should be understood not simply as a       natural function but also as governed by Scripture better be sure they understand what is being taught. Sex is not something as simple as eating or drinking, but an act endowed by God with a much higher significance.

“Stop catering to ‘self-esteem’ and return to merit grading,” our writer observes, “to show kids their weak spots and build real achievements they can be proud of.” Self-esteem is important, but even more important is learning the fruits of hard work and study. Not everybody deserves an A to ensure their feelings aren’t hurt. Learn what your capable of, not to excuse yourself because of circumstances beyond your control. That kind of thinking will lead to alienation and despair.

“Teach real economics and the historic destructiveness of socialism.” This may be a no-brainer that I’ve written about before. Socialist and communist/Marxist regimes have always led to dictatorial and totalitarian regimes and the destruction of liberty. To teach socialism is to perpetuate a failed system. But, don’t avoid the subject.

I once heard a professor in a college course wax on about the Bolshevik triumph in Russia in 1917 and 1918. He persuaded us with the brilliance of his argument. I became a believer, until his next couple of lectures when he took the argument down. I really started to think for myself, for a change I suppose, about how the world really worked. Granted, this was a university course, but it started the true learning experience early for me.

And the last three admonitions from our California sage completes the thought.

“Return to civics, the Constitution, and respect for the rule of law.”

“Try and do what’s best for children’s education and America.”

And one of my favorites, “teach kids how to think, not what to think.”

The last one may be the hardest to do, since to think through an issue properly, you must be presented with the alternatives clearly, like the way debates are organized in high schools for example.

Teaching can be a tough business. I couldn’t teach math or chemistry, but I enjoyed teaching history for over forty years at UA and am still teaching in OLLI and other venues.

History is probably one of the easiest subjects to mangle and distort to reflect your bias, politics, or values. Just as you can lie to yourself about who you are, or were, or did, or did not do, you can twist history to be what you think it should be. I suppose you can do the same thing in math or chemistry or biology or in learning Spanish or French, but history teachers teach values, for example, and which prevailed and which were discarded is part of grand story of our past.

That’s why we have dozens of “gateways” into the teaching profession, all the way from your grades in college to the boards of education at all levels from our city through the state to oversee the selection of textbooks, for example, that teach the broad sweep of Alabama history. We march from the near ancient conquistadors, like Hernando de Soto, who swept through Alabama in the sixteenth century to the letter from the Birmingham jail penned by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.

We follow the legendary 4th Alabama Regiment (later the 167th Infantry Regiment) into the killing battlefields of places like Flanders during the First World War, and fly p-47s with the Tuskegee airmen over the skies of Europe during the Second World War. That the 4th Regiment was all white and the combat pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group were all black tells us about our life as a state and as a nation.

Get involved in learning what is being taught in our schools. Make sure it lines up with the values we embrace and believe as fundamental to the learning experience, and that the goals set a high standard of excellence, honesty, and truth “in an environment that emphasizes competence and quality.

Published as “To fix our schools, remove the politics” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Dec. 22 2019

Posted in: Education, History