Fuzzy language plus fuzzy education equals fuzzy minds
by Roger Hines
November 30, 2013 10:50 PM | 2000 views | 6 6 comments | 39 39 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Before the Christmas holidays consume our every thought, it would be wise to remember that even in December and January, school systems and state departments of education begin making important decisions for the next school year.

In light of this reality, we might ask, “What is the most important component of our children and grandchildren’s education?” Is it good teachers? Nice facilities? A strong principal?

Given the time that some school boards spend debating the school calendar, one would think that starting and finishing dates are the most significant issue we face. But what about curriculum? Shouldn’t what we teach be considered central to everything else?

For instance, what are students being taught about math? How does the math curriculum, both its arrangement and delivery, affect a child’s ability to think or to master basic mathematical functions in daily life? As for language, does it matter if schools teach that there are “several Englishes,” as the National Council of Teachers of English claims, or should clear, standard English be the aim?

In science, shall we put intelligent design to rest and continue to tout evolutionary theory as the only acceptable dogma, or should we inform students that Darwin was but a theorist, and that DNA discoverer, British Francis Crick, considered him just that?

As for textbooks, still a primary curriculum tool, does it matter what history books include, or exclude, or emphasize? Does it matter if high school students are assigned a novel sprinkled with obscenities, profanities, or scatological humor?

In educational circles, a buzz phrase has emerged: “Curriculum is king.” Well, indeed it should be. What a child is taught about his nation’s past, about words, numbers, money, human psychology, the human body, the natural world, etc., matters imminently. What he or she is taught should also meet the approval of those who are footing the bill; that is, if we still believe that he who pays the fiddler calls the tunes.

For years curriculum has been dethroned by methodology, the “how” of teaching. Poking fun at 18th century England’s newfound obsession with educational method, dictionary writer Samuel Johnson, Webster’s British counterpart, wrote: “There is no matter what children should learn first or how, any more than what leg you should put into your breeches first. Sir, you may stand disputing which is best to put in first, but in the meantime your backside is bare. Sir, while you stand considering which of two things you should teach your child first, another boy has learnt’em both.” Johnson viewed obsession with methodology as deadly.

Two things affect school curriculum today which many of those who pay the fiddler don’t know about.

One is the classroom teacher/subject matter organizations (the National Council of Teachers of English, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, American Psychological Association and others) which are huge and hidden. Huge because teachers understandably seek out and join teacher organizations; hidden because they are private organizations that exist under the radar, unknown to most taxpayers.

The National Council of Teachers of English is one of the largest organizations in the world. Its leadership has always taken a broad view of things, embracing Ebonics (Remember? Black “street” language which NCTE dubbed one of our “several Englishes),” alternative spelling, student “voices,” and “adolescent literature.” Like the big union, the National Educational Association, NCTE at convention time spends as much time on social issues and politics as it does on educational concerns.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is another organization that strays from sound content, to put it mildly. In her book, Angry Parents, Dr. Elaine McEwan points out that in Ames, Iowa schools introduced an NCTM “Math in Context” program in which learning multiplications tables was out; calculators and “solving real world problems” were in. After ten years of fuzzy math, Ames students were well below average.

Other educational organizations (the International Reading Association comes to mind) have also always marched to the progressive drum. Even the respected Association for Supervision and Curriculum strays into easy progressivism occasionally. One of its Yearbooks was titled “Feeling, Valuing, and the Art of Growing.” (What content subject is that?)

Now, of course, has come Common Core, that concoction of educational verbiage that Mom and Dad would probably give up on. Or at least one guy with a Master’s Degree in English has. Example: “By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature in the text complexity band, with scaffolding as needed in the high end of the range.” Complexity band? Scaffolding? High end of what range?

Ok, let’s leave all of this and think about Christmas. But let’s not leave plain English, common sense, or the right to tell our educational leaders what we believe our children should be learning.

Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school English teacher.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
December 01, 2013
Mr. Hines,

Let me share with you some of my thoughts about your thoughts...

This whole education mess began fifty years ago after Lyndon Johnson ascended to the throne of Camelot and set forth on his vision of a 'Great Society.' A society of equality and social justice for all.

In the 60s bright young men and women like yourself came forward to take part in creating the 'Great Society.' And, many of you chose Education as where you would make your mark in this 'Great Society.'

After college you entered the field of Education and you quickly discovered that one of the tenets of the 'Great Society', equality, was difficult to achieve. Some students were brighter than others. Some students were willing to work harder than others. Some students had less intelligence than others, some students were just lazy and not motivated to do the work but for whatever the reason some students excelled and other failed and for you this was unacceptable because you were building the 'Great Society' where no one was suppose to fail regardless of personal ability or ambition. In fact, you made personal ambition and ability a negative.

Then you reasoned that it must not be the student because theoretically all students are... equal in the 'Great Society.' No, you reasoned, the problem must be with the education system and the process of delivering education. So, you spent the next fifty years experimenting with different ways to organize, manage and deliver education. Deliver education in such a way that everyone learns and performs... equally. But still, better and different methods of delivery have not worked. There are still students who excel and students who fail. You have not created the 'Great Society' of education.

Now your generation of 'Great Society' builders have gone and a new generation is taking up the building of the 'Great Society' and their idea is that it must be the curriculum. Their reasoning is... no it's not the delivery it's the curriculum and the content that's keeping every student from reaching equality with their fellow students.

Does that about sum it up correctly Mr. Hines?

I don't think I need to write this comment but I will... Mr. Hines you and your contemporaries failed. There is no telling how many good people fell through the cracks while you and your contemporaries were experimenting with education and trying to create the 'Great Society.' Furthermore, you dismantled a good education system that produced some of the greatest Americans who have ever lived. Think about that as you ponder your career.

Our Man In Powder Springs

Roger Hines
December 02, 2013
Me???? A Great Society apologist? Have you been reading my columns the last two years? I've been resisting all of the things you fault me for. I wouldn't even let LBJ pay for any of my Master's Degree work (with War on Poverty money)because I didn't believe he/you/anybody else but me should pay for it. Where in the world did you see pro-Great Society thought in my column? Please respond to this, but only if you'll sign your name.
East Cobb Senior
December 03, 2013

It is understandable that you would ascribe the failure of our education system to teachers who bought into Johnson's "Great Society" fiasco of equal outcomes. However, the real downward spiral of education really began when the highly incompetent Jimmy Carter sold out to the NEA and created the Department of Education. He then bowed to their demands and stuffed it with left winged liberals from the NEA who began a systematic and deliberate intrusion into what had been a locally controlled education system. It has been the influence of the NEA and the liberal left dominated Department of Education with their social justice agenda who have denigrated education in America.

December 03, 2013
Sorry Roger,

I made my comments too personal. The point is that we've experienced about fifty years of educational R&D that was spawned by LBJ's Great Society. You just happen to be part of that generation who came along at the time and went into education. My comments were directed more to your contemporaries in general. I do know that many of your contemporaries did not buy into the 'Great Society' but, never the less, part of the education R&D that, in my opinion, has done great harm to our education system. Really, didn't mean to point you out in particular.

Our Man In Powder Springs
December 03, 2013
@ East Cobb Senior

Good insight into this educational quagmire.
Harry Hagan
December 01, 2013
If anyone's columns should be syndicated, it's Roger Hines's. Each and every one is an absolute gem. Bravos galore! Thanks.
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