Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: math skills

Lowering the basket

A cartoon appeared in the Québec City daily le Soleil a couple of weeks ago depicting a gangly young student on the basketball court attempting to make a basket. The basket was placed at waist level and the coach was saying, “We have an excellent success rate.”

There would be cries of outrage from students and parents alike if such a thing ever happened in high school sports. However, the title of the cartoon was “Department of Education Exams,” implying that it does happen in the classrooms.

One hundred years ago, the academic basket was placed at the standard height of three metres. It has been surreptitiously lowered at the rate of two centimetres per year so that it now sits only one metre from the ground. Educational bureaucrats and teachers unions point to the excellent success rate as evidence that public schools are still doing their job.

The change has been so gradual that it has escaped the notice of most parents. Yet students are now graduating from university with limited literacy skills and unable to do basic math without a calculator. Occasionally a copy of an old exam is circulated and we realize that one hundred years ago students who had completed Grade Eight had more genuinely useful academic skills than many university graduates today.

Some parents are supplementing the shortfall in the public education system themselves or by hiring private tutors or sending their children to commercial learning centres such as Kumon, Oxford or Sylvan. Others have withdrawn from the public system altogether, opting for home schooling or private schools. These children are the fortunate ones, employers will readily discern their abilities and advancement opportunities will open up before them.

What about those who succeed in hitting the one metre high basket of the public school system? They are the ones complaining that employers are unfair.

Public Schools: mediocrity is the goal

There was a time, about 120 years ago, when almost everyone in Canada could read and write well, could do the math calculations needed in their daily life and work, often without pencil and paper, knew a good bit about world history and understood how governments worked.  It is not that way today.  It is said that a student finishing Grade 5 then knew as much, or more, than a student finishing Grade 8  today; a Grade 8 graduate then knew as much as a high school graduate today and a high school graduate then as much as a university graduate today.  How did this happen?

When I started school 65 years ago, the schools had already made the switch from teaching phonics to teaching sight reading – the Dick and Jane books.  i had been reading for a couple of years already, so this didn’t hold me back, but many others struggled.  My first few years were in a one room school, where a young single lady taught a group of 30 children in 8 grades – and she taught us well; those were the best years of my school life.

We moved to a larger town and now there were two grades to a classroom.  The teachers, most of them at least, were still very capable and maintained order in the classroom.  There was very thorough teaching in math, spelling and grammar, we were exposed to samples of the great English literature of the past, both prose and poetry.  I had skipped forward a grade at the beginning and could have gone faster, but my parents didn’t think that was wise.  So I read every book in the school library.

My parents were from an earlier era and believed that education meant that I should actually learn something.  My mother was always involved, helping me memorize math facts and encouraging me in any way she could.  She always got to know my teachers and invited each one over for at least one meal during the school term.   I understood that she wanted the teacher to feel free to talk to her if I was having any trouble in school – or making trouble!

The idea was already being circulated back then that parents didn’t know how to properly teach their children and should just leave education to the experts: the teachers.  It appeared to me that my mother was pretty much immune to that kind of thinking.

In the ensuing years, textbooks and teaching methods have been changed many times, following each new wind of doctrine about how children learn.  None of this works as well as the old-fashioned methods, but it has the great advantage, from the school’s vantage point, of cutting parents out of the picture.  They just don’t understand the new methods of teaching.  The children don’t either, but that’s beside the point.

Schools have become bigger and bigger and children have to travel further and further to get to school.   Many parents have little idea who is teaching their children.  This also serves to insulate the schools from parental influence.

Martin L Gross, in The Conspiracy of Ignorance – The Failure of American Public Schools, explains that a Bachelor of Education degree is the easiest of all degrees to obtain.  It consists of nothing but a bunch of pop psychology courses.  Aspiring teachers are  taught nothing about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them.

When one studies the origins of public schools, it becomes evident that the present situation is what was envisioned from the beginning.  The goal is not to educate children to think for themselves, but to indoctrinate them in the anti-family, anti-Christian agenda of those who consider themselves the elite thinkers.  Back in the days when most parents thought like mine did, they had to advance their program very slowly behind the scenes.  It is all much more open today.

I will return to this topic in future posts, but I want to mention two anti-family teachings that have become pretty much ingrained in the national culture.

One is that parents aren’t competent to teach.  Yet a national study a few years ago showed that home-schooled children scored much higher on standardized tests than children in public schools.  And it didn’t make any difference if the parents hadn’t completed high school or if they had a university degree or two.

The other is that children have to go to school with children their own age to learn how to get along with others.  Can’t parents see the evidence all around them that this is not working?  Children in years past had much better social skills when they learned them from their parents.

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