1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Public Education's Missing Link

After teaching for ten years in three public high schools and one prison, I’ve arrived at an adequate answer to this question. But before I give my answer and attempt to justify it, I invite the reader to answer this question for himself.

What is missing from public education is a recognition of the students’ humanity. The central educational problem today is not declining test scores nor illiteracy nor the absence of prayer nor the evident excess of immorality and violence. These are mere symptoms. It is the public schools’ (reduced) vision of the human person: “citizen, consumer, worker” are the approved secular end-products of public education. But each of these conceptions of the person reduces the person to a means to an end, to a mere function. One need not be an Immanuel Kant or a Karol Wojtyla or even a believer to notice that there is something profoundly amiss with the anthropology of public education.

This is especially disturbing given the whole backdrop of so-called school reform: schools are urged to gobble more and more of a child’s time and what is the vision that the school has for the child’s destiny? The greatest good in public education is “success,” which is as pernicious as it is vacuous. After all, being successful simply means accomplishing what you set out to accomplish. Although I have not met even one public school teacher who would suggest that being a successful axe-murderer is a worthy goal, there is nothing in the doctrine of Successism that could rule this out a priori.

Success for public educators generally means graduating from high school, going to college and getting a good job. All of these are good things, but the rub is we’re made for great things, not merely good things. Indeed, we are made for the Infinite! But the secular ideal – with its so-called religious neutrality – is to immerse one in the here and now but to simultaneously suppress the deepest yearnings of the heart that are provoked by a meaningful engagement with reality.

Thus in public education everything gets short-circuited: the mystery of affection and sexuality is reduced to mutual indifference and “safety”; the desire to know the Origin of everything is dumbed-down to a superficial approach to evolutionary biology while a hostility between faith and reason is presumed but never argued for; religion, when it is even touched upon, becomes a realm of one opinion versus another, but it is never taken as a serious proposal for one’s life.

The practical reality that faces us is something truly Orwellian: in public education ALL RELIGIONS ARE EQUAL BUT SOME RELIGIONS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS. Agnosticism rules the roost and it is unquestioned.

For Catholics and others who reject the public schools’ great sin of omission, and recognize their own responsibility for their children, there are several positions to take. One can wish and pray that the State will recognize its obligation to help fund all schools (public, private, parochial), but the risk is seeing the Second Coming before that happens. Or one might say, “Well, you get what you pay for,” so public education isn’t so bad and perhaps an hour or two of CCD and/or taking an interest in my child’s formation will “inoculate” her from secularism. Or one might opt to send their children to a Catholic school if it’s financially viable. Others look to homeschooling as a way to ensure that both solid academics and Catholic doctrine get communicated. Still others homeschool and find some form of one day per week enrichment program (public or private) that helps with the more difficult subjects or simply gets the kids working with their peers.

My wife and I have done all of these at one time or another (except for the Catholic school option) and have found that what matters most is being attentive to the needs of each child, every year. While the powers that be are blind to the glorious destiny that awaits all of us in Christ, this is no reason for us to settle for the inanity of secularism.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Toward a more complete education

I recently began teaching a couple of classes for homeschooling parents looking for some enrichment options for their middle- and high-school aged children. This has me thinking about the feasibility of offering courses specifically for homeschooling families.

The ten percent principle

Well, I don't know if it's a full-blown principle, but the idea is something like this: Catholic high school tuition runs between $7,900.00 and $11,225 in northern Colorado. Suppose you're homeschooling your kids and you realize, "Geez, I can't meet all their needs. A little help would be nice." Would a one day per week program be worth 10% of $10,000? Would $500 per semester be economical enough to consider courses in math, science, religion, etc?

Further, could such a program be made financially worthwhile for prospective teachers? Class size of 15 x $500 = $7,500 divided by four teachers means $1,875 over 15 weeks means $125 per day - which is top-end for what districts will pay a substitute teacher. Materials, rent, and other incidentals also need to be factored in.

It just might work.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Why Conspiracy Theories Fail

Perhaps this post should read WHY CONSPIRACY THEORIES FAIL. In any case, I came across this fascinating audio of Art Bell interviewing this guy who claims to have been part of a secret project to make things invisible.

Here's the link: http://www.archive.org/details/ArtBellPhiladelphiaExperiment_1

Please don't tell THEM about it.

I think I discovered the fatal flaw of all the conspiracy theorists: they over-reach. I was almost convinced about this secret project until the guest indicated not only was an invisibility project part of this but time travel, "free" electrical power, UFOs, the one world government/New World Order -- in short, there is one global conspiracy controlling everything.

Ho, hum. A theory that explains everything finally explains nothing.

I think I get the impetus to buy into conspiracies: we see things that the dominant theories of reality fail to explain and look for a cause that is comprehensible. Everything would be different if THEY were not working behind the scenes to prevent good from naturally emerging from the world.

All this strikes me as a way of getting at what orthodox Christianity claims: the world is dragged down by the Evil One who would love to thwart every human desire for happiness and eternal life.

So, perhaps the conspiracy theorists actually under-reach: the evils of this world are not reducible to secular explanations.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

News! Masters become Slaves...

It is known by everyone who was taught in a public school that there are really only two ways to make more money (three if you count going into administration): (1) years of creditable service or "time served" and (2) education. Time flows at a constantly velocity, so one can not accelerate the years, but moving up the pay scale is something one can do by taking graduate courses or by earning a Masters or Ph.D.

Here's something curious: full-time teachers in a full-time graduate program. Hmm, does anyone really think it is possible to have the cake and eat it too? The "system" would seem to believe it, for otherwise a provision outside of this insanity of working full-time and going to school full-time would not be encouraged.

Two cases:

Case #1: Jennifer J. (a social studies teacher at a Denver high school). Jennifer was in a media and technology class taught by David Hildebrand at the University of Colorado, Denver. It was a fascinating class. Texts included Albert Borgmann's Holding On to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium, Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death and other works. One evening I was talking to Jennifer after class and she was really angry at the professor. Apparently he had said that in his opinion she was trying to do too much and that her academic work was suffering as a consequence. I asked her, "Well, what are you getting out of this course? How did your last paper go?" She said with work and the course, she was just having trouble concentrating, but she was sure if the professor would just give her more time, she could get it all done. In other words, Doctor Hildebrand was correct!

Case #2: Myself. While working at a charter high school in the Denver area I was working on my alternative teaching license. As I recall, we had classes every other Saturday with a lot of reading and analysis in between. It was a lot and it trivialized teacher education. Not necessarily by design (though it does not take a rocket scientist to realize that if one is doing full-time graduate work AND holding down a full-time job that one of these will suffer), but certainly by consequence. I tried to balance the demands of the job and of the program, but both suffered to some degree. Naturally, my family suffered, too as I became increasingly insufferable that year.

What did I really learn in an alternative teacher program? My biggest "lesson learned" was that public education is extremely superficial. For all the reams of data and analysis, education is seen to be about technique, not passion; manipulation, not wonder.

What is the meaning of this post's title -- Masters become Slaves? It is only this: by encouraging teachers to work and to study to the point of exhaustion, sheer frenetic activity is encouraged and thought is siphoned off. If education is a "communication of yourself" (Julian Carron), then teachers willy-nilly communicate their own busyness to their students.

In other words, stressed-out teachers keep their nose to the grindstone and encourage their students to do likewise. The message is "It's not who you are that matters, but what you do."

Rather than facing the riddle of existence, it's "busy, busy, busy" (as Kurt Vonnegut has it in Cat's Cradle). Or as those of a more theological mind have put it: Bad Infinity -- the multiplication of the finite (be it sex or shopping or booze) to make up for one's own nothingness, one's lack.

That's how slavery gets perpetuated.