Friday, February 22, 2008

Finishing Up My Thoughts on Jimmy's Thoughts

Well, I figured it was time to finish up my thoughts on James Kennedy's last book. Since the book was really mostly empty rhetoric, there wasn't too much to talk about anyway. Most of the issues I was in agreement with him -- certainly the sanctity of life issues -- but most of the arguments were, in my opinion, weakly expressed and often times based on a misunderstanding of history, world events and the role of government. Also, my husband returned the book to the library and I don't have it on hand any more. Using my super power memory I will attempt to write this blog.

The last thing I was thinking about before the book was ripped mercilessly from my hands and returned to the library was the chapter on education. In general, I agree with him as the basis for his educational philosophy is Proverbs 1:7 (The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom). His belief, then, is that education that exists outside of God isn't education. On one hand, I agree with him (which is one of the reasons why I home school my children). One the other hand, there are multiple arguments against taking this verse too literally.

The obvious one being, of course, that there are how many millions of atheists world wide that are quite literate and educated? Do they have any real understanding of the bigger picture of life? They would say they most certainly do, but those of us who do have an understanding of the bigger issues and purposes of life know that they don't. However, you can hardly argue that they're all uneducated, and certainly using that as your starting point isn't going to do much to further the kingdom of Christ.

In addition to that argument, there is no way that you can justify placing a religion in a public school -- even if your religion happens to be the right one. And, while, of course he's counting secular humanism as religion that dominates the public school (and I agree that it is), in theory the public schools should be attempting to not endorse any religion, but teaching respect and toleration for all view points. All that is an aside, though, because it is an entirely different blog entry.

He spends his rest of the education chapter on the miserable state of public education in the United States. Keeping in mind I'm a home schooling mom who has avoided using the public school system, I have to say that I find his argument so unconvincing. This is really bad when you consider that I'm actually on his side! However, being on his side doesn't mean that I can gloss over the facts surrounding education in the U.S., or gloss over the controversy surrounding it.

The fact of the matter is that if you define a good education as obtaining the necessary skill set to advance your life and career, you
can get a good public education in the United States -- just statistically you are unlikely too. Ultimately, the burden of learning is on the student, not the teacher. This country is full of examples of well-educated adults that have graduated from the public school system (myself included). While, I don't credit my public school education to why I'm educated, I did learn to read, write and handle math from the public schools. They did provide a basic, core education. Nothing more, but still, it was a start.

Anyway, Kennedy spends much of the chapter ranting about how the U.S. scores lower than all the other nations on math and science tests.

I had heard once, that the U.S. as an entity does score terribly internationally. However, if you broke down the scores of individual states and compared them to individual countries, several of the U.S. states (might we even say many?) actually stayed at the top of the list. Although it might just have been an educational urban myth, it certainly seems logical. Those of us that live in Cincinnati have no question in our minds that we are way more intelligent than the people who live across the river.

That was a joke. It really was.

So, I decided to look into this issue at bit more. The issue of U.S. student performance compared to the international scene, not why Ohioans are smarter than Kentuckians (because remember, that was just a joke).
I really respect people from Kentucky. I even let some nice people in Kentucky perform multiple surgeries on 2 of my children.

First of all, I learned that the statistics are always based on math and science because those transcend cultural barriers. For example, 10+10=20 in every country around the world. Math and Science are concrete. Language arts, humanities, arts and social sciences are not. Where as we Americans are kick-butt spellers (because we have to be to master this language!) and there are countries where the language is so phonetic that if you can read, you can spell, and the subject of spelling never even enters a curriculum. My oldest daughter would love that! So, humanities, language arts, arts and social sciences are never considered in these statistics.

Considering that our culture has always thrived on creativity, humanities and western thought, along with our Edison-like ingenuity, these statistics might be actually focusing on just the weaker side of our education, not the entirety of it.

In addition to that, I have just finished reading a fabulously written and engaging memoir entitled, "The Bitter Sea: Coming of Age in a China Before Mao" by Charles N. Li. Dr. Li is a linguistics professor University of California at Santa Barbara (I was going to say "Go Banana Slugs", but then I remembered that that was University of California at Santa Cruz). Born in China, Dr. Li immigrated to the United States when he was 21-years old. He spent his childhood in both China and
Hong Kong (as a political refugee of sorts). As he wrote about his teen years in China, he revealed some fascinating information about East Asian schooling. The students who actually made it to secondary education, already an elite minority, were segregated into two distinct groups: math/science and humanities. The top 50% were automatically placed in the math science track and the bottom 50% were "relegated" to the humanities.

In his book, Li writes, "This segregation of students according to their aptitude for science and mathematics explains in part why, after World War II, the overwhelming majority of Chinese students studying abroad have been in the fields of science and engineering. Before World War II, secondary schools did not systematically discriminate against humanities students. Among Father's generation, there were as many humanists/
social scientists as scientists/engineers who won scholarships to study in Europe and America. After World War II, most people in China subscribed to the belief that science and technology provided the only path for a nation, or an individual, to rise to prominence. The belief became so pervasive and firmly entrenched that the educational system automatically shunted high-performing students into science and engineering, regardless of the interests."

While this hardly justifies our lack of expertise in science and math, it may well provide some insight. In addition to that, many of the countries we are compared with do not attempt to educate the entire population. So, that should be factored into the equation as well. There are some smaller nations that offer full public education
that we are often compared with, but I would have to wonder if, in those cases, we should be comparing them to individual states rather than the entire nation. Frankly, Greenland might have a literacy rate of 99.9%, but I could teach 100 people to read too! Just kidding.

So, while I agree with James Kennedy that there are big problems with the public education system in the U.S., I'm don't totally agree with his premise as to what those problems are, what the purpose of public education is, and what needs to change within the public system.

By not
thoroughly examining the problem, we miss coming up with the solution. Across the board, that's the problem I found with this last book. There was a real lack of critical analysis, independent thought and understanding. We might have some ideas of what the end goal of government should be (although I think I disagree with him on many points there), I think that the tactic he took was a real losing battle. If we're totally honest with ourselves, we've lost the culture war, and now we need a new game plan.

No comments: