We as citizens have a duty to enforce standards on all levels of our political system. A fundamental truism of life states that we get what we tolerate. This is especially true of our local and muncipal governments who often operate in the shadows due to voter apathy. A recent, small-town courtroom drama gives us insight on why our nation's underperforming school systems are a terrible plague on America.
Prosecutor: Where did you go to high school?
Cabrera: In 1986.
In, um…in 1983.
Excuse me—I asked you when—where did you go to high school?
After, uh, high school, um, I went to college.
And where did you go—
[Judge Nelson interrupts]
Nelson: Just a moment. Mrs. Cabrera, you can step down. You can go back there.
-Alejandrina Cabrera (HT: Takimag.com)
It was clear from the judicial hearing above that poor Alejandrina Cabrera encounters significant difficulties communicating in the English language. This handicap did not seem to deter Mrs. Cabrera from seeking a seat on the San Luis City, AZ City Council. Judge Nelson, asked to rule on her fitness to serve on a city council, decided that fundamental literacy in the English language was a basic job requirement to govern in an American municipality. Carbrera’s attorney predictably demurred. The case is pending appeal.
While an undercurrent of failed immigration policies flows through Alejandrina Cabrera’s travails, it should shock no sentient reader that she graduated an American public high school an illiterate sporting a diploma. She then graduated an American university still an English illiterate. This involves an American public school not properly teaching her English. She only speaks proper Spanish because her parents put effort into teaching her to properly communicate.
American public education has abandoned what works. Many failured American public schools have invested heavily in new technology, but have failed to teach the childrenwhat to do with these machines. Schools have also opted to treat behavioral problems with pharmaceutical cocktails. If a child is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), they won’t let him even enroll unless he’s on Ritalin.
We now see evidence that spending on computers is not producing the workforce of the future. Instead, we are sliding backwards. The computer, like a pick-axe, can be useful when applied to a certain type of task. However, the computer is no more likely to make your child a genius than the pick-axe. It cannot improve either the teachers or the curriculum. A New York Times article describes the results of computer-based curriculums.
Since 2005,(when the classroom digitized) scores in reading and math have stagnated in Kyrene, even as statewide scores have risen….In a nutshell: schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.
- Matt Richtel (New York Times)
Ritalin also became a popular treatment for students with ADD. Students not paying adequate attention to school lessons were diagnosed with ADD and rapidly put on Ritalin. This appeared to be an intelligent solution to the problems these children were having.
In 1973, I reviewed the literature on drug treatment of children for The New England Journal of Medicine. Dozens of well-controlled studies showed that these drugs immediately improved children’s performance on repetitive tasks requiring concentration and diligence. I had conducted one of these studies myself. Teachers and parents also reported improved behavior in almost every short-term study.
- L. Alan Sroufe (New York Times)
But then human physiology kicks in. The children react to Ritalin the same way they would react to any other addictive substance. The human body develops a tolerance, and it doesn’t produce the desired effect at a safe dosage. The body is simply used to the drugs being there. Dr. Sroufe explains this effect.
But in fact, the loss of appetite and sleeplessness in children first prescribed attention-deficit drugs do fade, and, as we now know, so do the effects on behavior. They apparently develop a tolerance to the drug, and thus its efficacy disappears.
Dr. Sroufe goes further in his indictment of Ritalin prescription.
To date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships or behavior problems, the very things we would most want to improve….Drugs get everyone — politicians, scientists, teachers and parents — off the hook. Everyone except the children, that is.
This problem is one that we can help solve on a local level. Municipal School Board elections have notoriously low turnout. Get 500 other parents concerned about whether the local school makes prescription drugs mandatory for any child diagnosed as ADD, and you really could swing a School Board District in a mid-sized municipality.
People often pay no more attention to the politics of a school system than the “ADD” children pay to their lessons. As taxpayers in most communities and municipalities we will be subsidizing the public school system with every deduction from our paycheck or sales tax at the local grocery store.
If parents aggressively asked questions to the school personnel, maybe these same parents would no longer have to pay private school tuitions to make sure their children learned reading, writing and arithmetic. How will technology be used to enhance instead of replace vital basic intellectual skills? Is it there to help or replace the teachers? Can the school psychologist in your district order an ADD child onto Ritalin at the threat of expulsion from the public school system?
You may be pleasantly surprised by how your particular school system answers all of the questions above. However, if you aren’t asking them, and you still send your kids to the local public school, you may not like what your children tell you when they get home. Be an active and participating citizen when the school board and the town council stand for local elections. If you want your kids to have good and effective public schools, set a positive example as a parent and do this homework assignment.
P.S. The author of this blog is an active and participating parent at The Montessori School where his oldest child attends Kindergarten.