Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘education’

Native American reservation schools: A case study in big government failure

Posted by sanityinjection on November 28, 2015

I commend to your attention this excellent article from Politico.com about the long history of failure of the schools for Native American children run by the federal government through the Bureau of Indian Education, a division of the Interior Department.

As the article notes, decisions about these schools are being made by federal bureaucrats, often with little or no educational expertise. Per-pupil expenditures are high but results are poor compared to schools in other underprivileged areas. Skewed priorities have led to schools with “smart boards” and computers but not enough electricity to run them in crumbling buildings, and teacher salaries that are high but a lack of the infrastructure to attract them.

The only real success mentioned in the article was achieved by a private non-profit organization. Ironically, the article notes that there is significant opposition within Native American communities to reforms that would increase local control of these schools; reading between the lines, that’s about fearing the loss of jobs currently being held by members of those communities. The feds seem to fear that Native American communities might choose to spend less money on their schools given the chance – but how could they possibly make them any worse than they already are?

The question must be asked: If increased federal control has proven to be deleterious to Native American reservation schools, under what theory would federal control be good for any other schools? Granted, the Department of Education is not actually in charge of administrating schools – just making endless rules and regulations for them.

It’s worth noting that the problem has continued despite sincere good intentions under several administrations to try to improve things. The problem with big government is not that it doesn’t mean well; the problem is that by its very nature it is fundamentally structurally vulnerable to problems like corruption, waste, and misprioritization. State and local governments are not without their problems, but simply by virtue of their smaller size there is a limit to how messed up they can get.

Meanwhile, the Senate committee that is supposed to have oversight of Indian affairs spends its time haranguing the Washington Redskins football team  about changing its name, as if that were the way to improve the quality of life for Native Americans.

Social justice advocates like to point out the unfairness of inequities in public policy outcomes for minority groups – mostly urban ones. Surely no group has more of a moral claim to have such inequities resolved than Native Americans, although their reservations don’t generally fall within urban, Democrat-skewed voting districts.

Obviously a problem that has been many decades in the making will not be resolved by any kind of quick fix. But a good first step would be to take the existing funds being allocated to the Bureau of Indian Education and use them to hire private management organizations to overhaul these failed schools, rather than keeping control in the hands of the same bureaucrats that have been mismanaging them all along.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Let educators design curriculum, but not when they’re idiots.

Posted by sanityinjection on March 4, 2010

In the ongoing debates about how to best educate our children, teachers (and their unions) often make the point that no one is better qualified to design curriculum than educators themselves. The argument is designed to resist interference both by government and by activist school committees and parents’ groups. And on paper, it’s a good argument.

The problem is that every now and then you get a group of educators whose minds have been so permanently addled by the corrosive soup of political correctness and identity politics that they swim in every day, that they come up with something so idiotic that it calls the argument of professional expertise into question.

Now if you’re thinking that I might just have a specific example in mind, you’d be right. The latest stupidity comes to us from (surprise) San Francisco, a city which as readers know is already legendary for its tolerance of the outrageous but never ceases to try to push the envelope to further heights of goofiness.

To state it simply: The city’s school board has decided to offer in its high schools a freshman course in ethnic studies which will earn college credit in the state university system. Further, the course is pass/fail, not graded – and unlike any other high school program that earns college credit, is aimed at poor students rather than advanced ones.

There are so many things wrong with this that one almost doesn’t know where to begin. It is beyond obvious that the purpose of this course is not to teach the students anything of value, but rather to boost their ethnic self-esteem and encourage them to set a goal of attending college. (No one would ever admit it, but you can bet that white students will be “discouraged” from taking this class, if not outright prevented.) Said one student: “How can I know who I can be if I don’t know who I am? Ethnic studies provides me with the foundation to learn who I am.” Wrong. Ethnic studies encourage you to base your identity on your ethnicity and see yourself in terms of group identity rather than as an individual. Nothing could be further from American ideals.

Leaving aside the question of whether high schools should even be offering ethnic studies when they can barely teach English and math, the notion of offering college credit for a pass/fail course simply demeans the value of the credits awarded. (Incidentally, nobody actually fails – they just transfer you out of the class. So it’s really “pass/pass”.) Why should anyone aspire to attend college if it is revealed to be a joke? And how can students be expected to succeed in college if this is the sort of preparation they’re receiving?

This nonsense came to the school board from the faculty at San Francisco State University. Like all school boards, they assume that college professors – professors of *education*, no less – must know what they’re doing when it comes to designing curriculum. But at what point does somebody have to put their foot down and insist on some collective common sense being applied to the situation? Of course, in San Francisco, common sense was banished by municipal ordinance a long time ago.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Pseudo-education?

Posted by sanityinjection on October 6, 2009

I commend to your attention today’s column by conservative commentator Thomas Sowell. Sowell, while brilliant and a fine writer, can be a bit of a crank sometimes, and this piece is no exception. He writes about his dismay in receiving a letter form a fifth-grader whose assignment was to ask a “famous person” how they would solve an important problem such as the economy:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/10/06/a_letter_from_a_child_98592.html

Sowell’s main point is that the child’s teacher should be encouraging him to think for himself rather than looking to celebrities for received wisdom – and also choosing age-appropriate subject matter. After my recent post on the cult of intelligence, Sowell draws attention to the even more pervasive cult of celebrity:

Getting students used to looking to so-called “famous” people for answers is the antithesis of education as a preparation for making up one’s own mind as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of “leaders.”

Nearly two hundred years ago, the great economist David Ricardo said: “I wish that I may never think the smiles of the great and powerful a sufficient inducement to turn aside from the straight path of honesty and the convictions of my own mind.”

  Although I do take some hope in the fact that a fifth grader from Michigan actually knows who Sowell is.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 10 Comments »

Consider the audience

Posted by sanityinjection on October 2, 2008

The New York Post reports that the United Federation of Teachers is handing out Obama/Biden camapign buttons to New York City teachers, and some of those teachers have been wearing the buttons to school:

http://www.nypost.com/seven/10022008/news/regionalnews/teachers_get_hit_on_the_button_131776.htm

Naturally, this is a direct violation of New York State Department of Education policy, which holds that schools are not the place for political advocacy. But some teachers are claiming their right to free speech should not be infringed.

Are these people serious? Do teachers really not understand that many parents already think they are trying to force their political views down students’ throats? The teachers claim it is not their intention to indoctrinate students or intimidate anyone with an opposing viewpoint, but in this case intention isn’t really the point. The teachers’ union can distribute buttons to every teacher in New York if they want, but they should not be worn in school. This is consistent with other office environments which prohibit political expression in the workplace for exactly the same reasons. The rationale is only augmented by the fact that the target audience for a teacher wearing a political button during the school day can only be the students.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing about the entire matter is that the teachers in question are either being deliberately disingenuous or are genuinely clueless. Either way, are these the people we want teaching our children?

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Jewelry, religious freedom, and education

Posted by sanityinjection on July 29, 2008

A tale of two court cases in Britain. The British High Court ruled today in favor of a 14-year old Sikh girl who was supended when she refused to remove her bracelet in compliance with a school policy forbidding jewelry. The court ruled that the bracelet, a thin steel bangle called a Kara, is part of the observance of Sikh religion and that the application of the ban in this case unreasonably restricted the girl’s freedom of religion.

This stands in contrast to a ruling a year ago upholding a school’s jewelry ban as applied to a teen girl who wore a “chastity promise” ring to class. There the court found that wearing such a ring was not an integral part of the Christian faith.

I think the court made the correct decision in both cases. But it raises the question in my mind: Why do schools in the UK feel the need to ban jewelry to begin with? I don’t have any children in the schools, so for all I know this may be common here in the US as well. But I’m not sure I see the reason for it. I have never been a particular fan of school uniforms, either. School dress codes should focus on protecting students’ safety, maintaining a respectful atmosphere and eliminating excessive distractions in the classroom. Now if a student felt the need to, say, wear a giant swastika around her neck, or a T-shirt with inflammatory or vulgar language on it, I think one could reasonably ban those items to maintain order. But I hardly think simple jewelry items would create major distractions in the classroom.

For girls (and increasingly for some boys) jewelry is a form of personal expression. I think that young people should be encouraged to develop and express their own style as individuals, provided they remain within reasonable norms of decency. Not to mention how much money the schools would save by not having to defend against these kinds of lawsuits.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=5472274

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Let’s use children to fight our political battles for us…not.

Posted by sanityinjection on July 29, 2008

I can’t say I’m surprised that somebody is calling for students in Chicago to skip the first day of school as part of an ill-conceived protest. It’s a little disappointing, though, that the call is coming from a state legislator (Sen. James Meeks):

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080729/ap_on_re_us/school_funding_protest

Briefly, the protest centers on the fact that per-pupil spending in wealthy suburban school districts is much higher than in the Chicago public schools. (This is true in pretty much every major metro area in America.) The protesters see this as discrimination against poor communities, but particularly against ethnic minorities.

So on the first day of school, these numb-nuts want to bus thousands of Chicago kids to affluent, lily-white Winnetka where they will attempt to enroll in the New Trier School District, on the basis of a dubious interpretation of a provision in state law allowing transfers if a student’s “safety” is at risk.

New Trier is something of a legend in education circles. It consistently ranks among the top public school districts in the country. People come from foreign countries to tour the schools there and see how they do things. I don’t blame any inner-city family for wanting to send their kid there, which is why I support school vouchers and school choice.

However, asking schoolchildren to skip school as part of a political protest is a very bad idea. Granted, kids never learn anything important on the first day of school anyway. But you set your habits for the academic year, you learn where you’re going and who your teachers are and what time the buses pick you up. Kids who miss the first day of school have a much higher truancy rate, which is a real issue in urban schools.

Children do not, for the most part, understand issues of school funding, nor do they get a vote. It is irresponsible to ask or expect them to engage in political protest on behalf of adults who don’t seem to be able to act effectively themselves. You shouldn’t put your kid on a picket line and you shouldn’t make them hold a sign for Obama or McCain. Let them do what kids are supposed to do: Go to school, and enjoy themselves when they’re not in school. If your political cause requires the manipulation and exploitation of children in order to succeed, that’s a good reason why it doesn’t deserve to.

Posted in Domestic News, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »