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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Do we invest in preschools or prisons? Really Mr Kristof?

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times writer who writes interesting columns about human rights issues around the world, every now and then veers off into talking about education, a subject he clearly doesn't understand. Maybe he thinks he understands it because he went to Harvard, or maybe the Times is telling him to push their schooling agenda. I don’t know. What I do know is this week he wrote the following column:

The headline of this column was:

Do We Invest in Preschools or Prisons?

Really? Is that our choice? Lately the Obama administration has been pushing pre-kindergarten as something the government should invest in and force  upon all children. Just what kids need -- more school. The idea that the choice is preschool or prison is an interesting one. It comes from the fact that people in prisons are disproportionally undereducated, poor, and not likely to be white. While all of this may be true, pre-kindergarten would not solve the problem.

As it happens, my granddaughter is in pre-K right now. The other day she recited the planets to me. She had no idea what a planet was, but she knew their names. Well, that will certainly keep her out of prison. Oh, wait. She wasn’t going to be going to prison because she has caring, educated parents and she is not poor. 

How is pre-K supposed to fix the very serous problem of the giant underclass that we have in this country? One way to understand this issue is to listen to the parents of these underclass children speak. They sound as you would expect, not educated and incapable of speaking English clearly or forming coherent thoughts. But would they speak better English and have clearer thinking if we made them go to school more? 

Actually, adults who have these at risk children (who need pre-K) did go to school.   Typically they are high school graduates who still can’t speak well, can’t think clearly, and they cannot parent well either. Probably they weren’t parented well themselves. School did not fix this.

Why is that?

It is because the high school curriculum they took is absurd. The issue is not teaching kids the names of the planets when they are four nor is it teaching them about amoebas or George Washington when they are fifteen. The issue is teaching teenagers how to manage their own lives. Could we teach them how to be parents? Could we teach them how to make a living? Could we teach them how to have better human relationships? No, clearly we cannot, because that is not what high school teaches.

Mr Obama and Mr Kristof don’t seem to understand this because there is a school lobby run by Bill Gates and the testing companies that has effectively taken over education. That lobby wants to sell more school, more tests, and less freedom to determine what it is you may want to learn about.

Let’s imagine for a moment that instead of teaching every teenager algebra we taught them how to reason clearly about their own lives. Let’s imagine that instead of teaching them English Literature and asking them to write papers about what DIckens’ main themes were, we taught them to speak well, diagnose their problems, and write a clear plan about how to accomplish something they want to accomplish. Let’s imagine that instead of teaching them to memorize facts about plants or planets we taught them to take care of their own health needs or taught them to reason from evidence.

Mr Kristof, here are some curricula, any one of which would be better than what we have in our high schools now. 

  1. Criminal Justice
  2. Software Development  
  3. Run a Small Business
  4. The Music Business
  5. The Legal Curriculum
  6. Create a Webzine  
  7. Robotics 
  8. Medical Decision Making 
  9. Scientific Reasoning
  10. Community Planning
  11. The Fashion Industry
  12. Engineering
  13. Computer Networking
  14. Homeland Security
  15. Medical Technology
  16. Construction
  17. Computer Technology
  18. Television Production
  19. Real Estate Management
  20. Landscape Architecture
  21. The Banking Industry
  22. Automobile Design
  23. Architecture
  24. Biotechnology Lab 
  25. Film Making
  26. Travel Planning
  27. Financial Management
  28. Parenting and child care
  29. Animal care
  30. Urban Transit
  31. Hotel management
  32. Health care industry
  33. Food industry
  34. Graphic Arts

Make better parents and you won’t have to shove pre-K down everyone’s throats. Keep teaching more math and science and you will need more prisons. Why? Because only a small percentage of students will care about, or will succeed at, math and science. Teach parenting and job skills in high school, and you will need less prisons.

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