Sunday, January 01, 2006

Reading Rick: Part 6 (Educational Excellence)

This posting covers pages 351-420 of Rick Santorum’s book, It Takes a Famil.y

Part Six: Educational Excellence

Chapter XXXV: Knowledge, Truth, and Education
Chapter XXXVI: Who Rules the Schools?
Chapter XXXVII: Not Raising Children, but Raising Adults
Chapter XXXVIII: Bringing the Lessons Home
Chapter XXXIX: Moral Truth and the End of Man
Chapter XL: Higher Education and Liberal Education

Knowledge, Truth, and Education

At the start of the chapter he treats us to another brief history and quotes from Founding Fathers. He then proceeds on to discussing intellectual capital. This sentence from p. 353 really jumped out at me: “We are drawn to things that seem good to us, and we avoid or shun things that seem bad.” This is the jumping off point for his theory that it is imperative to learn “knowledge of truth” so we can make good and moral decisions. The idea that humans will seek out that which is good just seems so contrary to what we see in the world around us and I doubt all of those bad decisions can be laid at the feet of the school system or poor parenting. Who today doesn't have some understanding of a nurtritious diet and how many of us act upon that knowledge? He goes on to say that intellectual growth and moral growth go hand in hand. Again, we, or at least I, see so many things that contradict this statement.

“A society rich in intellectual capital is one in which the love of learning is widespread and carefully cultivated, where standards are high, where new discoveries are made, and where a rich heritage of old truths is kept alive through critical study.” (p. 355) I would agree with this wholeheartedly.

In his view there are three major building blocks of intellectual capital. The first being the family; the second is moral truth; the third is overcoming current philosophical mistakes.

He thinks schools should serve the parents not the students and that attempts to introduce preschool education is a form of social engineering at war with the family. I reread his part about schools serving parents instead of children three or four times but still can’t grasp the distinction.

As for moral truth he thinks this should regard honesty and loyalty not the more contentious areas which he regards as “human life and sexuality.” (p. 358)

The idea of philosophical “mistakes” regards the “distinction between facts and values” (p. 358). There are many cans of worms here.

In a given year I miss no more than one substantive PTA (or whatever it is called these days) meeting a year (the annual social meeting doesn’t count) and at none of these meetings have the concepts of honesty and loyalty ever been a concern. The nutritional content of lunches, the length of lunch lines, the number of pencils that should be given out to students taking standardized tests, the speed of cars dropping off kids, whether or not the playground fields are open during recess, and the playground aides, ay yi yi, the playground aides – these things come up regularly. Honesty and loyalty – nary a peep.

Who Rules the Schools?

The evils of the liberal model of social engineering in education are traced back to Plato. In his view, school choice is a good thing and parents should be able to send their kids to private or parochial schools without paying taxes to support public schools also. He talks of the school choice available to those with the resources to simply move to a better school district. He asks why college-age students can get Pell grants to go to religious colleges but elementary and high school students can’t get federal scholarships to go to private and parochial schools? He has statistics on the lack of improvement in test scores over the past 30 years.

Not Raising Children, but Raising Adults

In his utopian vision of the parent-centered school and a society in which parents can choose what schools their children go to, parents will need to be a lot more involved in the schools. He sums it up this way, (p. 372), “Of course if you pick a good school – a good educational support system – then you can rely on its educators to deal with many of the details. But if you really want to be a good parent, an informed parent, and a loving parent, then you can no longer just mentally check out when it comes to the details for the educational process for your children.” Clearly this is a guy who really hasn’t dealt with the inner workings of an actual school. His children are home schooled by his wife so they can plan the curriculum as they please. But you try just getting three room moms to agree on what and how to plan one class party, let alone a class curriculum, and you get a dose of cold reality. One parent wants to bring Twister. Another thinks that will involve too much physical contact. One wants all the kids involved with the same activity at the same time, another wants them to be working in small groups, rotating through a series of activities. Depending on the luck of the draw and who you are working with it can be really enjoyable or a real pain. Working with the parents of all the kids on what should happen in the classroom is a recipe for disaster.

He talks about the importance of school readiness and parental involvement with young children. Not flash cards but a love of learning. I agree with him here. However we part ways when he says (p. 374) “most of all what your children need is a sense of their place in the world and a healthy respect for authority.” People should be treated with respect, certainly, but I’ve spent a lot of time talking with my kids about who should and should not be allowed to touch them and where, and that not all adults are necessarily to be trusted. Teaching kids a blanket respect for all forms of authority is not doing them any favors.

He also discusses the disservice parents do their children by giving them too much stuff as opposed to time and appropriate discipline. I agree with him here, too, and with his point that this criticism can be applied more often to middle and upper income parents. He loses me entirely though on p. 375 when he says “I think the discussion in this book to this point paints a compelling picture of a strategy to ease the economic burdens on low-income an single-parent families.” I missed this theme completely.

The rest of the chapter concerns the way parents are not teaching their children discipline and manners. He has a point.

Bringing the Lessons Home

This chapter discusses home schooling. He is an enthusiastic proponent, and all of his children are home schooled. He received a lot of criticism for saying that keeping children segregated by ages in public schools with one teacher for a group of 25 or more is an artificial environment and one they will not be in again. I agree with him on this. Granted people will probably work on small groups reporting to a single manager, but only in school are we usually grouped by age and it is important to learn to work with people of varying ages and backgrounds. He words it very poorly, though, when he says (p. 386) “It’s amazing that so many kids turn out to be fairly normal, considering the weird socialization they get in public schools.” A little more thought probably should have gone into that remark.

He also points out the virtues of cyberschools and says some of his children had been educated this way “until the increasingly uncivil world of partisan politics extended its venom into our home and into our children’s education.” (p. 387) Someone with as much political savvy as he is supposed to have should have seen this coming a mile away.

Moral Truth and the End of Man

If I read this chapter correctly he is decrying the lack of moral values in education. He thinks we can all agree on some values that should be taught (respect for others, the value of friendship, etc). It just isn’t that simple, as years of being a parent of students in public schools has taught me. While you might get a majority agreement with these concepts, agreement on the specifics of teaching them is very difficult. The last part of the chapter is a roundabout discussion of Darwinism and intelligent design (although this term is not generally used in the chapter). To be honest, I skimmed that part.

Higher Education and Liberal Education

He is concerned about the lack of core curricula and Western tradition in today’s higher education. He also says (p. 404) “Whole new academic ‘disciplines’ have emerged that are explicitly oriented now toward dispassionate scholarship and the increase of knowledge but rather towards the radical transformation of society and the advancement of No-Fault Freedom – ‘disciplines’ such as women’s studies, gender studies, and gay and lesbian studies.”

Here’s a gem from the same page: “Grade inflation in the humanities and social sciences has galloped ahead to the point that virtually everyone who graduates from Harvard, for example, does so with honors.” Is that everyone who gets a degree in the humanities and social sciences or is the grade inflation in those areas leading to an honor degree in the sciences also? I am unclear on this. He later says we are strong in science but the humanities and social sciences are in a “wholesale collapse of our intellectual capital.” I’m not sure how this ties in with his concern over Darwinism. I doubt the biology classes at Harvard teach intelligent design.

He condemns moral relativism (the viewpoint that there are no real truths, only what each individual sees as truth), political correctness, and the perceived hostility towards conservatism in higher education. Given that our federal elected officials, most of whom were educated before the “tenured radicals” took over our colleges and universities, can’t agree on what the “truth” is regarding many of the issues of our day, I’m not sure how firm his footing is.

Truth in advertising – I consider myself a moral relativist. For every truth I can think of I can think of an exception to it. I am against violence but might violate that if I had the ability to stop someone from doing something I thought was wrong. A number of people may agree with me on that but our definitions of “wrong” are likely to vary greatly. (You also may not want to stand between me and the refreshment table at a crowded party, but this is hardly the same thing.)


LVDem said...

I really struggle to grasp the idea that parents should guide curriculum, not b/c I think teachers or the educational elite know best, but b/c I just don't think most parents know enough to direct what is tought in the classroom. I laugh b/c when I worked at an after school program teaching, kids would bring their homework in and I would help them. In some instances they would help me and I have an advanced degree! The material that kids learn is vastly greater today than it was when I was 10. What is it going to be when I actually have kids? I can just see my Dad (who was home when I came home from school) taking a look at the math these kids have and saying "we'll ask mom when she gets home" only to have mom look more perplexed than Dad. My parents cared, helped me with homework and activities, but it takes specialty to teach algebra, geometry, reading, language mechanics and more. When I hit middle school I had on average 6 teachers a day. Asking my mom and dad to have the back ground of 6 people, while working to pay the mortgage, heat and grocery bills, is just not right. But, my parents weren't US Senators who get financial help from their parents.


AboveAvgJane said...

Tell me about it. My kids are still in elementary school and fortunately the school sends home a cheat sheet for parents on the math units or we would be sunk. You can't just get the answer right but sometimes have to show your work, and it has to be done using the right theorem. Way beyond me. I, too, would not feel qualified to teach a lot of subjects. The senator wrote that cyberschools or a prepared curriculum took care of a lot of problems but I still wouldn't feel up to it.