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The Public Education Nightmare
By David W. Kirkpatrick (July 03, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
         The idea of a general public school system began to emerge in the United States with the passage of the Common School Act of 1834 in Pennsylvania.  Rarely noted today is how strenuous was the opposition. Most of the legislators who voted for the law were defeated for reelection yet the bill was not repealed.  Despite continuing controversy, the original idea has been expanded and strengthened resulting in today's attempt at an all-encompassing government school monopoly.
 
         In fact, criticism and objection to government owned and operated schools has not only been perpetual it precedes the 1834 legislation and the existence of the United States itself.  Nearly 2,000 years ago Marcus Aurelius (121-180 A.D.) wrote that "I have to thank my great-grandfather that I did not go to a public school, but had good masters at home..."
 
         In the 1960s and 1970s an encouraging sign for reform was the appearance of criticism from public school teachers themselves.  Books by such educators as George Dennison, James Herndon, John Holt and Jonathan Kozol not only began to appear but many sold well enough to attract general attention.  Yet, little change resulted.
 
         Today some teachers still speak out.  Jonathan Kozol still periodically presents another offering although, sadly, his remedy generally conforms to the establishment plea for more money.  An exception is the outspoken John Taylor Gatto, multiple winner of Teacher of the Year Awards for New York City and New York State.  He knows whereof he speaks and neither defends the system nor advocates so-called reforms that are merely more of the same.
 
         To the list of such knowledgeable critics may now be added Renato Nicolai, author of "The Nightmare That Is Public Education," subtitled "An Expose of What Really Happens in Public Schools."   "(T)his is the personal view of an educator whose eyes and ears have seen and heard what really happens in public schools over a career spanning nearly forty years." He adds, "The reporting of my experiences, I hope, will disclose the shocking disservice many schools are perpetrating upon young people."
 
         He does not base his conclusions on just his own experience, as extensive as that is.  He has also "talked to over a thousand teachers about teaching methods and educational philosophy and seen hundreds of them actually teach."
 
        While his  "major emphasis is to tell you the way it is, the opportunity was also present...to tell you the way it could be." His concludes that the public school system is "ineffective, poorly administered, and broken."
 
         While writing for a general audience, he particularly aims for parents whom he believes "possess the least knowledge of what actually goes on in public schools," and teachers "because...they are the persons, more than any others in the schools who desperately need to improve their performance and change their attitudes."
 
         In a few instances even his criticism falls short.  For example, he writes that nearly 2,500 students drop out of high school each month throughout the United States.  That's 25,000 in a school year.  In fact, estimates are that 700,000 students drop out annually.
 
         Similarly he speaks of a teacher facing up to thirty-five students in each of three classes.   Maybe that's true somewhere but in the high school where I taught for many years while teachers typically did have up to 35 students per class, they were in five or six classes per day.  Not only was that 175-200 students per day, rather than about 100, but we might have two or more preparations daily where all classes were not for the same subject.

         But those are quibbles.  His conclusions are not.  He says that if you think your local public schools, especially middle school and above, are as good as you've been told, you're probably wrong.  He argues that "incompetence and mediocrity haunt America's public education system. Teachers waste valuable classroom instructional time every day with ineffective teaching methods and inadequate knowledge of subject matter..our public schools are broken."
 
         While his conclusions are severe his rhetoric generally is not.  He praises those who succeed despite all odds, and offers suggestions for improvement.  Judging by history, the odds for real improvement within the system are slim to none.

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         "No school at all is better than a bad school. Nothing else in the child's environment is capable of such systematic destruction." p. 213, George Dennison, The Lives of Children, NY: "Random House, 1969

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

E-mail (tchrwrtr@aol.com)

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