Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A response to Time magazine's "Dropout Nation"

Dear Time Magazine:
I am surprised at the shallowness of the analysis in your “Dropout Nation”
article in which you lay the blame for our high dropout rate on high schools and their students. The fact that a child can legally bolt for the first time at age 16 does not mean that his/her problems started in high school.
Our public schools have taught us to blame educational failure on the child. If Johnny can’t read and consequently has behavior problems, his school will more likely drug him and hire a remedial specialist than ask whether his regular classroom teacher might be inept. In keeping with this paradigm, our legislators propose to solve our dropout problem by penalizing dropouts or forcing them to “graduate” by making it illegal to drop out. No thought is given to the possibility that perhaps the problem isn’t with the children.
What if our elementary and middle schools are the true source of the failure? During the past century, the “progressive” education ideologues that control our teachers’ colleges have been training elementary school teachers to eliminate virtually every shred of useful curriculum content. Many elementary schools no longer teach the skills that a child needs in order to enjoyably read a book or write a coherent paper. Most of our teachers use inept reading instruction techniques and suffer an aversion to teaching handwriting, punctuation, grammar, arithmetic and other basics, rendering the typical elementary school graduate both functionally and mathematically illiterate. No wonder high school is a bore.
Our dropouts are probably mostly just tired of being in the company of adults who are wasting their time. Decades of unionization and “progressivism” have reduced most of our elementary and middle schools to nothing more than overrated day-care facilities, where achievement and excellence are not only unrewarded but often reviled. Why would any intelligent kid want to spend a few more years in such a place?
So here’s a suggestion: let’s ditch the system that fails to inspire scholarly aspirations in our children and replace it with a system of school choice, where mostly only competent schools and educators will survive. If we keep wringing our hands and leaving our kids in the schools we have now, things can only get worse.
David Ziffer
Batavia, IL

1. Most elementary schools are inept at teaching reading: The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been reporting since 1992 that approximately 40% of our fourth-graders are “below basic” (i.e. functionally illiterate) and an additional 30% are “below proficient” (i.e. struggling) in reading, for a total failure rate of 70%. Please refer to National Center for Education Statistics.

Ninety percent of American children are in public schools. Proven curricula and methods were available and in widespread use until the dawn of the “progressive” era in the 1930s. Even better curricula are available today, but few schools use them read Project Follow Through, then return to the table of contents for the issue containing this article and read the rest of the publication.

1. “Progressive” aversion to basics: two excellent books on the progressives’ devastation of our schools are:
1. “Left Back” by Diane Ravitch:
2. “Ed School Follies”
by Rita Kramer:
1. Excellence reviled in our schools: the heroes honored by our teachers’ colleges are people who have made a name for themselves by convincing teachers that the conventional wisdoms held by most sensible people are, in fact wrong. Sadly, teachers seem to subscribe to these notions without question (perhaps it boosts their self-esteem to hold what they believe to be superior knowledge). The ideas are lunacy: Rewards are punishments. Teachers shouldn’t teach. Grades are “degrading.” If you think I’m making this up, visit the web site of one of our teachers’ favorite heroes, Alfie Kohn: and click on “topics.”

Yes, this is what your kids’ teachers probably actually believe.

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