[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.