what, why, and how to fix

Nov. 28, 2014

In the past, I have tried to share my ideas of practical ways to solve some of the problems facing our country and the world. Sometimes it is better to reflect on what others have said. The following is an excerpt from a book written by a 23 year old B-17 bomber pilot during the height of bombing campaigns over Germany. These words from "Seranade to the Big Bird" by Lt. Bert Stiles are very profound, especially when one realizes they were written 70 years ago. Here are his thoughts about the importance of education written during lulls between combat missions. I highly recommend the entire,too short, book be added to everyone's reading list.

"... In the end it comes down to what should an education really do?...A few barrels of thought, or a few car loads, liberally distributed among all the people, might open up the world for some sunny weather... An education should try to teach how to think alright, and failing in that, should at least teach him a little humility, and try to get him to open his mind, and keep him cagey about what he takes in, and keep him ever reminded that there are many people of all sorts of blood strains and color phases, all essentially pretty much like him.  It should teach him that he is part of mankind..." 

"An education should give a man the facts about his world...straight.  It should tell the little American kids there aren't many bathrooms in Sinkiang, and not enough toothbrushes in Turkey, and not enough democratic governments in Chicago or Jersey City or the District of Columbia, or any city in any district for that matter.

That education should include just as much information about the world as possible, how people live and where, and what they disagreed over in the past, and why they're going to have to get in close in the future, or there won't be any future. 

An education should give a person some idea of how a society functions, through the dreams and laws and practices and theories and economics.  The idea should be spread around that economics is just a hell of a name for the way people live together.  People have to work, and the study of what they do, and how they do it and why, is the study of economics, and it includes just about everything done by mankind, to mankind, for mankind. 

An education should include a pretty complex mathematical and scientific background, as illuminating and extensive as possible, the best that good teaching and imaginative text writing can dream up, plus a lot of movies, things like Disney's evolution sequence in 'Fantasia'.   The math shouldn't stop in the 6th grade or the 8th or the 12th.  It should go all the way through, because it keeps the brain clicking over.  It is an antedote for lazy thinking. You either think in a math class or you wash out. 

For the other side of it, the literature and the arts and the languages, they should give you a shot at the best there is, and not care too much if it doesn't work at first.  They should find teachers that are in love with their stuff,...and open the doors for those who cannot see very well at first."

"Most everyone wants to know something at sometime in his life probably.  The desire to learn, the desire to see and find out is deep in a great many people, but it gets knocked out early in most, or wrapped up in the white paper of a diploma, or a little more securely in the sheepskin of a degree.   

Intellectual curiosity is more or less dormant in most people, but a good teacher can give it a shot in the arm, just by being a good teacher, and giving the curious one something to work with.

Education is a lifetime affair, and should be, and could be, and must be a whole lot more so..."

"Maybe all education has to be built around two words... Truth...Justice...and maybe if it was, after a long slow time some sort of half way decent world could be worked out.

Maybe there ought to be some more phrases like, "Take it easy" and "Step back and laugh at it sometimes" to build around to, so the somber bright-eyed ones don't throw in the blue laws or come up with something like National Socialism."

"If there was only some way to have the most respected men in the world stand up once a month and tell all the people that they are just people, and there is such a hell of a lot to do and learn, that thinking that you are wise is just about the quickest way to prevent anything good being done and the easiest way to kill off any hope and desire for change."

                                                                             Lt. Bert Stiles, 1944

Mar. 9, 2014

...so what are some solutions ?  Japan may be a possible model. Japanese children know more American history than our own children. How can that be ? Their curriculums demand results, not "feel-good" results, but real, "advance if you can results". Our education system is currently a glorified babysitting service that provides some basics for everyone as long as one doesn't expect too much, but no accountability for real learning. Storing facts in short term memory for regurgitation at exam time is not "learning" in the sense that it becomes a useful tool. How many youngsters complete high school having passed basic math requirements yet cannot make simple change or calulate a 15-20% tip in their heads ? Why is it that no current high school graduates have any real world working skills unless they learned them while working outside jobs? Perhaps a new system of education could change this situation, but again, it will take forward thinking people willing to step outside the box. 

Most of what we really learn in the way of basic human knowledge allowing us to function in society is learned early. If we focused grades 1-4 on those basics, no computers, no exotic visual aids, just reading, writing and math taught repetively until LEARNED, we might have a sound foundation to move forward. From grades 5-8, all other subjects could enter the spectrum including computers. After finishing grade 8, it is decision time. Does the child want to follow a vocational program where a marketable skill is learned prior to graduating high school, or an advanced curriculum leading to college and advanced degrees. A skilled welder or plumber straight out of high school would be every much as valued an asset as the youngster looking to becoming a doctor, yet facing 12 more years of schooling. Instead, we allow our youth to exit high school with little or no skills and in fact, ill-prepared to tackle college classes without remediation. It is little wonder that the classic 4-year college education is now a 5-6 year event with the attentant high cost of advanced education !  Think of ways to improve our education system and turn it into something that produces contributing members for society. Our current system fails to do this.

Mar. 9, 2014

"Our current education system is broken". How many times do we need to hear this?  One needs only to look back in the past 20 years to see that this question has been posed time and again since the "great awakening" of the youth in the 1970's. It is obvious that un-motivated youngsters will use any excuse to remain in that "what-me-worry" state and of course, a large part of the blame falls on those of us who allowed it to proliferate. Remembering back, I cannot recall NOT being required by my parents to produce positive resuts in school or suffer the consequences of restriction, no bicycle etc. Instead, our generation discovered that both parents working and working longer hours translated into the accumulation of more assets, and afterall, "stuff" in the eyes of our peers, equalled success. We all wanted to "keep up with the Jones' " or better yet, surpass them.  In the meantime, rather than spending time with our children, we proved our love by buying them "stuff", protected them from over-bearing school disciplinarians, and often used the legal system to sort out problems that we didn't want to take the time to sort out. We only need to look at a current case now in court, where a youngster is suing her parents, to grasp the extent this attitude has gone. In the 80's I wrote a letter to the editor of our local newspaper suggesting that uniforms were one way to help reduce the number of "cliques" based on status that formed in middle and high schools, as well as a way to improve discipline. That idea was shot down as "suppressing individual expression"....and the chaos and decrease in discipline within the schools continued. Having taught high school in 1970, I could readily see the changes. I even suggested that the local school board sit in on classes unannounced (or as a substitute teacher), but no, none could take out the time from their busy schedules. The end result is what we see now, apathy and a sense of entitlement, "afterall, you gave me an I-phone ( or X-box babysitter) when I was 8, why can't I have a new laptop, car etc. now ? " A couple of generations with this attitude is not going to be easy to fix, so maybe we should consider correcting our current education approach so as to improve the chances of future generations. What we need now are ideas to improve the education system, not just throw more money at a failing system. A voucher system to encourage healthy competion between schooling techniques just might be part of the answer. After a few years, it would be easy to see what teaching methods/approaches would really work.