Tea Party Lacks Common Sense on Common Core

From my earliest memories I’ve never been able to tolerate information, comments, instructions, or any other discourse which has little logic attached. Ask my parents. Not having a suitable answer for my “Why does _____?” line of questioning usually resulted in some form of tantrum. Perhaps I should have been a lawyer rather than a geographer.

As an adult, I have achieved a modicum of patience (though, some would say, “not really) and have found more acceptable outlets for expressing my discontent and redirecting my frustration. Like “Constant Geography.”

I understand the root of people’s economic and political frustrations – sort of. I don’t like reading or hearing how my tax dollars have been misused. I don’t like seeing my tiny monetary contribution to our country used to send IRS employees on expensive junkets to Las Vegas. I don’t like reading about the Department of Defense, the Department of State, or the CIA giving pallets of cash to the Afghani government. I don’t like learning our Department of Justice seeks to undermine our civil liberties with the explicit consent of our US Supreme Court by writing National Security Letters, skirting the requirement to obtain a warrant before searching and seizing. And, I don’t like the rampant, senseless, and ultimately damaging spending in which our government over the last 13 years has engaged. Our so-called representatives have grossly and incompetently misused our tax dollars in country-building efforts in Southwest Asia while neglecting our own decaying infrastructure.

You can say, “It’s Obama’s fault,” or you can say, “It’s Bush’s fault,” but the stark reality is this: it is your fault, and my fault, and the fault of everyone who votes and certainly the fault of those who don’t vote. We are to blame because we say we want responsible legislators yet we won’t support good lawmakers and we continue to re-elect morons and religious zealots. We hold all people to double-standards, despising those with traits we ourselves have. We have encouraged politicians to spend more and more money on campaigns, money simply wasted in many cases on what I feel is a false economy. Hundreds of millions of dollars are wasted on commercial airtime, consultants, and junkets which have little impact beyond the campaign. We are afraid of voting for the unknown candidate yet vote for candidates capable of smoothing talking themselves and smearing their opponent with literal lies.  We are responsible for creating the ossification and incompetence of our own governance. We are responsible for the de facto creation of the political “apartheid” infecting our government.

No current political party represents anger (and misguided anger, at that) than the Tea Party. The Tea Party, though, comes in at least 50 different varieties. Tea Party members in the U.S. South may have little in common with those members in New England. Tea Party affiliates in Texas may have a platform which slightly overlaps with the Tea Party platform in Tennessee, or South Carolina. Thus, I realize I am guilty of generalizing, and I accept the possibility (though, remote) a Tea Party affiliation may exist which may hold some value. The Coffee Party is far more interesting, reasonable, and I like coffee more than tea.

In spite of their differences, all Tea Party affiliates appear to share some common traits. They abhor government intervention in private lives. Most specifically, Tea Party members would be very happy to control the behavior of other people, e.g. homosexuals and civil unions, abortion, or the imposition of some form of Christian-based theocratic local or state government. They opposed most forms of federal regulation, preferring to destroy the environment as they see fit regardless of the effect upon their neighbors. They also oppose any form of federal blueprint for education, advocating for the freedom to remain as ignorant as they please, and to educate (or not) their children and grandchildren, touting such nonsense as Creationism/Intelligent Design as science, that people and dinosaurs co-existed, and the fantastically mythic notion of a 6,000 year-old Earth. I once found these beliefs humorous. No longer. These beliefs are not only wrong, but they are dangerous to the foundation of our country, our government, our society, and our geopolitical position relative to everyone else on the planet. Below, I’ll explain why.

I pose the following question at the beginning of each semester to all of my courses, online, or traditional lecture:

“What is the single most important industry in the United States?”

Go ahead and think on that question for a minute. I’ve got time; I’ll wait. I’ll give you a hint; it is not the automobile industry. Nope, it is not semiconductors or computers. The most important industry is not Energy, not oil, natural gas, nuclear, or any other fuel. The most important sector is not government – though, if you said, “the public sector,” you are getting warmer.

215px-Adventures_of_buckaroo_banzaiWithout question the most important economic sector in the United States is Education. Period. Argue all you must, there is nothing more important to our U.S. society than education. No, not even religion. Sorry. Study the Torah, the Bible, or the Qu’ran all you want and you will never be magically transformed into a groundbreaking physicist or chemist or engineer or programmer or rocket scientist or brain surgeon. Believe me, if doing so were the case, I’d be the world’s best particle physicist / brain surgeon / rocket scientist / rock-star bass guitarist touring headlining with Yes and Foreigner. I would be Buckaroo Banzai, for real.

The development of the modern educational model has changed very little since the 19th century. Primary, secondary, and higher education systems were first installed throughout Europe and exported abroad to address the need for trained and educated workers required for the latter stages of the Industrial Revolution.

As mechanization replaced human workers, engineers, scientists, teachers, and a whole host of new employees were needed to fill the newly born positions blossoming from the explosive growth of the Industrial Revolution. Companies desperately needed educated people, people who could read manuals, write manuals, learn quickly, communicate effectively. Companies needed sales people who could manage numbers and data, marketing specialists, artists, designers – people who could make them money.

Europe’s educational philosophy matured quickly. People recognized the importance of education, so much so education became a fundamental right. Cultural and political philosophers advocated that the success of any society was predicated upon having an educated populace, and everyone benefits from education. While I am sure a few people disputed such claims, the vast majority of citizens recognized the simple truth in the benefits attached to an educated populace.

Today, throughout Europe, all of northern, central, and western Europe countries have free education, from kindergarten through university. These countries also enjoy standards of living equal to or in excess of that enjoyed by U.S. residents.

However, do not fall into the logical fallacy of associating the current economic issues found in Ireland, Spain, and Greece with the social support of free education. The reasons behind their financial failings is related more to the fraudulent nature of investments in the U.S. housing markets, negligence of the Greek social support system which encouraged laziness and reduced productivity, and the incompetent use of government subsidies.

And, no, subsidizing education does not amount to incompetent use of government subsidies.

Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan all have state-supported education, as does Singapore. China, technically, has a free, state-supported educational system. The Chinese system is corrupt, however. Parents must “voluntarily” pay to get their children in desired schools, even pay for favored seating in a classroom (seats near the teacher cost more than seats in the back of the room). School administrators thereby extort payments from parents. Extortion is illegal in China, though, as with many other forms of under-the-table payments, nothing is done to enforce the law. Bribery is endemic in all levels of Chinese society.

Of all developed, OECD-member countries, only the United States stands apart in its lack of support for education. No sufficient arguments exist to counter my statements.

European educational systems fully integrate themselves with business and industry in order to ensure graduating students are sufficiently capable of being employed. Governments actively work to promote relationships between business, industry, and secondary and post-secondary schools. These relationships exist in the form of internships, many of which are paid and also have the additional benefit of providing insurance and benefits.

European educational systems have smaller teacher-student ratios. In 2009, the United States had a teacher-student ratio of 1:22 (OECD). In comparison, teacher-student ratios in western Europe was closer to 1:18. An argument I’ve been presented with is “Europeans and their Socialist societies do not know their students as well as we know ours.” This is argument is patently wrong. Teachers in European classrooms know their students as well as U.S. teachers, perhaps even better. European students are evaluated a number of characteristics, math, science, and artistic ability. European students are engaged daily to help foster interests and assist students in self-discovery of talents. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses can help them realize careers and occupations.

Finland is a model being examined for application in the United States. In Finland, students have little homework. Students are not barraged every day of every week of every month with the same drudgery. Finland recognizes students are children first, and allows them to play, build social acceptable social connections. Essentially, on the playground kids are learning how to network, we just don’t tell them they are learning to network. Along the way, the children are introduced to reading, math, and science. Finland only assesses one time in the students academic career. Yes, only one real national assessment, given in high school. The teachers are intimately aware of each student’s progress, though, and students are not allowed to move forward and the teacher is satisfied the student has made sufficient progress.

Teachers in Finland are also highly educated, themselves. Most have Master’s Degrees. Teachers are well-compensated. Even being allowed to be a teacher is a highly selective process. All teachers are government employees. In the United States, education seems to be the landing zone when a student cannot perform in most any other academic discipline. “Well, I suck at math, history, biology, accounting, chemistry, economics, English. I guess I’ll go into teaching. I’m sure I can teach a 3rd grader something.” In Finland, education students are only admitted into teaching programs after having successfully completing a bachelor’s degree in an appropriate field with a good G.P.A.

The Finland model also has another important trait. In fact, all successful educational models have three critical traits. First, parents support the teachers. Second, the state (state=country) supports education. Third, the Finns recognize as a society education is fundamental to success and livelihood. In other words, free education and the importance of education is woven into the social fabric of their nation. There is no debate on this. In the United States, we have Tea Party activists (see Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, to name a few) who argue our educational system should be dismantled with the power of educating our children given to parents. I’ll explain why their idea is devolutionary in a moment.

Now, I am not saying “all European students attain perfect knowledge and live happy, cheery lives until death.” Not all do. I’ve met a few Europeans who have faced some type of career stagnation, disinterest, or malaise. Honestly, who hasn’t? But, the idea the European education framework as bankrupt due to national social support is simply irrational and biased based on some bizarre fear of financing an activity which is construed as the advance of Socialism yet incurs zero drawbacks and nothing but rewards.

Today, in the United States, hundred of thousands of students stumble through their K-12 educational curriculum and are then dumped into society with little idea of what they want to do with their lives. These students graduate from high school with little to secure themselves other than “I’ll figure out what I want to do when I go to college,” a philosophy handed down for equally rudderless parents.  Then, according to recent reports, students take on an average of $27,000 of student loans, some of which is lost in the search for their first career, or at least a degree which will help them eventually graduate. Now, burdened with $27,000 of debt and perhaps a degree they have no idea how to use, these new graduates continue to wander aimlessly.

First, while in the 1970s, 1980s and to some extent the 1990s, being “rudderless” and needing to “find myself” was a popular sentiment, generation after generation of young adults trapped in a spiral of unknowing is beginning to damage the basic economy of the United States.

Education almost always has a positive return on investment, too. If a student perseveres and has the foresight to line up job interviews prior to graduation, education can have an immediate return on investment. Few other investments a person can make can guarantee a return on investment. A house is usually a good investment. But, we often pay $20,000-$30,000 for a car or truck which immediately depreciates as soon as we drive the thing from the car lot. And, we whine about student loans. Traditionally, the first purchase after college was a new car. Automakers today are noticing those purchases are no longer occurring with the same vigor. However, the vigor of new car sales to college graduates says more about the state of our educational system than any responsible fiscal knowledge the young adult collected while in college. They are not buying a new car because Dave Ramsey told them not to; they are not buying a new car because of student loans and the incompetence exercised in choosing a degree with employment potential.

If you think I am being overly critical, you have no idea. If you heard me rant about this in person, the above treatise is painfully nice. The United States has been nipping at many issues, education being only one, without making any real progress. In fact, No Child Left Behind became pretty much All Children Left Behind Except For Those With Parents Motivated Enough To Ensure Their Kids Success In The Face Of Stupid Government Policies.

If you think I am being overly harsh on the Tea Party; hey, this is my opinion, based on copious amounts of reading, research, and my own teaching experience over the last 17 years at both a university and three community colleges. I’m forcing no one to read my opinion, but if you made it this far, you are awesome. Really. I’ll explain why.

Let me go back and wrap up a loose ends or two. I made the comment in my opening, a question, actually. “What is the most important sector of the U.S. economy?” Answer: Education. Education is the source of all goodness and pureness and all that is right with the Universe. While some patents do originate from non-degree holding people, the vast majority of patents originate from degree-holding people. According to PatentlyO, 99% of patent registrants hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, education is obviously important. The United State still leads the world in academic patent applications. Our lead is narrowing, with large increases by South Korea, Japan, and the United Kingdom. And, China. China is filing patents at a rate almost 4x’s faster than the leader, the United States. China has surpassed Japan (2010) in the number of patent filings. In 2010, China accounted for 19% of the world’s patent filings; the United States about 24%. The trend will only continue and the gap will close. In fact, China may have already surpassed the United States in patent filings as I write this post. China was only 100,000 patent filing behind the United States in 2010, (390,000 versus 490,000) and Chinese submissions had grown by 24% versus growth in U.S. submissions of 7%.

Titan1China is educating her population by sending people abroad to become highly educated chemists, engineers, programmers, biologists, and financiers. At least, China encouraged her populations to go abroad and bring their knowledge home. People who study this migration of people are noticing China has developed a tidy society of highly educated academics, of researchers, coupled with the money to engage in cutting edge research. Not that long ago (2010), China unveiled the world’s fastest supercomputer, the Tianhe-1A. The Tianhe-1A lost No. 1 status in 2011 to a Japanese supercomputer. In 2012, the Japanese supercomputer lost to a supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Labs, which in turn lost the same year to a computer at Los Alamos National Lab. My basic point is China is recognizing the value of education, supporting education, and using education to beat the United States at its own game. And while we bicker, argue, fight, and debate about whether or not the United States should even have a Department of Education, every other Middle- or High-Income Nation has already decided education is fundamental to economic growth and prosperity and should be free or very low-cost. Furthermore, national sentiment concurs so much there is no debate on the importance and value of education in any of these countries. If anything, the debate is how to help students and residents being more educated. One would have to look at traditional Islamic countries to find such anathema directed towards education, like Pakistan. And, even that comment is wrong. Urban Pakistanis understand the value of education, those living in Karachi, for example. People living in Riyadh understand the value of education. Only in the rural areas where Wahhabism prevails does one find mullahs fighting to keep the modernizing influences at bay, and preventing the education of females. Yet, even a traditional Islamic society like Saudi Arabia sends their youth, both men and women to the West. A great idea which exposes their youth to liberalizing ideas while educating them in math, computer science, engineering, business, economics, and language.

Only in the United States do we have vocal political groups advocating for the elimination of the Department of Education and placing education of our future in the hands of parents. To me, this is a sign of mental illness, disease or defect, honestly.

jesus_raptorsThe Official Tea Party platform calls for the abolishment of the Department of Education and the elimination of all federal spending allocated towards education. The Tea Party Platform also calls the implementation of school vouchers, which would allow public dollars to be directed to religious schools. Furthermore, they support the Parental Rights Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment which purports to provide parents a way to manage their child’s educational experience. By “manage,” I mean parents can choose to remove their children from schools which teach Evolution or any other scientific theory, such as the Big Bang, the speed of light, gravity, any topic which interferes with their religious dogma. In other words, segments of the U.S. population would prefer to live in an environment similar to 14th century Europe, and they want that environment for your children, too.

Early I made the comment the Tea Party’s pursuit of the dismantling of the United States educational system is devolutionary. “Devolutionary” means pretty much what the word sounds like it should mean, to devolve, or come apart, to regress into a lower or more primitive form. The Tea Party’s desire to trim the fat from the U.S. government by abolishing the Department of Education is tantamount to cutting one’s own head off believing the hands will continue to work the keyboard because the fingers do all the work, right?

To be clear, the Department of Education is a disaster, and has been a disaster in-the-making for about 25 years. Perhaps even going back to the days of Reagan. The Department of Education, responsible for tuning our country’s educational needs is only mildly affective. But, I cannot put full blame on the DoE because Congress has voted time after time to support War over Education, with a mild respite during the Clinton years. But, even though I recognize the DoE is a disaster, the department is still fundamental to the economic viability and prosperity of the United States.

The Tea Party’s educational ideology is by its very nature broken because it seeks to breakdown the economic and social order of the United States not by fragmenting education into state-granted powers but even further, by parent-granted powers. In 2010, the United States Census (another agency targeted for elimination by the Tea Party, by the way) counted almost 79 million families. In essence, the Tea Party would like to create 79 million different educational systems.

Granted, I might be encroaching upon absurdity. Most families will probably not break too far from tradition and will continue to enroll their children in public schools. Tradition aside, the technical possibility exists. Given the Tea Party’s own goal for the elimination of nationwide educational standards and goals, let me ask this question.

“How is the United States supposed to compete in a global economy, compete with China, India, Brazil, Russia, and the European Union, when the foundation of our entire economic system, i.e. education, has been smashed into 79 million pieces?”

Riddle me that, Batman.

When other countries are strengthening their educational systems, supporting them even more with at all levels of societal buy-in, from parent support, corporation and business support, to revenue through taxation, the United States is regressing. Many within the GOP actually seem to advocate against education. The far-right within the GOP, the religious conservatives support the removal of barriers between church and state, arguing from some bizarre perspective the authors of the U.S. Constitution actually supported a Christian theocracy. Talk about cherry-picking their arguments and succumbing to Confirmation Bias. Indeed, a few signatories did support a Christian-based theocracy. Some also thought a constitutional monarchy was a good idea. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton tended to think an American monarchy might functional well. We have to be careful about our presumed knowledge of history. The important task of historians is to referee these discussions and keep people honest.

So, one might argue the Tea Party along with coordinated action from right-wing conservatives are working towards fragmenting, i.e. devolving, the primary economic driver of our vital U.S. economic livelihood, education. They want to make parents responsible for educating their own children. Bear in mind most Americans over 25 do not have a complete college education. In 2010, the number of United States residents with at least a bachelor’s degree finally broke 30%, about 1 person in 3. This is good; in 2000 the ratio was about 1 in 4. But, 2 out of 3 people over 25 years of age do not have a college education. I know this sounds insulting but realistically, do we want people without an education responsible for educating our future leaders? Our future industrialists and business leaders and financial advisors?

In the 1950s and 1960s, the sentiments in most families was, “I want your life to be better than mine. I did not have a chance at a college education but you do. Go to college. Make something of yourself. Find your Destiny.”

In the 21st century, we have seen some politicians suggest education is unnecessary, arguing education beyond a certain level is a waste of time and money. Some political candidates suggested to “get as much education as you can afford.” OK, well, the IRS reports 48% of U.S. taxpayers earned less than $27,500 in 2010. In 2011, the median family income was about $50,000. Median means “middle,” translating to “50% of the U.S. population earned $50,000 or less.” To translate the former presidential candidates philosophy into real terms: “Get as much education as you can afford. But, after paying your mortgage (rent), groceries, utilities, gas for the car, health insurance, shoes for your kids, clothes for your kid, school lunch money for your kid, and what else you poor people buy, you probably don’t have much of the $50,000 left. Well, work harder. Maybe when you die you can leave your grandkids some change to buy a book with.” That is a horrible and destructive stance for our country.

Criticism without offering a few recommendations is a waste of time and talent. If something irritates you, then do something positive to improve the situation.

Because an agency is ineffectual does not mean the agency’s mission is wrong. As with most anything else, people are generally at the root of all problems. Not computers, not software, not God or the weather. People. Administrators and bureaucrats. Put good people in place, with good skills, good knowledge, and some wisdom, with aspirations and dreams and vision, and a marginal activity can take on new life.

The Department of Education is a radical revisioning of purpose. Rip everything out and ideologically start over. Let me offer some suggestions.

First, our current system of hierarchical grade levels should only be suggestions. If a 1st grader masters the curriculum, move them along to the next level. If an 8th grader masters his or her curriculum, move them along to the next level. Why lock a child into a curriculum simply based on keeping them with peers. Remember, our system was based on generating a finite amount of workers who could read and write at given times throughout the year to meet the regimented business cycle. That notion is dead. It died yesterday. It died when Napster was unleashed upon the Internet. No, it died when Bill Gates re-wrote DOS and eventually gave the world Windows.

khan-logo-vertical-transparentOnline education and massively open online courses, for whatever your thoughts on them are, and some people are MOOC-Deniers, distance location is here to stay. Not because the United States will demand it, but because online education will touch the lives of people who thirst for knowledge the way a vampire thirsts for blood. Children in India, Cambodia, Vietnam, in Brazil, and throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Those are the people who will benefit most from online learning. Not U.S. students, but global students. And, the United States has the potential to offer truly transformative education experiences unparallelled in human history. And, we choose to export conflict and weapons, instead. For every dollar the United States invests in the Department of Defense, we invest about 9 cents in education. If you don’t believe me, GTS (google that stuff). Look at the DoD budget plus the separate line items for Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, look at the federal budget for education. Divide Education by (DoD + Iraq + Afghanistan) and multiply by 100. You should get about 9%.

Then, make class sizes smaller. Depending on school district needs, 15-20 should be the most students a teacher should be responsible for. All teachers need a full-time aide, too. Every teacher needs to know every child, and every child needs to know they matter and are important.

As for teacher training, anyone claiming a desire to teach needs to be placed in the classroom immediately. Not by themselves, of course, but they need to shadow a real, working teacher for a semester, from the time the teacher arrives through the entire work day. Once the semester is over, if the individual still wants to continue to pursue education, then allow them entry into a teaching program. Allowing students to persist through an entire degree program only to have them wash-out after two years is a waste of everyone’s time and effort. I suspect most people enter into teaching because they had so much fun in high school they want to keep those feelings alive. School was their greatest social environment, and like anything that makes us “feel good” we don’t want those feelings to die. Plus, I just know I’d make a good cheerleading coach. How hard can teaching 12 or 13 year olds really be?

We often hear concerns voiced over student drop-out rates but what about teacher attrition rates? Why do we not hear more about the “drop-out rate” of teachers? According to the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF), in the decade between 1994 and 2004 about 2.4 million teachers were hired, and 2.7 million teachers quit, with 2.1 million of those quitting before retirement. In the Philadelphia School District, between 1999-2005 the student drop-out rate was 43%. The teacher drop-out out rate was 70%. Ask any employer how costly training a new employee can be. Employers try to screen for ideal candidates to protect their investment. By some estimates in the same 2012 NCTAF study, as much as $4 billion dollars per year is lost due to teacher turnover.

Every child needs an opportunity for a school breakfast, lunch, and perhaps dinner. Children need sustenance for learning and the U.S. needs a way to demonstrate “you are important to us.” What better way to send that message.

Every child needs an opportunity to explore arts and music, or some other skill, electronics, carpentry, programming, animal husbandry, metallurgy, astronomy, writing, whatever. School-sponsored after-school activities were an important part of my childhood. Children need a safe, encouraging, and intellectually stimulating atmosphere. After school could also encourage more parent involvement than during school. Having volunteered for a number of years at the local elementary, some parents never appear at school during the day. Their work schedule simply does not allow them the flexibility. Get parents involved in helping mentor after-school activities. Many parents have skills, wielding, metalsmithing, sewing, drawing, writing, etc., which could stimulate young minds. A bunch of parents spending 90 minutes one or two evenings per week could make a huge difference to some young mind.

All high schools need to be associated with a fully-functional vocational school. The vocational school needs to be supported by local and national businesses and industries. A portion of corporate income tax needs to be invested in vocational schools.

Vocational schools need corporate sponsorships, funding, and training programs and paid internships to develop young employees in a particular field. We need to research ways of identifying talents and abilities, then foster those talents and help ease the transition of students into the workplace.

I’ve been told “all you’re doing is supporting the creation of non-thinking drones.” I respond with, “Have you not heard a word I’ve said? Get to know each student, help them discover their own strengths and weaknesses, help them assess their own interests and goals, and help direct them towards a successful career path.” What part of that creates a worker bee? Anything less than this puts students completely at risk of never achieving their potential, of being mediocre throughout their lives, and never realizing the vast majority of their ambitions. Plus, some kids need a good dose of reality. If a student sucks at math, then engineering and architecture is probably not going to work for them no matter how well they can draw. A student who finds children annoying should never go into teaching. For that matter, a student who finds people annoying should avoid the health field, at least avoid Nursing. Telling a child, “Oh, honey, you can do anything you put your mind to,” is the biggest and most damaging lie an adult can tell a child. First, no they can’t. A child with an IQ of 90 is never going to be a cosmologist or particle physicists, regardless of how much they love stars, planets, or galaxies, and for them to be told they can is a fraudulent. You have committed an act of fraud. Perhaps, the child will never be a cosmologist, but perhaps they have decent artistic skills. Showing them how to use Adobe Illustrator, or how to turn metal, and put the artistic talent to work can still give them direction while keeping them in touch with their muse. Children aren’t created equal; none of us are. Perpetuating that myth builds resentment as the realization dawns we’ve been lied to our entire lives. Am I projecting? Not really. I personally am an underachiever. But, I’ve run across countless students who’ve been lied to throughout their K-12 experience, then can’t get the SAT, ACT, GMAT, LSAT, or GRE scores needed for acceptance to the program they’ve pinned their hopes and dreams on. And, then we adults wonder why kids seem so all unstable. Yeah, we are part of the problem; our message is not congruent with the real world.

All high schools need at least one career or education guidance counselor. The Guidance Counselor will be responsible for developing programs to education middle and high school students about career fields. The guidance counselor will be responsible for evaluating each and every student with the goal in mind to help students narrow down a vocational path based on academic strength, weaknesses, coupled with extracurricular interests. There is no valid reason why a graduating high school student does not have some type of educational or career blueprint or map.

Guidance counselors, middle- and high-school faculty need to know what occupations are going to be required in coming years, 2-5 years down the road. The Department of Commerce and the Department of Education need to work as a team to help promote needed occupations, to help find students who attributes might be a good fit. Currently, students have zero guidance or direction other than some enthusiastic student might discover on their own, or with the help of mom or dad, or an uncle. Every student needs some fashion of career planning and guidance.

Every teacher needs to spend a time every week highlighting a career topic related to the something being studied. Not just talking about the career, but find someone else, from local business or industry or college to be guest speaker. Make sure students can ask questions. Set up a small field trip for those students who are interested.

The Department of Education should be responsible (as it is now) for discovering what works, and what doesn’t, and “move at the pace of business” to adapt. They need to be able to be flexible and fluid. They need to gather statistics and data to help us evaluate ourselves. But, most importantly, they need vision. Every U.S. resident needs to understand the goal of their educational investment. The current state of our economy, particularly within engineering and sciences, is due primarily of policy failures at the federal level. We don’t allow educational efforts to adapt quickly; parents and school boards stymie the adoption of language, arts, and music. All those efforts do is simply slow U.S. progress and allow our competitors to gain more quickly.

Common Core, from the portions I have read, is a step in the right direction. While not directly telling what schools to teach, Common Core is a highly organized set of goals and guidelines to help establish levels of mastery. The actual means of communicating, of instruction is left to the school and the teacher. A step in the right direction, given a competent, energetic, and enthusiastic teacher and a support staff, and parents who will allow the teacher to work be supportive of the teacher and not complicit in their child’s behavior problems. I have been interested in Common Core and how graphic novels and comics might be used in a variety of topics, from social issues, physics, as a form of history, and geography. Common Core does create flexibility and provide a framework for adaptive learning and bringing fresh ideas into the classroom. We still need top-level guidance and direction to ensure a country as large and as diverse as the United States does not academically or intellectually drift into the realms of nonsense. We need top-level goal-setting and vision keep pace with global developments. I simply do not see that happening. I suspicion is the vision and foresight required to make sure a kid in Smallville, KS, in rural American can be educated and competitive with his (or her) counterpart in Brazil, or Russia, or Germany, or Japan, South Korea, or even China will elude decision-makers at the local school level. Then, after a few years of floundering, the cry will rise again for a federal agency to help direct and organize education efforts. Rather than re-create the wheel, we need to understand the forces which encouraged us to form the DoE, understand the nature of the current DoE, then determine the real mission we want the DoE to follow.

But, most of all, all U.S. residents need to realize everyone, EVERYONE, benefits from a society which fully realizes the benefits to free (or low-cost) and open education. Until we can, as a single unit, all recognize education is a fundamental and essential component of our societal fabric, we will be constantly see our geopolitical status erode. We will be more open to the fears and distractions of terrorism, from both within our borders and outside. We will be more fearful of China’s economic ascendancy, India’s growth, and the economic ties being forged in South America of which most U.S. citizens are ignorant.

Most people have little time to become entirely familiar with the breadth and depth of knowledge required to adequately train a youth for the rigors of today’s economic geography. I say this because I teach world geography, a subject near-and-dear to my heart, a subject with a peculiar vantage allowing anyone to see global interactions between realms, regions, and countries. I teach world geography to kids in high school, to kids fresh from high school, and to adults who haven’t seen high school in 30 years. From the scope of experience I’ve encountered, most Americans are completely oblivious to the economic forces at work in the world. Many do not see or appreciate the value of writing, or reading, or understanding how to calculate a percentage. Many do not understand the fundamental economics of labor, wages, insurance, capital investments, or the costs of production. Watch “Bar Rescue” with Jon Taffer or “Restaurant: Impossible” with Robert Irvine. Their clients often have no clue their food or labor costs.

We, the United States, can no longer afford to cut education any more than we should advocate cutting the right hands from working age adults. By promoting the abolishment of the Department of Education, the Tea Party essentially advocates anarchy, the rule of many small, disparate self-interested groups. That is anarchy, by definition. Most people confuse anarchy with chaos. Anarchy can further devolve into chaos. By placing all education decisions with local administrators, though probably well-intentioned, nothing short of complete and utter failure could come from such effort. Sure, some little Fiefdoms of intellectual superiority might arise, next door to another academic fiefdom where all the kids believe humans once rode dinosaurs, and the fossils found atop Mt Everest were placed there during the Great Flood. Brilliant.

Hopefully, the Tea Party is simply a flash in the pan and their battery of false memes will evaporate upon exposure to Reason and Logic.

Thanks, again, for your attentiveness. If you made it this far, whether you agree with me or not, this is why you are awesome 🙂


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