Public Education in America: What is Wrong and What Should We Do to Fix It?

I have heard it argued quite often that public education should be left to the states. Well, I just do not buy into the argument that the federal government should not be in charge of education. Sure “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) is as worthless a piece of legislation that ever was, but its failure does not prove that the federal government shouldn’t have a say in education expectations.

Are there problems with our education system? Yes, but those problems result more from a lack of uniformity from state to state, low expectations, restricted teacher creativity and lack of respect shown for the profession, and insufficient funding than they do anything else. The federal government, save NCLB, actually takes a very hands off approach, especially in comparison to countries that are out performing us, and always has, to education; leaving it mostly to the discretion of individual states, which, in turn, leave much of the decision making to each district. We have taken this approach for over a century, and it is not helping us. It is time to ditch the antiquated thought process, throw out NCLB, and start seriously examining and reforming our education system. The system is not unrepairable and it has, in many regards, served as rather well; for this reason, and the fact that education is the single best means by which to break the cycle of poverty amongst the poor and by which America can remain competitive, we need to reform it. The New Yorker has a good article on this point (1).

Firstly, we need uniformity; I speak from personal experience here. As anyone who has ever moved from one state to another, or several others, or from school district to school district will to tell you, there is no uniformity in our education system, much to its detriment. The quality of education a person receives in one state, or even district, may be better or worse than in another (2). Also, what and when one learns something differs too. Giving states all of the freedom to decide what can and cannot be taught is doing far more damage to the nation’s ability to compete in the global economy. We are falling behind in Science, Math, Reading. Why? Because we allow state school boards, which rarely, if ever, have actual educators on them, to dictate curriculum based upon personal ideology rather than information and fact. This is having a very negative outcome for American education; for instance, America currently ranks 29th, out of 57 countries studied, in Science (3).

Secondly, the argument made by H.L. Menken, that public education is about mediocrity and complacency rather than spreading enlightenment, is true, but only depending upon the state or school district being observed (4). I, for one, received a stellar education in a number of the public schools I have attended; but received a questionable one in others. For example, in Texas, I was taught more about Texas state history than US history; and, according to one school, all of the founding fathers were Christians. I was also taught that evolution has yet to proven; therefore, intelligent design is just as likely true. However,  Texas also  taught long division a full year ahead of when I would have learned it in my previous state, which meant that I was behind the other students and was required to attend summer school in order to catch-up.

Before middle-school, we moved to another state, and in the school that I attended for middle-school we did some pretty advanced scientific experiments; one of which was to create an artificial environment for plant life to determine how air quality effects plant growth. In my high-school English class we read “Catcher in the Rye,” “1984,” and “Brave New World,” and had to write papers about the potential socio-political implications, if any, these books have on our lives today. We were asked not only what we thought the authors were trying to convey in their own times; but what, if anything, we could learn about our own time. For the most part, I loved public school. I wouldn’t be where I am today, I would not know what I do, without it. I was encouraged to be creative, for the most part; sure, I had some experiences in a few schools in which teachers tried to stifle my creativity, but they were the exception, not the rule. If I had to make list of the top ten most influential people in my life, I am certain that at least half of them would be teachers I had in public school (see point #1 below for more on this).

Thirdly, and this is the real nail in the coffin to the claim that federal government is bad for education, before federal involvement, America was falling behind. During the 19th and first half of the 20th century most schools in the US did not teach science, this was mostly ideologically driven by people who saw the “new sciences” (e.g. evolution, geology) as undermining God’s word, as well as by misguided people who believed students would not be able to grasp the complexities of science and math. And, despite some out-cry from the scientific community, the federal government did nothing about it. Then, something happened that scared America into rethinking its stance on science, Sputnik. Following the launching of Sputnik, the federal government recognized the importance of a scientific education and began funding science programs nationwide and introduced education regulatory agencies. This involvement by the federal government took America from being at the tail-end of progress to being the ultimate destination for scientific inquiry and ingenuity; it was not until the 1980s, as federal involvement in education began to fall out of favor, that America began to fall behind again (5).

Public school and federal involvement are not the problem. The problem is how we approach the system and our attitude toward it. The “keep government out of it” point of view is actually what is destroying the quality of our education. When you compare the quality of education students in the US receive, at all grade levels, to other nations, we are failing. And what do many of these other countries have in common?

1) A unified national education standard (6). By this I do not mean standardization in the mediocre sense, which is what we already have with NCLB, but a  Core Curriculum as determined by educators and developmental psychologists, rather than by non-professionals and bureaucrats. We should have a national expectation and requirement for science, math, history, reading, English, etc. And these requirements should be determined by those actually trained in those fields. Furthermore, the teacher teaching math should actually have a degree in math. Too often in this country, school districts, usually for lack of funds, will hire an English teacher or a history teacher to teach math or science, or vice versa, because they’re desperate to have someone in the classroom; furthermore, we offer very little in the way of teacher training and support to ensure that they will perform well and stick with teaching (7).

2) They actually respect educators and value education (8). In this country we act as if teachers are more or less worthless; “those who can’t do, teach,” is a common phrase here in America. We’re more likely to revere the banker, the CEO, the athlete, the pop star, or the soldier over the people who dedicate their lives to teaching us to read, write, do math, and find New Jersey on a map. For this reason, it seems to me, we funnel more money every year into the DOD and subsidies for corporations than we do our education system (9). Whenever there’s a financial down-turn and cuts need to be made, what does each state and the federal government choose to cut first? Education (10). Plus, there is no oversight as to how the funding is spent. For example, in many cases superintendents earn as much as $200,000 a year (or more); and college presidents are earning as much as $400,000 (11). Meanwhile, public schools can’t afford new books or computers, and college tuition is rising in cost each year (12).

Yes, there is quite a bit wrong with our public school system. However, throwing in the towel and/or demanding even less involvement from the federal government will do us no good. What we need to is take a step back, look at the larger picture, and then re-approach it from various angles. We need bring in educators, scientists, historians, mathematicians, and developmental psychologists –you know, people who actually know a thing or two about teaching and who actually know something about the subjects being taught and how the human brain develops– and get them involved in creating an educational standard that is not only uniformed nationwide, but that focuses on the learning abilities of children and encourages scholarly study, critical thinking, and creativity.

Citations and articles of interest:

(1) http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/09/27/100927taco_talk_lemann

(2) http://www.cgcs.org/pdfs/EdWeek.pdf

http://www.educ.msu.edu/neweducator/fall00/Timss.htm

http://genip.tamu.edu/article2.htm

http://thegazette.com/2010/05/04/u-s-needs-national-standards-to-improve-education/

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/11/education/11educ.html?hp

(3) http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/09/13/national/main838207.shtml

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/12/07/us-falls-in-world-education-rankings_n_793185.html

http://www.upi.com/Top_News/2008/11/19/US-slipping-in-education-rankings/UPI-90221227104776/

(4) “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all: it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.” — H.L. Menckenhttp://thinkexist.com/quotation/the_aim_of_public_education_is_not_to_spread/181127.html

(5) http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=14829195

http%3A%2F%2Fadsabs.harvard.edu%2Fabs%2F2007APS..APR.T6002H

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/25/science/space/25educ.html

http://www.nationalacademies.org/sputnik/bybee2.htm

(6) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/02/15/AR2009021501257.html

http://www.commoncore.org/ourreports.php

https://www.ed.gov/news/speeches/lessons-high-performing-countries

(7) http://opportunityequation.org/news-press/all-purpose-teacher

http://www.nationalforum.com/Electronic%20Journal%20Volumes/Boyer,%20Ashley%20Problems%20Facing%20American%20Education.pdf

(8) http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/070318/26intro.htm

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/700123487/Improving-teacher-status-will-improve-test-scores-study-says.html

(9) There are some links and citations for this in a previous post:

https://takebackamericamovement.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/what-sort-of-society-do-we-want-to-be/

http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2011/02/04/Voter-Ignorance-Threatens-Deficit-Reduction.aspx

(10) http://www.ucforcalifornia.org/uc4ca/issues/alert/?alertid=46907516&type=ML

http://www.thetimesnews.com/news/funding-41140-state-lose.html

http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2011/03/12/thousands-protest-texas-school-budget-cuts/

http://www.pa2012.com/2011/03/corbett-budget-features-deep-education-cuts-tax-breaks-to-encourage-job-growth-pabudget/

http://articles.sfgate.com/2008-04-22/bay-area/17146141_1_billion-in-budget-cuts-higher-education-state-spending

(11) http://www.gcsaa.org/Newsroom/News-Releases/2011/June/GCSAA-superintendent-salaries-rise-despite-economic-challenges.aspx

http://www.philadelphiacontroller.org/page.asp?id=548http%3A%2F%2Fkansas.watchdog.org%2F214%2Flack-of-data-oversight-raises-questions-on-school-spending%2F

(12) http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2010/06/19/103194/perry-textbooks/

http://www.waschoolexcellence.org/[catpath]/12

http://www.waschoolexcellence.org/share_your_storieshttp://chronicle.com/article/College-Presidents-Salaries/63874

http://chronicle.com/article/Presidents-Defend-Their-Pay-as/126971/http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=5846470&page=1


© Karen Lyn and Take Back America, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author(s) and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn, author post authors as listed on this blog, and Take Back America with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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The Myth of Sharia Law in America

Now, before I begin, I want to stress that I do not equate the following people with all Christians, nor am I arguing that their beliefs and actions are indicative of Christianity as whole; however, they have a significant following and are public figures, which makes their words and deeds a potential danger to our society as a whole.

There has been much talk, exaggerated and down-right crazy talk, among a number of uber-conservative “Christians,” from politicians like Michelle Bachmann to religious mouth-pieces like Pat Robertson, that Islamic Sharia Law is being imposed upon Americans. You see, what I find most ironic, in the disturbing sort of way, about such claims is that it is not the Muslims who are trying to implement some sort of religio-fascist law on America; rather, it is uber-conservative, pseudo-Christians, like Bachmann and Robertson, who are actually trying to do that very thing. Let’s look at some of the things these people advocate, shall we?

1) Anti-feminism: According to many uber-right wingers and pseudo-Christians, “radical” feminism is destroying America. Basically, women should, for the sake of their country, just recognize and accept that men, in many cases, are superior to them and should focus first and foremost on being what God intended them to be, wives and mothers. According to Teapublican darling, Michelle Bachmann, and CBN founder, Pat Robertson, one of the worst things about Sharia Law, and Islam in general, is the anti-woman stance it supposedly has. Yet, many of these “Sharia Law” decriers advocate limiting women’s rights. For example:

a) Keeping women out of combat: In Muslim nations where what we call Sharia Law (which, by the way, is not exactly what we think it to be — see links #1 below), like Saudi Arabia and Eritrea, women are kept from doing a number of things from driving to joining the military to even enjoying sex (see link #2 — warning, it’s disturbing). None of this is actually supported by the Qu’ran; in fact, some of Islam’s most important warrior heroes were women. Furthermore, the Qu’ran teaches that women should be educated in the same way as men, and that sexual pleasure is a must for both husbands and wives (see links #3; for a searchable on-line Qu’ran, see link #4). There are many people on the right-wing who advocate barring American women from combat, from Robert Bork, who wrote, “Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline,” to columnist and political pundit, Kate O’ Briene, to Pat Robertson himself (see links #5). This stance against women in combat roles is not unlike the “Sharia Law” some people on the right seem to fear so deeply.

b) Redefining rape to limit women’s reproductive rights: We’ve all heard of the shining piece of crazy turned legislation, HR3, entitled “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which passed the GOP controlled House last month (see links #6). Uber-right wingers, such as Chris Smith (R-NJ), who sponsored the bill, and *every* conservative in the House (all Republicans and 16 conservatives Democrats—oxymoron, I know) voted to draw a line of distinction between forcible rape and statutory rape; or “didn’t ask for it, entirely,” vs. “asked for it.” I put it in this way because, essentially, that is the distinction being made here. The former, “forcible rape,” refers only to those incidents of rape in which a woman is beaten and/or held at gun or knife point. Whereas the latter, “statutory rape,” refers to all incidents of rape in which the victim knows or is acquainted with her attacker(s) and/or was drugged or coerced, even verbally threatened with physical violence, by her attacker(s); this includes “date rape” and incidents of incest. This attempt by the uber-conservatives to redefine rape is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to re-victimize the victim by not only making the victim take the blame for happened to her, “well, maybe you shouldn’t have gotten drunk” or “maybe you shouldn’t have been dressed like that,” and by forcing her to carry to term a pregnancy that was forced upon her. Rape, no matter how people (namely men) who have never endured it choose to try and define it, is a very traumatic experience for the victim. To tell a woman, no matter her age, that she wasn’t raped enough to qualify for a medical procedure is not only immoral, it’s inhuman. Furthermore, regardless of how any of us feels about abortion, it is a deeply personal and emotional decision. When a woman has to make that decision, she agonizes over it, she’s scared, and she’s usually in some kind of distressing situation: she’s too young, she’s too poor, she’s on her own with no one to help her, she’s been raped, she has health problems. Limiting a woman’s access to abortion services, especially by redefining rape, is not going to stop abortions, it is only going to make them more dangerous. This latest assault by the uber-right wing/pseudo-Christians on women’s reproductive rights is, in every way, exactly like the anti-woman stance of Sharia Law against which so many of them pretend to rail.

c) Women should dress with men’s lust in mind: We have all seen the images of women from Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia donning the burqua, the head to toe cover-up so often associated with Sharia Law. The point to such extreme dress codes within ultra-conservative Muslim countries, which is an exaggeration of the dress code for which the prophet Muhammad actually calls in the Qu’ran, is because it is believed that the mere sight of even a woman’s wrist could lead men into uncontrollable lust. This claim is not unique to those Muslims who support forcing women to wear the burqua, in fact many Christians, even some who consider themselves fairly liberal, argue that women should be more mindful of how they dress so as to not provoke the lust of men (see links #7). Telling a woman that it is her responsibility to prevent men’s lust by covering herself as much as she can is nothing more than a means by which to absolve the man of his own responsibility to learn to control his own urges. The argument being made by the preacher in the article from jezebel.com , and those who think like him, is that if a man looks upon a woman with lust it’s because she dressed in way that made him do so. Again, this sounds an awful lot like the anti-Woman stance of the supposedly nigh Sharia Law.

2) Preventing Same-sex Relations in General: As with any of the Abrahamic traditions, and most other present-day religions, homosexuality if frowned upon in Islam, regardless of the interpretation of Sharia Law. Christianity has been no different; although not all modern Christians advocate homophobia or are anti-gay/lesbian, nor do all Muslims or Jews or Hindus, etc. However, as a whole most present-day religious traditions teach that being gay/lesbian is a sin. In extremely conservative Muslim nations, where rigid interpretations of Sharia Law are enforced, being gay/lesbian will not only prevent you from entering into certain social institutions, like marriage or military service; it is punishable by imprisonment and/or death. Now, while no one, of whom I am aware, on the far right has advocated the death penalty for same-sex relations, they do advocate barring same-sex couples from being able to marry, adopt children, serve in the military, and a number of them even advocate bringing back anti-sodomy laws (see links #8). 

3) No Secularism: Many uber-right wing and pseudo-Christians have, once again, begun pushing for the Christian state. According to the likes of Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Pat Toomey, and Pat Robertson, America is a Christian nation. From the first days at Plymouth Rock to the framing of the Constitution, Christianity is the law of the land according to them. Never mind that the word “God” is never mentioned in the Constitution and, while we are at it, let us just ignore the anti-establishment clause and the promise of religious freedom as laid out in the First Amendment or the fact that the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797 explicitly states that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.” Clearly, despite this evidence and a plethora of others, America is a Christian nation. This is exactly the kind of Sharia Law they claim to oppose: code of conduct and/or laws based upon religious teachings (see links #9). The only difference is that the version they support is based (somewhat loosely) upon the Judeo-Christian Bible rather than the Qu’ran. Nevertheless, forced adherence to religiously derived law is forced adherence to religiously derived law no matter how you try to cut it. 

4) No Democracy: We hear it said by the extreme right all the time, Muslim extremists and supporters of Sharia Law hate Democracy and will stop at nothing to prevent it. Wait a minute…this sounds awfully familiar. Didn’t Michigan governor, Rick Snyder, just sign a law which, under the guise of fixing the budget, dissolves democratically elected local governments? Yes, he did. Furthermore, the GOP in several states is attempting to place restrictions on citizen participation in the democratic process by implementing voter ID schemes (see links #10).

My point here, should anyone have misunderstood, is not to claim that religio-fascist laws are coming to America beyond a shadow of doubt, rather it is to point out the hypocrisy of these Islamaphobes. In reality most, if not everything, they claim to fear about Sharia Law are things that they actually support; from limiting the freedom to marry to controlling the lives of women, the “Christian” extreme-right have far more in common with extremist Muslims (not to be confused with all Muslims) than they care to admit. Furthermore, there is a real if only marginal threat here, one that we should not ignore: The “Christian” right honestly believes, of that I have no doubt, the things they say. They truly believe that same-sex marriage, abortion, and secularism are destroying America, despite the fact that the latter is the basis of our Constitution. They honestly want a nation whose laws are based upon their interpretation of the Bible. For these reasons we should not dismiss them as merely stupid or crazy, nor should we underestimate their determination to remake America in their own image. Islamic Sharia Law is not coming to America, not if the “Christian” right have any say in it; rather, if they had their way, we’d all be living under a forced religious state of their imagining.

Sources :
1) http://www.religioustolerance.org/islsharia.htm
http://www.cfr.org/religion/islam-governing-under-sharia/p8034

2) http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs241/en/

3) http://www.dhushara.com/book/zulu/islamp/brooks/nine.htm

http://books.google.com/books?id=AEF6t0wDRKQC&pg=PA20&lpg= PA20&dq=women+warriors+in+islam&source=bl&ots= IQoWUdfNPT&sig=czOBJC5eTXEebkCJ0ubEPgCAAFU&hl= en&ei=GwTtTZDkB8TJgQeVoe3YCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct= result&resnum=10&sqi=2&ved=0CF4Q6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=women%20warriors%20in%20islam&f=false

4) http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/quran/

5) http://paloverdevalleytimes.com/main.asp?SectionID=36&SubsectionID=73&ArticleID=15478
http://www.rightwingnews.com/interviews/kateo.php
http://www.mediaite.com/tv/pat-robertson-liberal-women-get-abortions-to-get-on-level-playing-field-with-lesbians/

6) http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/04/redefine-rape-hr-3-abortion-stealth

http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2011/05/04/163656/house-gop-hr3/

7) http://jezebel.com/5788765/christian-men-beg-women-not-to-dress-like-sluts

http://www.achristianhome.org/ModestFeminine/ModestyFeminineAttireIndex.htm

http://www.twopaths.com/faq_dress.htm

http://traciscottage.com/2006/04/21/modest-dress-christian-femininity/

http://bibleforums.org/showthread.php/132715-Women-should-dress-modestly

8) http://www.politicususa.com/en/bachmann-gay-light-bulbs

http://bible.org/article/homosexuality-christian-perspective

http://www.alternet.org/sex/103041/conservatives_push_hard_for_gay_marriage_ban/

http://motherjones.com/mojo/2011/04/map-has-your-state-banned-sodomy

http://videogoneviral.com/2011/01/rick-santorum-makes-really-strange-racial-comment-but-hes-totally-anti-gay/

http://www.atheistnexus.org/forum/topics/pat-robertson-misses-the-good-1

http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/j/jerry_falwell.html

9) http://www.cfr.org/religion/islam-governing-under-sharia/p8034

http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/bar1796t.asp

http://www.usconstitution.net/constnot.html#god

http://www.usconstitution.net/xconst_Am1.html

http://www.politicususa.com/en/theocrat-sarah-palin

http://www.baptiststandard.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=12554&Itemid=53

10) http://detroit.cbslocal.com/2011/03/17/gov-snyder-on-efm-bill-and-more/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/12/us-wisconsin-voter-id-idUSTRE74B0WR20110512

http://www.texasobserver.org/component/k2/item/17879-voter-id-signed-into-law

© Karen Lyn and Take Back America, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Lyn and Take Back America with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.