04 October 2009

don't we have available to us much more than "fine"?

(side note: most females of our glorious species will know what I'm talking about when I express how frustrating it is when you walk out of your room, dressed up for one of those rare occasions (or at least rare in my life) that demands actual mascera and perhaps a doing of the hair and maybe even a new dress and you wait for a response, get none, so ask, "How do i look?" and your husband says "fine" - rrrraaaahhhhh - this is why "fine" is not an okay thing to desire for your children.)

When Bee got to be four and started to really want to learn things, it hit Paul and me square in the face that we were actually responsible for ensuring that she gets the best education that she can get. Not a fine one, but the best one. I would like to point out that we are aware, and very often reminded by our fallible children, that we cannot and should not attempt to control every aspect of our child's lives now or when they are adults. But to say we cannot control everything and so to settle for a less than great education - say a 'fine' education - is a cop out. bull butter is what it is. It is thinly veiled laziness.

Paul and I both got what are lauded as 'great educations' - because, relative to other traditional forms of education available in the areas in which we were raised, they were great. Paul went to a five star or four flag or level six or whatever rating of public schools there are - basically, they rank the public schools in our state and he went to one of the few that receives the highest ranking.

When Paul graduated from high school, he could not do calculus and what was billed as a 'precalculus' class left him so unprepared for college level calculus that my brilliant scientist husband made a C in calculus at Ole Miss, which is not the bastion of high math standards.

When Paul graduated from high school, he had never read anything by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, not to mention Melville, Nabokov, Dostoevsky, Joyce. And if you think his education was lacking dead white males because of some broader, global viewpoint, think again.

My parents paid a lot of money for me to get what is billed as a 'world class' education. And as far as equipping me to compete with and usually have an advantage over other people from our great state, and probably most from around the country, my school did a good job. But I cannot name the Presidents of the United States, have no idea when the Spanish American War took place (was it over Mexico?), can not even come close to telling you when the Byzantine Empire existed.

I am convinced that these are flaws of the current american education philosophy, not that Paul and I attended mediocre institutions, because, well, we didn't. It also cannot be blamed on us having parents who were not engaged, because they were. In fact, the only reason I write competently is that my Daddy beat the principles of writing into my head. And heavens, Paul's mother had him doing book reports whenever he was out of school for an extended break - like summer and Christmas.

Americans have come to educate our children in a disjointed manner - thinking of each individual subject to be mastered as something that can be taught apart from all others. I can remember being confused about whether Thoreau was supposed to be a person to know for English class or for History class.

In teaching history, this is a most glaring flaw. We actually don't teach chronologically - we have this idea that younger children cannot understand that which happened a long time ago, so we teach social studies - we talk about neighborhoods and families and communities and cities - and then, when they get to middle school, we teach geography and culture. And then, just when their brains have lost the amazing ability to remember facts and dates easily, we begin teaching history - but instead of teaching it in order, we teach it by region - usually starting with American (as though we can possibly be understood without understanding the Brits). And then teaching "World History" (As if there is some other kind) and often ending with "European History" (is Europe not a pretty important part of the World and thus included in World History?) and perhaps for the advanced student, we teach US Government. [Which is great, but what is often covered in that class is a more basic understanding of how the branches interact, not what would be ideally a indepth look at the law making process, stressing the constitutional law that has evolved since our country's inception.]

I know I sound mighty critical - and I am - but it's not of people, but of the system. There are champions of education in the private and public sphere that are much smarter than and care more than I do. I certainly don't believe there are just a bunch of meanies or stupidheads out there who if they just cared or if they just knew, they'd do different. I mean, really, why would we worry about our system when we're the richest country in the world. We wouldn't. But we should- we consistently slide in international rankings of education.
Have you ever read short stories or novels written in America in the 19th or early 20th century - like Little Women and such - and marveled at what the children are learning?

That's because the standards for education used to be much higher.

And we could discuss why they've slipped, but that would take so much more energy than I have.

so, post 1: why "fine" is not an acceptable goal here at the Forster home. And post 2: why the traditional avenues available to us are that very thing - fine - not great, not excellent, but fine.
Part 3: What is excellent and how do we get there?

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