By John R. Alston Trotter, EdD, JD
The average parent has no clue that the average middle school student in urban schools could not tell you if Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln wrote the Declaration of Independence or if the Civil Rights Movement took place in the 19th Century of the 20th Century, much less tell you the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and historical significance of Selma and Hiroshima. These students are just clueless…and without much future. Now, if you asked the same aged students at Marist or Westminster or Lovett the same questions, they probably readily know the answers. Public education’s curriculum, by the design, is full of mush, full of touchy-feely crap, full of games and group discussions/projects. It is this way all the way up to graduate school now.
Bill Gates even admits that he envisions using games to teach the kids (using his app, I’m sure). But, the idea of transmitting knowledge (the foundation of a “common” culture, if you will) is so 1950ish to these new educational policy wonks (who don’t have the good sense to get out of the rain). But, in the 1950s, at least we could tell you that Idaho was out west and that Massachusetts was in the northeast. We had a very definite idea about the location of Japan, Iceland, and Argentina. We knew how to multiply off the top of our heads and how to break down words phonetically. We knew the parts of language and how to write cogent sentences and paragraphs. But, these poor kids in the public schools (especially in the inner city schools) are lost when it comes to such standard and basic knowledge. The key to success in the business world is being able to communicate in writing and orally the King’s English. Now I am not taking away the exceptions to the rule, viz., the entertainers and the athletes who earn incomes outside this standardization of common knowledge, but how many people are going to be successful in these endeavors? It is really somewhat criminal to set up expectations for these children to think that they are going to be the next T. I. (“King of the South”) or another Michael Vick whose mastery of juking skills have earned him millions.
Look at the successful people in our world today. Look at President Barack Obama. He attended Punahou Academy with very high academic standards. Then, he was off to Occidental College, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School. Look at President Clinton. Georgetown University, Oxford College (Rhodes Scholar), and Yale Law School. George W. Bush. Started off at Midland Elementary and then San Jacinto Jr. High. But, Poppy and Barb sent him on up to the northeast to go to the very rigorous Phillips Academy before matriculating to Yale undergrad and Harvard Business School. This is just politics. Look at Ted Turner. McCauley Prep in Chattanooga and then to the very tough The Citadel in Charleston. (I think that I am right about Ted’s education.) Look at Oprah Winfrey. Fish University, I think. All of these successful people learned knowledge…yes, information. None of the touchy-feely stuff. None of the holding hands and singing nursery rhymes.
Today, however, none of the educrats or the educational wonks know what to do with urban education. They are afraid of it. They think, like Social Security with politicians, that it’s hands-off topic. It reeks with charges of racism. So, they think that perhaps that they can just try the soft approach…you know, group projects which will not hold each student accountable for how he or she performs. The individual’s success or failure can be hidden in the collective meltdown. And, be sure, it is a meltdown. It is a meltdown of knowledge. It is, as I often say when I see that an administrator criticizes a teacher for being “teacher centered” and not “student centered,” a pooling of ignorance. If the students don’t know squat about the U. S. Constitution or about Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, then how can they teach each other in some group discussion/project. They first need to have some knowledge transferred to them. But, as one of my good friends says, “They want a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage.” This is a good way of putting it. Teachers become mere facilitators, not transmitters of knowledge. Why? Because in this new way of thinking (can we say, “Common Core Curriculum”?), verifiable, objective knowledge is no longer cherish or even tolerated. We are now witnessing the philosophical deconstructionism attacking our schools like a far eastern tsunami.
No one wants to first tackle the near dearth of discipline in the urban schools. This is a dirty job and not very appealing. But, until these schools are put back in order discipline-wise, no significant learning will take place. We have said over and over that you cannot have good learning conditions until you first have good teaching conditions. The first thing that any school leader worth his or her salt has to do is to get the school in order. In other words, he or she has to first establish sound, fair, and consistent discipline in the school, and the students have to know undoubtedly that the administrators support the teachers when it comes to discipline.