Public schools are now embroiled in the controversy over the teaching of intelligent design. Eric Schansberg points out that we wouldn’t have this problem if there were more choice in education. But neither education elitists nor theocrats are big on educational freedom. “They wage battle within the monopoly, hoping to capture the process and force their view of truth down the throats of others,” he writes.
Eugene Hickok and Gary Andres give us an optimistic piece on education reform on NRO today. They see even public educational professionals opening up to the positive potential of reforms that shift the educational enterprise into non-governmental hands. No doubt the continued advance of public education threats such as homeschooling and vouchers have prodded some educators into reform-mindedness. Progress on this issue is painstakingly slow and therefore hard to gauge, but one hopes Hickok and Andres have correctly identified the direction of momentum.
I haven’t had a chance to talk about this yet, but early last month, school district officials in Kalamazoo, Michigan announced “The Kalamazoo Promise.” The Promise consists of a group of anonymous donors that have come together to commit to fund the post-secondary education of every student of the Kalamazoo Public School system. To receive full-funding for four years, you must have to attend KPS schools from grades K-12 (funding is gradually decreased depending on the number of years in the system). The scholarships are available for use at “any public university or community college in the State of Michigan.”
The Promise represents a genuine act of charity on the part of the donors, and ought to be praised as such. The challenge now comes for educators in the Kalamazoo public school system to provide their students with an education that will prepare them for the rigors of post-secondary study. It’s one thing to have college paid for, it’s another to be accepted to school. And it’s still another to actually complete a program once you start.
The purveyors of the ACT, the standardized test of choice in Michigan and much of the Midwest, found that almost 60 percent of students who took the exam were woefully unprepared for college level courses in algebra, and nearly 75 percent were not ready for college biology. Even more troubling? “Only 21 percent of the students were prepared for college-level work in the four tested areas of English composition, algebra, social sciences, and biology.”
And even if students do get in and are prepared for the workload, as U.S. News & World Report education reporter Alex Kingsbury puts it, “For years, universities have known that one freshman does not a graduate make.” Some proof of this truism: “Only 63 percent of all students entering four-year colleges have their degrees within six years, according to government statistics. Rates for black and Hispanic students are less than 50 percent, and the gap between minority and white students is growing.”
So a program like the Kalamazoo Promise is an important one, but is only part of a complex of issues that relate to the success of students in and beyond high school. Students have to start with the hope of things to come, of course. The Promise has given that hope for kids in the Kalamazoo Public School system when they might not have had it before.
It’s also likely that there will be some kind of regional positive effect on public schooling, as the public schools in Kalamazoo will be more attractive to parents, forcing neighboring districts to become more competitive and find their own valuable assets to offer. The Promise may have already sparked enrollment increases in the Kalamazoo schools.
This made me think of this. If the British phone company were really smart, they’d just negotiate a price to use the Book-A-Minute Classics. The versions are a bit different, though. Here’s Dante’s Inferno: “Some woman puts Dante through Hell. THE END.”
These are really quite good. I especially like the War and Piece classic.
HT: Betsy’s Page (It made her think of the connection, too)
The system that administers special education in the United States is one that “parents find unresponsive, and schools find expensive,” writes Jennifer Morse, Acton Senior Fellow in Economics. She takes a look at the implications of a recent Supreme Court ruling and comes up with a solution that involves the dreaded V-word: Vouchers.
A British mobile phone company has hired a professor of literature to write up short quotations from various masterpieces. The goal is to help make “great literature more accessible” by offering short, truncated, text messages to students via cell phones. A Reuters story quoted the company:
“We are confident that our version of ‘text’ books will genuinely help thousands of students remember key plots and quotes, and raise up educational standards rather than decrease levels of literacy,” the company, Dot Mobile, said in a press release.
Call me old-fashioned, but last time I checked, the point of studying literature was not to memorize certain key quotations, or even plot lines. That is coincidental. The point of studying literature, and especially the classics, is to learn the mastery of language, to understand linguistic intent, and to appreciate poetry and prose. To tout a product that truncates and reduces literature to a few short lines cut up and abbreviated, and to call this a method of raising “educational standards” and increasing “literacy” is quite disappointing.
Imagine studying Dante’s Inferno, and having it summarized by a few text messages. “Dante lost N wOd” => “Dante+Virgil go N heL” => “D+V paS thrU heL.” There you go students – there’s the Inferno! Basic plot (minus every line of allegory, poetry, and metaphor).
While I do see the value of short and succinct mnemonic devices to help a student remember a plot or quotation for a test, literature really does exist so that we may read it, especially the masterpieces.
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.
Sir Francis Bacon
English author, courtier, & philosopher (1561 – 1626)
By now most everyone has heard about Pat Robertson’s warning to a Pennsylvania town that voted out their school board. The move seemed to be in response to the board’s attempt to introduce curriculum including “intelligent design” theory. In an announcement to the people of Dover, PA, Robertson said: “if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God — you just rejected Him from your city.”
Robertson advised the city’s residents to seek assistance from someone other than God if trouble were to overtake them: “God is tolerant and loving, but we can’t keep sticking our finger in his eye forever. If they have future problems in Dover, I recommend they call on Charles Darwin. Maybe he can help them.”
No one ever accused Robertson of a lack of rhetorical flourish. But beyond where his point may be legitimate, that intelligent design should not be banned from public schools, Robertson makes the mistake of confusing belief in a generic “intelligent designer” with belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
It’s one thing to argue for the possible supernatural origins of the universe. It’s quite another to identify those origins with the God of the Bible. This is a point that seems to largely be lost on the evangelical world, even among those who are somewhat more circumpsect and thoughtful that Pat Robertson. I wonder, in fact, whether it would be much more palatable for Robertson if the people of Dover prayed to the “unknown god” of intelligent design rather than Charles Darwin.
Supernatural theism in general is closer to Christian belief than naturalistic atheism. But supernatural theism isn’t identical with Christian belief; it’s merely compatible with it. It’s also compatible with a host of other religious views. For more on this, read Hugh Ross on why Christians should be concerned about “More Than Intelligent Design.”
A story on today’s Morning Edition by Claudio Sanchez examines the future of the school system in New Orleans following the hurricane Katrina disaster. New Orleans school superintendent Ora Watson complains that charter schools are stepping in to fill the void left when public schools were cancelled for the remainder of this school year.
She says, “There are so many different agendas. The mayor has decided that the city can run 20 schools under a charter. We have individual schools going to individual groups saying, ‘Would you charter me?’ They’re picking the school district apart. This is a real, real frustration.” Of course it’s easy to see why this would be a “real frustrating” for someone with a vested bureaucratic interest in maintaining the pre-Katrina state of publicly administered education in New Orleans.
According to the report, Watson worries that New Orleans could be the “first urban school system in America to be taken over by special interest groups.” I assume she means special interest groups other than the National Education Association.
Listen to the rest of the report for other viewpoints on reconstructing education in New Orleans. In many ways, the disaster can be viewed as an opportunity to improve a broken and failing system.
It’s clear that superintendent Watson is ardently opposed to introducing a principle of freedom of choice and competition into the system. For more on how competition, rightly practiced, can work in the educational arena, see this interview with J. C. Huizenga, chairman of the National Heritage Academies.
A flap over religion in schools developed last week at Newark High School in Delaware. According to reports, “The principal of a public high school apologized to parents for allowing a Christian-themed assembly that featured two Philadelphia Eagles players, saying he was misled about what the presentation would cover.”
“Principal Emmanuel Caulk of Newark High School wrote in a letter that he expected the talk by players Tra Thomas and Thomas Tapeh to focus on ‘values, choices and challenges that adolescents face in today’s society.’”
But apparently the players were to talk about such topics without any reference to their own experience…since that experience is Christian. Caulk claimed to be ignorant of the fact that Tra Thomas is a founder and spokesman for Athletes United for Christ.
“What we’re trying to do is to help the kids make better decisions in life. I guess I understand,” why some people objected,” said Thomas, “because you have other religions there. But we’re not preaching to the kids.”
He continued, “I’m just trying to get them to identify with me, the person, rather than just Tra Thomas, the football player, so we can relate to each other better. And my Christianity is a big part of what I am.” What might have been an acceptable post-modern claim to individuality in other circumstances is not acceptable for a Christian, apparently.
The requisite outrage from the ACLU was reflected in a statement by Drewry Fennell, executive director of the of the Delaware chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union: “Organizations like this one across the country are gaining access to schools through the famous people and entertainment value and then using those opportunities to proselytize.”
More details and reactions to the event are available here.
The critical error of events like this in public schools rests on the assumption that you can have a morality based purely on secular humanism. And this further assumes that such a position is not reflective of any particular “faith” or “belief system.” All morality is founded on a belief system of some kind or another. To expect that Christians can talk about, in the principal’s words, “values, choices and challenges that adolescents face in today’s society,” without reference to Christianity is patently absurd.
Scottish theologian John Baillie insightfully relates the following: “The progress of modern thought seems every day to be making it clearer that between religion and naturalism there is no final resting-place in humanism. As regards anything we are in ourselves naturalism is true, and ‘a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast’. When man ceases to be rooted in God, he relapses inevitably into the sub-human.” The final choice can only be made between naturalism or religion (supernaturalism).
Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck discusses the necessity for a supernatural foundation for a coherent system of morality. He writes,
The only true alternative to the recognition of the supernatural, accordingly, is not a rationalistic deism but naturalism, i.e., the belief that there is no other higher power but that which is immanent in the present natural order and reveals itself [there]. But then one loses all warrant for believing in the triumph of the good, the ultimate victory of the kingdom of God, in the power of the moral world order. For the good, the true, the moral world order, and the kingdom of God are matters that have no power to realize themselves on their own. The hope is that human beings will bring supremacy and yield to the power of truth is daily dashed by disappointments. Their triumph is assured only if God is a personal omnipotent being who, in the face of all opposition, can lead the entire creation to the goal he has in mind for it. Religion, morality, the acknowledgement of a destiny for humankind and for the world, belief in the triumph of the good, a theistic worldview, and belief in a personal God are all inseparably bound up with supernaturalism.
The secular humanist myth of morality without religion, supernaturalism, or faith of some kind is exposed for what it is in instances like this one. The sad part is, of course, that these children desperately need to be taught moral truths, but the public school system is increasingly unable and unqualified to do so, because of institutional, legal, and personal barriers.
Interesting news from across the pond today. Our British friends seem to be making education a bit more ‘user friendly’. Education Secretary Ruth Kelly is proposing a system where “parents dissatisfied with local schools will be encouraged to set up their own…’The underlying principle is simple – freedom for schools and power for parents,’ said the education secretary.”
The Acton Institute has long promoted the idea that the primary responsibility for a child’s education lies with the parents. The recent proposal in England is an example of someone at least acknowledging that parents ought to be allowed the freedom and responsibility to make educational decisions for their own children.
Groups of parents concerned about underachieving schools can either ask the local authority to intervene – or else set out plans for the creation of their own school. If local authorities reject parents’ proposals, the parents can appeal for adjudication – which Ms Kelly says could lead to the government forcing local authorities to fund such new school projects.
The point is this: generally, when people are given opportunity (freedom), they can succeed more than when a government dictates to them how they will ‘succeed’. I would think this applies especially to education, where bureaucratic mandates can take a family only so far.