Honoring Andrew Breitbart by proposing a way to fix public high schools — by guest blogger Lulu

[My friend Lulu wrote this post. Now you’ll know what I already know about her: she’s extremely bright, well-informed, analytical, and morally centered.]

Andrew Breitbart didn’t just try to fix the existing problems. He challenged the entire narrative as presented to us by the Left. In my small way I will attempt to do this regarding high school and higher education.

We are failing our high school students and it isn’t because of lack of money. It is because our vision and the way education is set up fails them. Every day I pass a billboard that announces that 37% of high school students in California fail to graduate. What this abysmal statistic means in terms of real lives is that these students leave schools without employable skills, stay poor, live on different kinds of public assistance support or are employed in low paying jobs. It is a waste of human potential.

It doesn’t need to be this way. The educational system as it is today insists that every student must and will go to college. I have heard President Obama say this. I have heard the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, John Deasey, assert that this is the only way. A college education for everyone is a must. They insist that in our skilled, computer-driven world, a high school diploma isn’t enough. They believe they are showing support and encouragement for minority students by insisting on this. They are not. They are doing two things: making more drop-outs and dumbing down higher education.

How do they accomplish these two feats by encouraging kids to go on to college? When a struggling student getting D’s or F’s hears over and over that the only future for him is college, but college is an unrealistic expectation because the student isn’t academically oriented, resists school work, and has no educational career plans he can achieve without intense support and personal motivation (which he lacks), the student has only one alternative, and that is to drop-out. The F student who never studies or does a shred of homework often has no plans for the future. The lack of a life goal often leads to dropping out. The student who cannot or will not study sees a professional, college trained career as unattainable because all these professions require academic effort and knowledge, and this is a student who is academically behind appropriate level, sometimes by a significant gap. This leads to a “why try?” attitude. “Why try/” leads to quitting, floating along and letting life happen to you, teen pregnancy, dropping out, and gangs.

By insisting that everyone should attend college, college stops being a training place for the brightest minds. When everyone goes to college, it doesn’t elevate the unmotivated, non-studying student. It lowers the bar for everyone else.

Another consequence of the belief that everyone should go to college is that the high school student who graduates and gets a job is therefore seen under this paradigm as a failure. This is grossly unfair. This country has always valued the person who labors honestly, starts his own business, or provides people with desired goods and services. Historically these backbone working people have not needed a college degree. To this day many successful store or restaurant owners, plumbers, contractors, mechanics, and on and on, thrive despite never having graduated from, or perhaps never  attending even a day of college. These people and their contributions should be valued. They obviously have all the education they need to create a business, provide needed services, and to succeed.

High schools, particularly those with a high drop-out rate need to bring back vocational training electives. The student who sees no reason to study math may suddenly get how it is applicable to his life in shop class or carpentry. Kids who see themselves as failures going nowhere can see that they are not dumb at all, that they are perfectly capable and talented at certain skills, and that these skills can provide them with tools to get an honest, well-paying job that gives them the tools to succeed in life. The loss of these vocational programs in our high schools is a crime to these students. I frequently see huge warehouse rooms on campuses, once used for auto mechanics or shop. They now are used for office cubicles or storage space.

High schools should explore with kids whether they are college or trade oriented and provide all with a solid education in the basics, but give the non-college bound, non-academic kid an opportunity to succeed, to develop self-confidence through achievement. Good possible classes to provide at high schools could be auto mechanics, carpentry, upholstery, plumbing, cooking, sewing and fashion, and many other employable trades. Some students can truly be trained for jobs upon graduation, with the vocational program even connecting students with possible potential employers, but these electives can enrich all students on campus b y teaching them practical and hands-on skills.

The next step is to educate young people in entrepreneurship, to show them how they one day could open their own shop or business with these or other skills. Students could learn basic business economics, responsibility, and about the pride of creating something. This would be a powerful way to give students who see nothing for their future a vision of their own possibilities, and it would enrich society. Classes could provide students with an understanding of how to save money, financial planning, how much is needed to start and business, and patience. They could learn how to dress for a job interview, how to present themselves appropriately at an interview, and how to be punctual and responsible. It could give them the practical tools they need to thrive.

Add life enriching classes that will broaden the world of students who may never have been exposed to the arts. Expose them in electives to the arts through some of these classes: music history, art history, design, dance, photography, theatre, art or creative writing classes. These classes are invaluable to develop the soul. Their absence may deny many students their only exposure to the arts. The money for these programs could be found if they were valued properly as school districts waste a tremendous amount of money on silly things (but that is the subject for another essay).

In this spirit, I believe it is time to do the unimaginable and bring back some value laden instruction. Once again students need to become literate in American values, citizenship, and honor based behavior. Our open-minded, tolerant, sensitive educational system has had a dastardly impact on the family lives of kids. Health classes provide lots of instruction in alcohol, drugs, and sexual intimacy, but this knowledge apparently have little deterrent effect on teen alcohol and drug use, and teen sexuality and pregnancy. Information without values cannot change behavior. There is absolutely no stigma attached to teen pregnancy anymore. Pregnant girls can attend school and are no longer whispered about. Boys can impregnate and abandon girls and no one chews them out for doing so.

I think this experiment in tolerating teen pregnancy without judgment should be over. Pregnant girls and the baby daddy must be mandatorily enrolled in a class that teaches them how to care for a baby or a child, and addresses the emotional impact on a child of having an absent father and a young, unprepared mother. Grandparents should be obligated to attend as well and this should be a condition of graduating (it can be held in the evening). All emphasis should be on preventing a second pregnancy for the girl until she is in a stable, committed relationship and has a stable and secure financial situation. Boys who impregnate girls should be reported immediately to a family court that will hold them financially responsible to help support the child, even from a young age (gone the strutting roosters), and obligate them to take a parenting class, visit, and be a responsible caretaker- even if he merely had sex with the girl once.

This will begin to help create a climate where student pregnancy is no longer a badge of honor, or coolness. It is the student who feels the future holds nothing that is most likely to seek pregnancy as a way to fill the void, and it is when there is no stigma or social repercussions to teen pregnancy that the behavior continues unabated. Schools will need to enlist the cooperation of parents. Private schools inform parents of their school rules and standards, and public schools must do the same.  A required parent orientation at the beginning of the school year or prior to the start of the year, offered during the day, evening or weekend, to accommodate all parents availability, should inform parents thoroughly of the risky behaviors teens engage in with peers, at parties, as well as on cell phones and through the internet. Parents should all receive a handout or DVD giving them tools to set limits with their children regarding homework, schoolwork, argument ending, and peer supervision. Schools should let parents know that they are expecting the parents to supervise homework and to make sure students do it daily, and come to school sober and drug free, and absolutely not pregnant until after graduation. Let parents know that schools are prepared to educate their children and give them the knowledge they need to get into college or have a trade, but the parents have the responsibility to provide structure, emotional support, guidance, and discipline. The schools can provide parents with parenting classes to give them the tools, but the parents are ultimately responsible for their own children (which includes feeding them breakfast).

No school can meet the academic needs of students when they are hustled through to the next level without understanding the subject. This is especially true in math. I have observed so many high school students failing algebra and geometry largely because they don’t even know basic arithmetic. Schools move them on because they have to achieve certain requirements, again encouraging failure and reducing motivation and increasing drop-out likelihood. Tutoring doesn’t address the core problem because without the foundation in arithmetic, tutoring can’t resolve the core deficit. The minimum amount of math required to graduate is two years. Since kids attend high school for four years, this gives some leeway. My solution would be to require all incoming freshmen to take a test in the basic arithmetic skills that are necessary to do algebra or geometry. If a student fails to pass this test he must take a review class to catch up on arithmetic (times tables, etc) and plan to take the more advanced class the following year. The pushing failing students through a class is a colossal waste of student time and taxpayer money. It kills student motivation because students clearly see the futility of the class and they quit trying. Giving students the intellectual tools they need to learn can change that.

A higher expectation on manners and appropriate behavior should permeate the school culture starting with teachers. Teachers should adhere to a professional dress code showing respect for their profession, and high schools should enforce a student dress code as well. It degrades a school environment to see girls with low cleavage and exposed bellies in low slung pants , or short shorts, and flip flops, or boys in pajama pant, or with their pants held up by a belt below their bottom, boxers fully exposed.  Have a box from the Salvation Army ready to cover the kids if they dress in this way. That would eliminate the problem fairly quickly. Parents can be brought onto the campus as a volunteer force to help supervise the far corners of the school that cannot be viewed by supervising faculty. This could help put a stop to on campus sexuality, smoking or drug use.

It is my firm belief that these changes would create a vastly more motivated and successful high school environment, with far fewer drop-outs, than all the culturally sensitive programming currently offered. It involves a paradigm shift to a value driven environment that seeks to graduate capable students who see their own potential in finding meaningful employment, whether it is in the equally honorable trade, technical job, or college-trained profession.

Lastly, in my non politically correct school environment I would welcome all students and families who are attending and let them know that although many of them entered the United States illegally, the school by law does not investigate or punish them for this. Rather, their children are being provided with the same quality education that all students are getting, whether citizens of the United States or not at the expense and graciousness of the American taxpayer. This truly is a great and benevolent country to welcome a so many non-citizens without judgment, to provide Spanish interpretation free of charge, and to offer all children the same education. American values teach us that anyone can achieve the American dream of making something of themselves, no matter how humble their origins, through hard work and ambition. This is the opportunity available to all of you and your children. Dream big, work hard, and plan ahead. Americans come from all corners of the globe. From many origins we become one people who support life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Your job as parents is to transmit to your children the beauties of your ethnic and cultural heritages. It is our job as a school to provide quality education within the framework of American values and to help your children understand and respect why this nation is so unique and great.

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  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    The better phrasing would be “public schooling is designed to fail and made that way on purpose”.

    The reason why people have been inundated with Leftist propaganda is because the Left shows people an enemy they can imagine. Then they tie all of the world’s problems, whether manufactured or fabricated, to their political enemies. And it works. And you know why? Because the other side will refuse to tell the truth about the Left and their intentions. Meanwhile the Left keeps telling a great many lies, and after awhile people believe them. After all, it’s not like they were told the “real enemy” was the Left, now were they.  They only have one option, one thing to believe in, and that’s what they drift into. It doesn’t matter if 20 years later they regret and change their views. The damage has been done. Power has been seized. Laws rewritten and overwritten. The Constitution permanently shorn by a few words, then a few paragraphs, then a few articles.


  • Mike Devx

    > The Constitution permanently shorn by a few words, then a few paragraphs, then a few articles.

    Nicely written, Ymar! 

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    I’ve had some reason to believe that the Japanese school system is something that US schools should model themselves after. There’s a lot of things that go well there.

    For example, the Japanese are very competitive in their junior and high schools. The grades of every person and their tests, are posted regularly, in order to foster competition. It’s like a social ranking.

    The idea that somebody would be picked on because they were “too” smart, may happen, but it’s not what the society reinforces. And what society wants, society gets.

    And this is only some of the ways the Japanese use to make people conform to standards. The fact that a lot of schools in Japan are privately owned, not government run, makes a critical difference. Parents must sign waivers and legal documents that are based upon that private school’s code. If that school says they use corporal punishment, the parent must sign on, or elsewhere. This tends to negate the whole “tort” cash cow lawyers get.


  • JKB

    I was just reading about education today.  This youtube video is a really good animated explanation of the problem

    youtube…watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=fvwrel It is from a TED talk, ‘Sir Ken Robinson:Changing Education Paradigms’

     The real question is, why do we, 100 years after it was discovered, have education “professionals” who are discussing the idea of promoting a student’s inherent critical thinking as oppose to memorization.  Is this the level of scholarship in education?  To hope no one reads old books by long dead educators?  Or are education PhDs truly unwilling to read old research for their research?

    Here is a nice report of using the problem method as opposed to the much loved formalism to promote student learning.  
    Teaching boys and girls how to study: being a brief treatment of the … – Peter Jeremiah Zimmers – Google Books  

    The link is actually to the page where they provide the explanation of the problem method’s value to teaching citizenship.  

    I do disagree with the emphasis on vocational classes.  The classes shouldn’t be so specific.  All students, college-bound or not, should be take classes in manual arts that teaches basic hand tool skills.  The fine arts are great but the manual arts require the creation of something objectively useful to oneself or others rather than some “expression” that needs subtitles.  The reason it should be hand tools, and most likely woodworking, is the goal is to train the hand rather than impart some tech skill.  School spends all its time training, hopefully, students to output their knowledge in writing and verbally.  But output by the hand is neglected and actually actively discouraged. (see the above youtube video)  This is terribly wrong and now that few students get hand tool skills by helping around at home, it is even more important.  

    Afterwards, students might split off into the vocational and college-bound but all need to learn how to express themselves with their hands.  This is best done by hand tools with minimal assistance of machines since the machines are like using a calculator to learn arithmetic.  The key is to train the mind to guide the hand to output something useful.  

     The object of education is the generation of power.  But to generate and store up power whether mental or physical or both is a waste of effort unless the power is to be exerted. Why generate steam if there is no engine to be operated?  Steam may be likened to an idea which finds expression through the engine, a thing?  Why store the mind with facts, historical, philosophical, or mathematical, which are useless until applied to things, if they are not to be applied to things?  And if they are to be applied to things, why not teach the art of so applying them?  As a matter of fact the system of education which does not do this is one-sided, incomplete, unscientific.

  • JKB

    Arnold Kling linked to this TED video Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education | Video on TED.com   It is amazing what kids can do if we just make the tools available and stay out of the way.  

    I think if you want to know what the next evolution in education is, it is the Granny Cloud

    Oh, and the removal of the teacher as lecturing expert. 

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    BACK….to the FUTURE!!

  • expat

    Wow, Lulu! What a great post. It is such a mistake to expect teens to know what they want to be in life when they have been exposed to so few of life’s options. How can any of us presume to know what kids will need in 50, 60 or 70 years? The best we can do is make sure they have the skills to take advantage of what might await them and the basic values to avoid screwing things up for themselves.
    I was talking recently to a 13 year old about how lucky he was to have the internet to research topics. I said that at his age I had to go downtown to the library and hope it would have the info I wanted. He looked at me and asked, “How old are you, anyway.”  Today’s kids are in a different world. They need the basic navigational tools from us–not just Ivy credentials.
    That is a great video. I’ve already helped viralize it. Thanks.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    As a matter of fact the system of education which does not do this is one-sided, incomplete, unscientific.

    But it is perfect for educating a slave work force that you need to be minimally proficient in clerk work and accounting, but not too free in their thinking. When every college is as expensive as Harvard and yale, only people with the money or government support, can attend the new aristocracy’s education for future principles. Everyone else can be satisfied with serfdom and brutal slave jobs.

     I’m a firm believer in stating the real source of the problem. The education system didn’t get this way on its own. Somebody guided it towards an intended destination, and we’re almost there. Certainly we’re at the point of no turning back. We can either crash and burn, or speed it up and transform the train into a flying machine while we’re still on it. Harder than just turning back, but that’s not an option any more.

  • JKB

    No need to turn back, we just need to stop the interference with human nature.  Kids are naturally curious.  They are naturally critical thinkers.  It is years of “education” that train their curiosity and critical thinking out of them.  Really only takes about 5 years for “school helplessness” to set in.  

    if we stop the memory drill, if we ask them thought questions, they will go back to their nature.  We may have to sneak up on them as the classroom conditioning invokes the helplessness.  I know this is true for if we were dependent upon what we learn in school for survival, most of us would be dead.  Especially if you live in a bad neighborhood where not learning to apply judgement gets you victimized not avoiding danger.   

    The way pupils study, depends on what is emphasized. … The reason that mechanical memorizing is the main part of study in the elementary school, high school and university, is that reproduction is the primary thing required. If boys and girls find that the teachers’ questions ask for a reproduction of the text, they will memorize before thinking and without thinking. If, however, there is a thought question, it will cause them to organize and analyze the subject matter of the book, and then mechanical memorizing can not occupy such a prominent part. 

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    Oh, PLEASE…..don’t EVER say “Stop the Memory Drill” without qualifying…..
    The “old” education had LOTS of memory and drilling….but we never memorized the teacher’s or the textbook’s “answers” to the important questions.
    Memorizing the multiplication tables again would be WONDERFUL, as would memorizing poetry, the great hymns, the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, Gettysburg Address, the colors of the rainbow, the names of the wildflowers and trees in the area, dates and important events in history, etc., etc. 
    Students MUST have a stock of data if they are to be “real thinkers”, rather than just reflectors of the thoughts of others (their lefty teachers, mostly).  Without a data set, they are sitting ducks for the kind of propaganda so prevalent in the political and media arenas, today.

  • JKB

    Think first, memorization later if still required.  You can hardly answer a thought question on a subject without knowing the facts.  As you organize your answer, you organize your facts so they are related rather than little bits of dust floating through the mind.  Try it, try to intelligently discuss thought questions about the Preamble to the Constitution without incorporating a substantial part to memory?

    Mechanical memorization is necessary for some topics.  Part of the problem is that a lot is needed in the early grades and so it becomes the default for later grades when thought, organization and judgement are required to assimilation.  

    The student has accomplished much when he has discovered some of the closer relations that a topic bears to life; when he has supplemented the thought of the author; when he has determined the relative importance of different parts and given them a corresponding organization; when he has passed judgement on their soundness and general worth; and when, finally, he has gone through whatever drill is necessary to fix the ideas firmly in his memory. Is he then through with a topic, or is more work to be done?  

     BTW, the answer is, yes, there is more work to be done.  Namely the use of the knowledge in other contexts, developing a tentative, rather than fixed attitude toward the knowledge and developing the trait of determining your own thoughts before incorporating the thoughts of others on the topic.  

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Children are indoctrinated through song. That is where memorization kicks in. Memorizing boring thing that nobody has to think about is one kind of indoctrination, but not a very effective one.

  • JKB

    Here’s another TED talk by Ken Robinson Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity | Video on TED.com 

    It is very funny but he makes some good points.  Not the least that our entire school system, around the world, is set up to train university professors.  Which I find to be very aligned with my thoughts.  It isn’t surprising either.  Education was set up by university professors who followed what they knew.  The thing is, that system is breaking down and we have to look at developing the whole child, not just the mental activity and not force everyone into the same box.  

    His description of university professors is hilarious.

    He also has a great anecdote about how Gillian Lynne, choreographer of such musicals as CATS found her niche.  She was inattentive in school and was sent to a specialist for a learning disorder.  Fortunately, it was before Ritilan and the doctor was open-minded.  He left the room but turned on the radio.  As soon as the doctor and her mother left, she was up dancing around.  The doctor and mother watched for a moment.  The doctor told her mother, “Your daughter is not sick, she’s a dancer.  Take her to dance school.”  Today, she’d be drugged and dragged through academia or left with a certificate of attendance and no job prospects. 

  • Mike Devx

    Ymar says: Children are indoctrinated through song. That is where memorization kicks in. 

    Yep.  Those “Schoolhouse Rock” TV spots were effective, and for a good cause.
    “Inter JECT ion! <Ow!>  Spells excitement! <Hey!> And emotion!
    They’re gen’rly set apart
    from a sentence
    by an exclamation point
    or by a comma
    when the feeling’s not as strong.”

    There. Now just try to get THAT out of your head. 😉

  • Mike Devx

    The very good school districts try like hell to meet nearly all of Lulu’s points.  Some of the cultural issues, such as the coolness cachet surrounding teen pregnancy, are out of their control, but what they can control in creating a positive environment, they do.  Including the funding of and offering of valuable electives classes, for the better-off districts.

    If you’ve ever seen responsible parents searching for that new house to move to, THE primary concern they spend a great deal of time on is the quality of the school district they will be moving into.

    We spend a lot of time talking here about “equality of opportunity” as opposed to the Obama-liberal philosophy of “equality of results”.  One of our cornerstones SEEMS to be that education is the great level playing field from which equality of opportunity results. But education is not a level playing field.  Never has been.

    One of the things I like about the Tea Party movement is that most groups have a focus on local elections, including the school board, and they have every intention of improving their local schools.  That’s a big deal.

  • expat

    There is a problem in the way we define creative. Often it is used only in connection with art, music, and writing. But creativity is also needed in the problems we must solve in daily life. This is where I think parents have to be involved in letting their kids help solve problems. Imagine two sets of parents. One set puts gold stars and “art works” on their fridge. The other lets the kid overhear a conversation with a neighbor in which they say that Johnny came up with this idea for fixing the ….  Which kid is more likely to think creatively in the future? Also, kids can see what does and doesn’t work on a scale that affects them personally, and the emotional bond with the parents makes the feedback stronger.
    There is also a problem when schools don’t believe in negative feedback, when kids are praised for wanting to save the world before they can find their way around their own neighborhood. Either the kids turn out to be narcissistic brats or they turn off the BS completely and are left on their own. Mitra’s idea of small groups working together helps get around that problem.

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