THE CRISIS IN PUBLIC EDUCATION - And What You Can Do About It
Does your child's school encourage children to honor their parents? Is your child safe at school? Is he receiving a good education? Today, many public schools often unknowingly work against parents, failing to educate, even allowing violence and drugs to run rampant. It is time to take a long, hard look at where your child goes to school.
THE VERY purpose of human life revolves around the family relationship. Parents have a grave responsibility to protect their children, and OVERSEE their education. School is a dominant influence in your child's life — it can be a great help in raising children, giving them basic skills and vital character training — or it can undo all the good you've done at home! As a parent, what do you want from your child's school? You probably desire three basic qualities. First, you expect the school to be safe. You have a right to expect that your child will not be physically attacked. Second, you expect the school to do a reasonably good job of educating your child. You do not send your child to school to have him (or her) come back an illiterate ignoramus. Third, you would hope the school would acquaint your child with the most important knowledge of all, the purpose of life, the plan of God, the nature and destiny of man. You do not want your child's education to be totally secular, devoid of reference to the most important questions of life. Yet today public schools increasingly do not provide any of these qualities. In some countries, public schools cannot, by law, teach the most important knowledge — because it is religious. Yet, in addition, they are even failing in many instances to protect your child, failing to educate him or her — and, occasionally, even indoctrinating your child with a bias against God's religion and his own parents. Of course, not all public schools are the same. There are more than 16,000 school districts in the United States, let alone schools. No doubt many schools are reasonably safe. No doubt many of them still produce minimally literate human beings. But violence, drugs and illiteracy are widespread in the American public school system, and to a lesser degree, the Canadian, Australian and English systems as well.
Part of parents' natural affection for their children is a strong desire to see that they come to no physical harm. Christ spoke of one's natural desire to do good for one's children when He said, "If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone?" (Luke 11:11). As a parent, you have a serious responsibility to see that your child is not exposed to physical danger because of where you send him — or allow him to go — to school. Yet the public schools are increasingly unsafe! According to a 1978 report to Congress, more than 8 percent of students in U.S. junior high schools were assaulted within a month of the survey! The National Institute of Education estimates that more than 280,000 students and 5,000 junior and senior high school teachers are attacked each month. In one school year, there were 1,500 attacks on teachers in the New York public schools, 1,300 such attacks in Chicago, and 300 in Los Angeles and those are the reported assaults! (New York Times Magazine, December 10, 1978). One state legislator, quoted anonymously by UPI, calls public schools a "battle zone" where drugs and violence are common. Affairs have gotten so bad that California State University at Los Angeles has offered a course entitled "Self-Defense for Teachers." The bare statistics, of course, do not do justice to the terror that pervades many schools. A 16-year-old high school student in Southern California is shot to death by unknown assailants. A Bronx teacher is grabbed by the neck, cut in the throat, molested and robbed. A Brooklyn gym teacher is stabbed, punched in the face, and kicked in the head after reprimanding a 14-year-old troublemaker. A high school plain clothes security officer, quoted in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, candidly describes the state of affairs at his high school, somewhere in the Los Angeles area: "This year we've had three students murdered on their way to school. We make felony pinches every week. Lots of blades, once in a while a gun. That's right; guns carried by high school gunsels. Yesterday we found a.44-caliber Magnum in a student's locker.... There's so much narcotics it's a joke. A kid was shot on the corner next to the gym last Monday. He lost an eye." Horrible examples of violence are not confined to big inner-city high schools. Recently The Plain Truth received a revealing letter from a reader in northern Colorado, a comparatively quiet area where school violence has gotten so bad that the reader is seriously considering enrolling his sons in a judo class. He writes: "This last week was the worst attack against my son. During lunch recess he was playing volleyball. Near the end of the period the score was tied and he failed to score the last point for his team, so of course they lost by one point. "This so angered several on his team that at the beginning of the next class period — they ganged up on him and severely beat him — pulled out a patch of hair from his head, kicked him in the eye and side of face, split his lip and bloodied his nose. He didn't fight back also said he was afraid to fight back in fear of getting beaten worse. This happened in front of the whole class — before the teacher came in the room." The author of the letter knows of other families having similar problems. "One family's daughter had to be escorted to the school bus and have teacher protection throughout the school day. Even that didn't work — she was still beaten up. Finally the parents took the matter to the police." If school violence is that bad in northern Colorado, what must it be like in the big city high schools?
The New Illiteracy
Yet a more general problem is the failure of large numbers of public schools to educate! If the public schools have any purpose, it is certainly to produce students who can read, write and calculate. Increasingly, they are failing to achieve this purpose. School attendance in the United States is compulsory to at least age 16. Yet depending on how you define "functional illiteracy," significant percentages of the American population are functionally illiterate, despite many years of formal education. A Ford Foundation study has reported that as many as 64 million adults in the United States may be considered functionally illiterate — unable to read road signs or simple directions. Even if this estimate is extreme — and defines "functional" too broadly — the situation is still alarming. The scholastic aptitude scores of American high school seniors have fallen steadily for a decade now. In 1979, for example, the average Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) verbal score hit 427; once the "average" was supposed to be 500. Remedial reading expert Paul Copperman has been very outspoken in his warnings about the trend. Speaking before a U.S. Senate sub-committee in 1979, he declared: "Every generation of Americans has surpassed its parent in education, literacy and economic attainment — except the present one. For the first time in American history, the educational skills of one generation will not even approach those of their parents." Mr. Copperman has also declared that between 40 and 60 percent of high school graduates can't read well enough to handle a clerk's job! While, of course, the majority of high school graduates are not functionally illiterate, the signs of the failure of the public schools is widespread. Three quarters of ninth- and tenth-grade students in the Oakland, California, area have failed basic tests in reading, writing and arithmetic. Half the freshmen at City University of New York, once the "Harvard of the working class," can barely read, write or calculate. The American armed forces newspaper Stars and Stripes quotes an education officer in Europe as saying "many secondary school graduates at army posts in Germany cannot read or write beyond fifth or sixth-grade levels." The new ignorance reveals itself most strikingly among college freshmen. David D. Van Tassel of Case Western Reserve University notes that 60 percent of the freshmen in a history course he taught in 1979 "couldn't tell World War I from World War II."
The "Feel Good" Curriculum
"Can't we see that none glorifies God by ignorance, by neglecting this most precious heritage God has entrusted to man — the mind?" wrote Herbert W. Armstrong in his journal over a quarter century ago. Yet it seems as if much of modern education is determined to do precisely that to neglect the mind, to let standards fall, to degenerate! According to Los Angeles school board member Kathleen Brown-Rice, "We've gotten away from basics. In the '60s, educators were shaping curriculum around ideas like 'what feels good' and 'go with the flow' in response to student demands for relevant courses." The chicks born from 'go with the flow' have now come home to roost. Standards have been disparaged as so much "elitism." Even the very idea of standards has come under attack! On the other hand, "The beginning of wisdom," declares the Bible, "is the fear of the Lord" (Psalm 111:10). Education thus requires a measure of humility: a willingness to admit you don't know everything and need to learn something. But the dominant philosophy in modern public education is just the opposite. Thomas Dewey, the educational philosopher who is the "father" of much of modern public education, believed that education should begin with the student, not the teacher. He believed that it was evil for the teacher to be in control, or that initiation should come from outside himself from books, tradition, or the teacher. (See Modern Age, Spring, 1977, "Theology and Liberal Education in Dewey," by Paul Gottfried) Dewey's philosophy pervades much of public education. Teachers have come to believe that the purpose of education is not to put something in, but rather let something out. The emphasis is on "self-fulfillment" and "self-expression," not on the simple, humble need to learn certain basic skills. To some degree, this attitude is the direct result of the rejection of God and His law. If you believe God is not an absolute, your attitude toward math and English grammar may be similarly affected. In order to teach, you must believe that what you have to teach has value, a belief that is always undercut when you disregard a firm belief in absolutes. Much of the rest of the decline in educational standards results from the tendency to give in to human nature and take the easy way. This tendency is deplored by author Ken Kesey. His best-selling novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is being used in high school English classes — something of which he disapproves. "They're teaching Cuckoo because it's easy," he laments. "You have to teach what is hard. But teachers don't want to. They want to be popular, to be called by their first names and jostled like in Welcome Back, Kotter." A similar letting down is observed by Neil Postman, writing in The Atlantic Monthly: "Some teachers have made desperate attempts to keep their students 'tuned in' by fashioning their classes along the lines of [such television programs as] Sesame Street or the Tonight show. They tell jokes. They change the pace. They show films, play records and avoid anything that would take more than eight minutes." When teachers cater to their students' impatience or laziness, or when students can pass their high school English requirements with classes such as "Animal Literature," or "Film Studies," no wonder illiteracy is virtually epidemic!"
The Most Important Knowledge — Ignored!
The best public schools, of course, are safe, and do produce literate students. But where are the schools that teach the way of God? Many operate in subtle ways to ridicule belief in God or His laws. The average child will spend some 16,000 hours in school. Those hours will have an enormous influence in his life. In the public schools, at best those hours will be neutral toward God; at worst, public schools indoctrinate children in a virtual religion of SECULARISM. In an interview in Human Events in 1979, attorney William Ball, one of the ablest constitutional lawyers in the United States, described just how public schools can undermine belief in God and His Word: "So let's take a child who comes from a fundamentalist religious household. That child has been taught to consider that the Bible is the word of God. He comes into public school class and let's say there is a reference to the Bible and he says to his teacher, well, that's the word of God, isn't it? And children will do that kind of thing. The teacher then is going to have to respond in one of several possible ways. "The teacher can say, well, the Bible is wonderful literature. There's Shakespeare and the Bible and they're wonderful pieces of literature. But this to the fundamentalist is to contradict, materially contradict, the concept of the Bible as being a sacred instrument whose virtue doesn't lie in its being a piece of literature. Or secondarily, the response will have to be that we don't say whether it's true, false or anything else; we can't pass any judgment on it. "But the fact of having to avoid that judgment, like the fact of having to avoid speaking about or preaching the word of God, implies — and especially to thechild — a lack of importance." (Emphasis added) God has given parents a duty to see that children are brought up in His religion. The Bible does not indulge in any trendy ideas about "letting the child decide for himself." The Bible is not an unbiased or "neutral" or "nonjudgmental" book: "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children... " (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; see also Genesis 18:19, and Deuteronomy 4:9 and 11:19). As a parent, you have a duty to see that your child's school does not actively teach against God's laws — which many do! In Australia, for example, there are state-operated kindergartens where the children are not even permitted to give thanks to God for their food (as they have been taught at home). A number of textbooks used in the United States present stories that are "open ended" — where a conclusion about what is right or wrong is deliberately left out in an effort to make the student "think about his own values." On the surface, of course, this may sound fine, but the damage is subtle: by telling students they should decide for themselves what is right and wrong (which is where the first humans — Adam and Eve — went wrong!), the textbooks propagandize that there are no absolute, objective, universal values — that the only values are those held by the students themselves. The danger is not confined to the odd English class textbook. U.S. News & World Report states that many educators now complain that children's minds are "being bent" by various schemes designed by psychological or sociological engineers. The same magazine also has reported that one group, the Children's Defense Fund, has charged that "too many schools are subjecting problem children to psychological treatment, including the use of mind-altering drugs in some cases." (Emphasis added) The Bible reveals that at the time just before the return of Christ, the hearts of the children would need to be turned toward their parents (Malachi 4:5-6), and vice versa. Yet some public schools use textbooks that do their little bit to turn the hearts of the children against their parents! Columnist Andrew Tully cites the following passage from a school creative writing textbook: "Recount some incidents you or those you know have experienced which illustrate how parental interference in the personal lives of their sons and daughters can lead to misunderstandings, broken relationships, or even family tragedies." Here are public school textbooks propagandizing students against "parental interference"! The bias of the text is obvious: family and parental authority should be broken down. Another case of bias against God's law was the federally funded Man: A Course of Study series. Under a cover of anthropology, the series introduced fifth-graders to subjects such as wife-swapping, murder of grandparents and mating with animals. Worse, the program subtly indoctrinated students that such practices are morally permissible because they are accepted in various cultures around the world; and, after all, as the trendy idea goes, you have no right to "put down" someone else's culture (no matter how degenerate!). Psychological testing is another way in which some public schools alienate children from their parents. Some VERY PERSONAL questions are asked. James L. Kilpatrick reports that he was sent one questionnaire from California that asks of fifth-grade boys, "Do you often play with your penis?" The same questionnaire asked of little girls, "Do you often see your father with no clothes on?" The practice of asking such questions is so widespread that U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch felt compelled to introduce legislation that would prevent any student from ever being required to submit to psychological tests or questionnaires that deal with "political attitudes, sexual attitudes and intra-family relationships."
How Then Shall We Learn?
Not all public schools — by any means — are guilty of the ills detailed in this article. Enough are, however, that your child may be hurt — educationally and even physically — by them. What to do? Some areas of the country offer public schools that, while they don't teach about God or the Bible, do at least offer firm discipline, an orderly atmosphere, and stress on basic educational skills. If such an opportunity avails itself, that may be the best you can do until Christ returns. What about a private school? Private schools come in many varieties, not all good. Some "alternative" private schools have been in the vanguard of the "touchie-feelie" educational philosophy where students only learn if they feel the "inner" need to, meaning, in practice, they degenerate and "do their own thing," learning very little in the process. A few years ago the graduate of such a school wrote a column in Newsweek magazine in which she confessed to being hardly literate herself! Yet the "touchie-feelie" avant-garde private schools are the exception. In the 1970s, private school enrollment climbed dramatically in the United States, from about 1.1 million students to 1.8 million — while the number of children coming into public schools actually declined. Clearly, the public is beginning to vote with its feet no-confidence in the public school system. The frustration is summed up in the 1979 statement by New Jersey state senator Brian Kennedy, whose four children attended both public and private schools. "If I had to do it all over again, I would have sent them all to parochial schools," he said, "because then they would have learned something!" Along the same lines, Phi Delta Kappan, a journal for professional educators, reports that "Protestant fundamentalist schools" are growing faster than any other kind of elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Private schools are not the exclusive province of the wealthy or well-to-do. The great majority of private school students come from low and middle income families who are willing to make sacrifices for their children's education. Evidently, such parents are gaining a reasonable return on their investment. The contrast is most striking in the private and parochial schools of Washington, D.C. In Anacostia, one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, the seventh graders in the public schools are 26 percent below the national norm; but they rank only 10 percent below at the local Catholic elementary school. The public schools of Washington, D.C., are a shambles; in the words of Vincent Reed, D.C. school superintendent, "at the mercy of the thugs and hoodlums in this city... [with] kids and teachers shot and mauled." By contrast, the Catholic schools of Washington, D.C., dealing with students from the same background, have done an exemplary job of teaching basic educational skills. Students score at least at the national norm on Science Research Associates standardized achievement tests. In public schools, notes Joseph Locke, principal of the Worldwide Church of God's Imperial Schools, a student "can slide by" and become "lost in the crowd." Private schools, he notes, are able to give individualized instruction, and generally have higher disciplinary standards. As a result they are able to command the student's attention. However, there are two problems with sending a child to private school. The first is money. If you can't afford it, you can't afford it — only the more exclusive prep schools offer scholarships. Private schools, of course, are marvelously efficient — usually offering superior education at cost that can be as low as $2 per pupil per day. As Mr. Locke points out, private school educators usually are not "in it for the money." What sets them apart from many of their public school counterparts is "dedication." Nevertheless, private schools do cost money, which you may simply not have. The other problem is that many private schools — justly moving away from the secularism of the public schools — have a religious curriculum often at odds with the tenets of the Bible. The emphasis on religious holidays, ultimately pagan in origin, is the clearest example. (We therefore cannot recommend parochial schools of other churches — superior, as most are, to the public schools) If you can find a good nondenominational private school — which you can afford — so much the better.
If for whatever reason private schools do not seem a good answer to the public ones, there is the possibility of home education. Obviously, home schooling is not for everybody. Yet it is not such a radical idea as you might imagine: in the 17th and 18th centuries, most upper-class children were educated at home. Raymond Moore, author of School Can Wait, contends that home-educated students generally score better on standardized tests than school educated ones. Connie Marshner, an education expert and researcher at the prestigious American Enterprise Institute in Washington is likewise not swayed by the mythology of the "professional" educator. In a recent interview she asked: "What do elementary school teachers do that parents can't do? You don't need four years of college and umpteen hours of in-service training and graduate courses every summer in order to teach five-year-olds the alphabet. Teachers feel that they've got hold of some arcane techniques or wisdom or procedure that can get results from kids that nobody else can get. If you're talking about advanced sciences and math, those are indeed subject matters that are beyond most people's comprehension, and most people wouldn't know how to teach those subjects. Remember, though, that most students don't get up to those areas." Home education should probably not be attempted by parents who are not sufficiently educated themselves. Unless parents do have a reasonably high level of education themselves, they probably will not be able to do any better than the local public schools, and could do much worse. As a social trend, home education is certainly in the avant garde. Ed Nagel, head of the National Association for the Support of Alternative Schools in Sante Fe, New Mexico, says home education is "happening all over the country." John Holt, a former public school teacher himself and a leading spokesman for the home education movement, believes that more than 10,000 families across the United States have taken up home education. Mr. Holt believes the education that children receive from their parents is superior to that received in the public schools. The former public school teacher says, "I know from my own schooling that I rarely got 15 minutes of real teaching a day." While there are possible legal problems involving home education, depending on where you live, the series of legal victories already won by parents who have set up home education programs is impressive. In Florida, Worldwide Church of God member Helen J. Voshell went to home education when she concluded that the school system would "clash too much" with her family's religion. "There is too much they would have to participate in and go along with that we do not believe in," she declares. When Mrs. Voshell did not enroll her son Joshua in the local public schools, she was initially charged with violating the state compulsory attendance laws. The charges were dropped when standardized tests revealed that Joshua was doing better in reading and math than the national average for his grade level. In Michigan, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Nobel, a devout Calvinist family, were also charged with violations of the state truancy laws. They were acquitted by a state judge, who found that the Nobel's religious beliefs were sufficient grounds for exempting them from the compulsory attendance at the public school. In Massachusetts Mr. and Mrs. Frank Turano won their battle for home education because of similar constitutional rights, including the right to privacy and the protection against involuntary servitude (slavery).
A concerned parent should feel at least morally entitled to take greater supervision over the education of his own children.
Occasionally, the local authorities are even favorable to home education. In Alaska, the state runs its own correspondence course for youngsters in small villages. In Vermont, as one mother wrote in John Holt's home education newsletter: "The local authorities have been friendly, supportive and even enthusiastic. The local school board has bought all our books and materials, to be returned to them when we are finished with them." Not every school board, of course, is so enlightened. Even so, families have avoided legal hassles by getting prior approval of their home-study program. Holt, for example, counsels a low profile. "The way not to do it is to go down to the school screaming." Any family thinking of home education must realize it poses serious hazards, even if legal problems can be avoided. Home education requires self-discipline and character. Parents must be prepared to work hard enough to insure that their children can do well on standardized tests. Home education, says Imperial School's Joseph Locke, is definitely only "for self-starters." The problem with home education that won't go away is something educators, in their awful jargon, call "social interaction." To a great extent, the dangers of your child's lack of "peer experience" (more awful jargon!) have been exaggerated. School is really an artificial social environment. During few other times in your life do you mix on a regular basis with so many different people. Nevertheless, most parents do want their children to be able to reasonably get along with other beings. As Romans 12:18 says, "as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." Obviously a good home education should allow students opportunities to meet with others their own age.
The Coming Revolution in Public Education
As a general rule, most of those involved in public schools, in particular the teachers' unions, are vehemently opposed to children escaping the meat-grinder-like approach of the public schools. Writing in Phi Delta Kappan, Virginia Davis Nordin and William Lloyd Turner, two scholars analyzed or described the growing number of "fundamentalist" schools, and describe them as "locked into rigid, theologically based positions on many issues while American society moves forward." Of course, what Ms. Nordin and Mr. Turner say is "forward" may be what the Bible says is degenerate and sinful. Grace Baisinger, "chairperson" of the National Coalition to Save Public Education, told a U.S. News & World Report interview, "We are concerned about the quality of the education program children will receive when they are enrolled in some of these fringe schools." Physician, heal thyself! Given the declining test scores, grade inflation, and abysmally low academic standards rampant in public schools, you wonder how anyone can say that "quality" of education is any kind of argument in favor of public schools! Yet in this world, none of the educational alternatives are really satisfactory. Public schools can be dens of violence and illiteracy, and, at best, still leave God out of the curriculum. Secular private schools will probably do a much better job of educating your child in secular knowledge, but still leave God out of the picture. Religious private schools may simply have the wrong religion. Home education requires special effort, and risks legal hassles and a smaller opportunity for your child to be with others his own age. Christ, when He returns to straighten out this world, will set things right. During His reign on earth, none of these drawbacks will exist. Until then, the choice depends on your own unique circumstances: where you live, the age of your children, your income, your ability to teach. The public schools remain, however, with serious problems. A concerned parent should feel at least morally entitled to take greater supervision over the education of his own children, whether they are in private school or home educated. There is a great struggle for the hearts of the children in Western society, between parents and an often secular, humanistic oriented public school system. And every parent whose child reaches school age must eventually deal with the system's claim on his child's life. In the United States, at least, the right to a non-government school education is constitutionally guaranteed. In upholding that right, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote some of the greatest words in the history of jurisprudence: "The child is not the mere creature of the state."