Thursday, May 24, 2007

Position Paper Rebuttle (read the previous post first)

After writing the paper, and indeed before I finished, I had convinced myself that in fact what I was writing was false. I did not belive what Joel Spring was arguing was fair and accurate. Instead I believed that there was good reason why so many groups take an interest in education. So I wrote a response to my own essay. It is not nearly as formal or even well edited. I wrote it in frustration and even a bit of anger. I hope you like it...I call it, "Breaking the Mold."

I find the statement by Neil Postman to be frivolous and near-sighted, despite having just written a paper to support it, I now decided that I am against it. He makes the claim that somehow there are too many people interested in the school and therefore too many people affecting education. I want to first submit that it is natural for many people to be interested in education since we rely on it to educate entire generations of students and have so since very early in our nations history. In fact, without public education there would likely not be much of a nation, or it would be much more factional than it is now. Secondly there is nothing wrong with equality of opportunity in this nation, at least that the problem does not lie in some institution or community, but rather in the nature of people in general. I contend that there is no chance of creating a perfect educational system from imperfect people. Lastly I did not appreciate the narrow statistics that Joel Spring uses to attack education and American society in general.
Firstly it is important to accept that education is in fact influenced by politics and rightly so. After all, it is the politicians who have ordered money to be collected from income earning people to then pay for education of this nation’s youth. This is regardless of whether a wage earner has children in the school system or not. The educational system is founded and supported by the government. What then should the government do? Leave it to its own devices? Politics birthed education, it must continue to raise it and support it. To do otherwise would be foolish. Furthermore there was complaint about patriotism and teaching citizenship in public schools. It is the American system and government offering free public education, therefore it is fair to expect a little love in return. A little patriotism never hurt anybody, and trying to make students better citizens won’t either. After all, what should we teach them? To be subversive government hating terrorists who desire to bomb government offices and kill people who support the evil system? Educators in other nations are already doing a good job of that, we need not assist them.

Who then will monitor and steer the freight train that is public education if not government? There must be an engineer or the train will derail, but whom? Should there be a committee of educators selected then set free to make decisions with no oversight? Or perhaps Spring should stage an educational coup and seize control of public education in the name of what is good and fair and right like some communist revolutionary. The point is that there is no way to separate public education from politics, they go hand in hand.

Secondly there is the issue over society influencing public education. This too seems like a ludicrous issue to discuss. Public education is meant to serve society, therefore social groups take an interest in it. It is not unnatural or wrong. Spring complains about the attempts to teach morals in a school setting. Should they do otherwise? He complains that it is difficult to find a common moral agenda to follow given the diversity of our cultural landscape. I agree with him on this point, that is why it is important to allow all school districts to develop what they feel is good and just on their own. Community schools train community children in the agreed upon standards of the community. Are there likely to be some people who descent? Of course, but in democracy the majority often prevails and in this case they should. Why should the social groups be left out of the discussion when they are the people who the schools are designed to serve? What is the alternative? Teachers who teach against what the parents of students sitting in their classrooms teach? That is more unjust than the current situation. That is minority rule, and it is undemocratic. For a few people who think they know-it-all, ala Joel Spring, to make all the decisions is not good practice. There is nothing wrong with the social structures’ involvement in education, in fact it is a facet of democratic life.

After attacking both politics and society, Spring went for the trifecta by blaming educational shortcomings on business. While this is a very Marxist thing to do, I will not go as far as to call him a pinko-commie. Instead I would like to continue my observation that his blame is misplaced. American companies rely on American students to continue to make American products and to provide American services to Americans (if you are counting I squeezed in the word American five times, oops now it is six). They should then be concerned with the public education of Americans from the top (universities) down (primary schools). After all their success depends on quality employees. Now this may seem like a selfish thing, and indeed it may be, but it is also beneficial for all Americans that American companies do well because the American economy counts on it. If public education were to only produce students who knew how to paint abstractly and write haikus then business leaders would be forced to find suitable employees elsewhere which would raise the unemployment rate, especially among the abstract painters and haiku writers now that there is a surplus of them. Business pays a lot of money in taxes every year, much of which goes to education (half of taxes in many states), so I see nothing wrong in them wanting to know how their money is being spent, and how well their future employees are being trained. It is only natural.

Finally there is the issue of inequality in education. There is a “Savage Inequality” they say and it affects everyone except the white male. Indeed this is a tremendous problem and Spring unleashes a swarm of statistics to prove his point. However, I believe in what Mark Twain when he said “there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” These numbers while no doubt they are accurate, are used to prove inequality in education and do not factor in other issues. Firstly I would like to state that I do not believe that absolute equality is possible in a fallen world such as ours. I have seen no evidence of it anywhere in history nor anywhere on the planet currently on any large scale.

But back to more scientific arguments. Spring uses statistics that show that women who have the same degrees men do receive less pay. I do not doubt that this is true, but it is only the surface. If we were to go deeper I believe that we would find that there is a difference in the types of degrees and therefore the types of jobs that men and women favor. For instance, women are by far the majority in education, yet degrees in education do not net one very significant pay. Even masters and doctorates in education do not significantly increase the level of income. Meanwhile men are the majority in fields like law enforcement, criminal justice, and engineering. All of which pay better than educational jobs. Can we say then that there is a “savage inequality” because a woman with a bachelors of arts degree in liberal arts who teaches third grade does not receive the same pay as a man with a bachelors or science degree in engineering who works developing jet planes? Or perhaps Spring would like to see everyone with the same level of education receiving the same pay. Oh wait that would make him a pinko-commie, of which he clearly is not, so no doubt he would find that suggestion silly. I make more money that my wife’s stepsister who has a masters degree. I am a teacher with a mere bachelors degree. Is there an inequality? Spring would say yes. I studied history to become a history teacher. But it turns out that in my wife’s stepsister’s (Corina) infinite wisdom, she studied Chicano women’s studies to become a blockbuster video clerk. Her degree has no market, mine does. The point is that there are more factors than are being presented.
But wait! What about race? Surely there is a “savage inequality” when it comes to race and social class. The poor just keep getting poorer and the rich keep getting richer. Everyone knows this. In fact Spring again used a barrage of statistics to prove this fact (personal thoughts about statistics were already stated). But what these statistics fail to show is that perhaps it is not because of education that people are poor. Of course minorities are the ones found at the bottom, but why? Why is it that a dirt farmer from the hills of Guatemala can’t come to an advanced post-industrial society and succeed? It must be racism and a biased education system. Or maybe it is because the dirt farmer has no education. His children have no education. He does not value education, and therefore his children are not likely to become physicians. Or perhaps I am being racist and Euro-centric right now.

I love when someone brings up the quintiles. They compare bottom 20% compared to the top 20% and we are all supposed to go out and demand radical wealth redistribution I suppose. No wait that would make us pinko-commies. The truth is that over ten year periods only 20% of the people in the bottom 20% are still there. The other 80% moved up (because that was the only way they could go). These quintiles represent ever changing groups of people and are not static at all. I have always been in the bottom quintile, but hope to move out next year once I finally make some money. Perhaps the problem of poverty in this country has more to do with immigration from poverty stricken countries than any failure by America. No that is crazy talk. We are better off to blame the “system” because the “system” can’t defend itself, because no one knows how to contact it.

Anyways, that is my response to my response. I almost turned myself into Sen. McCarthy just then, but came to my senses. Seriously though, I think that instead of simply blaming everyone else, we should focus on our students and instruct them in the best manner using the best methods. I call it “one student at a time.” Cliché I know, but until I come up with something better that is what I am going to call it. Wheh! I feel much better. I suspect that now I can go back into my class and continue to complain about the “savage inequalities” that our evil country has created.

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