Friday, October 1, 2010

Johnny still can't read and he's now 55

Or maybe he's really 67.

I don't know, I never read the book "Why Johnny Can't Read," which centers on a 12-year-old boy who can't read. Thank god the book wasn't called "Why Johnny Can't Add."

That infamous book, though, came out 55 years ago, before my first birthday. How could I've read it?

But, every year since, education in America has been reformed from new math to old math, from phonics to whole language and back again, from Big Yellow Taxi to Magic School Bus. Not sure about that last one.

We're now in year 55 of the Education Reformation and the only thing that's been reformed is our tolerance for the monotony of this "reformation."

Is there a dead horse beaten as much as education?

I mean we've been hearing for decades about how terrible education is in America and still we have a ton of brilliant people graduating from top universities every single year. Most of the students come from public schools, many come from private schools and some come from the home-school route. More affluent areas produce higher achieving students and poor areas do not. It ain't rocket science. If fact, it's not science at all. It's just reality.

NBC hyped its focus on education this week and one of the pearls of wisdom that emerged came from Tom Brokaw when he said that the best teachers are the ones who care about their students. Wow, how insightful.

There is a new documentary out, "Waiting for Superman," that takes a tough look at the desperation of a handful of parents and their children as they try to get into charter schools.

For an education on that film, read Gail Collins column in the New York Times.

She aced it by pointing out that, by and large, charter schools have been a colossal failure. Yes, it does help to read facts instead of watching falsehoods on television.

Also, she notes that the documentary goes after the teachers' unions, which are considered the greatest hindrance to progress since the Dark Ages. However, the countries that supposedly have the highest educational achievement, such as Finland, also have the strongest unions.

Go figure. Apparently, the professional hand-wringers in this country haven't.

Well, to point out the obvious, a task normally handled by economists, I'll venture forth.

America is a diverse country in every way possible, from race to ethnicity to religion to obscene wealth to blighted inner cities. The countries considered to have better educational systems are, by and large, homogenous in every way that America is not. The job of teaching is tougher in America.

Also, it is our right as Americans to choose to be ignorant. It's not easy teaching evolution when the majority of Americans don't believe in it.

The popularity of television, video games and now You Tube, is in direct proportion to the decline of reading, and everything else.

I'm just saying.

Also, as a letter writer in Time magazine said in response to its cover story on education, we have a parenting problem in this country. So true, and it's been that way for a few years now.

Many years ago, we worked hard, as a community, to build up our local schools and create world-class colleges.

Now, that sense of community is gone. The University of California system has been in decline ever since voters said, "enough," 30 years ago. Yes, we want the best educational system, we just don't want to pay for it. Oregon has drastically reduced its support for higher education to the point that Oregon and Oregon State are quasi-private schools.

Fifty-five years ago, a high school diploma was a sign of achievement. Now, anything less than a graduate degree is considered underachieving.

We've come a long ways, baby. We've got a long ways to go. We won't get there if all we do is point fingers at each other instead of helping one another.

In this anti-tax, anti-government climate of "I've got mine and the hell with you," it'll be hard to do.

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