LETTER from DOUGLAS GEERTGENS
In a previous essay, I asked; Why Do We Have Schools?
Parents and other family members took on the major responsibility for teaching children whatever it was they thought they should know. As in much of the animal kingdom, the adults play a very important role in teaching their young what they need to know to survive. We are born and eventually we die. Those who best learn how to survive, usually live the longest. But is that really true for us humans?
My mother used to say, “ignorance is bliss.” There are times that I believe her, but in most cases, ignorance will not get you very far in life. When settlers first came to the New World, they embarked on a bold adventure. There were new challenges and survival was just one of them. After living in relative freedom for over 100 years, the rule of the King began to take its toll on some of those freedoms. From this frustration came the words; “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Where does that quote come from? If you cannot answer that question, then our schools have failed. The founding fathers realized that if each generation after them were not taught about the reasons for the revolution and the documents developed as a result of their frustrations with the king, then the experiment would fail. They knew the importance of teaching the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States to future generations. That is one answer to the title question.
In the early days of our country, our society had that role. Parents had that role.
As the years passed, formal schools were created, and they took on the responsibility of teaching about our founding. As more years passed, it seems that the importance of that part of history has taken a back seat or even been ejected from the vehicle we now depend on for educating our population. I, for one, still feel that it is one of the expectations we all should have for schools. But beyond the teaching about the founding documents, what else might we want schools to teach our children? Schools were charged with teaching the three Rs. They might commonly be known as Reading, Writing and “Rithmetic.” Educationalist Louis P. Bénézet preferred, “to read,” “to reason,” “to recite.”
Today, if a student emerged from our schools knowing about and appreciating the importance of our country’s founding and were able to read, reason, and recite or speak the English language, most could find their way in this world. But, what else should schools be teaching? Should they be teaching manners? Should they be stressing right from wrong? I am reminded of a poster I once saw that was titled: “All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.” I will not copy it here, but I feel it is very accurate. Look it up and read through it.
Most schools in the U.S. now mandate students attend classes until they meet certain graduation requirements or reach the age of 17. If all you needed to know was learned in kindergarten, what else do we fill the ensuing 12 or so years with? Yes, the three R’s filled in a lot of the time. Trades were learned. Science concepts found their way into the curriculum. As the world seemed to “shrink” and people moved from place to place more quickly, learning a different language than what was native to you seemed to be of value. Technology took on a more important role with the inclusion of the emphasis on STEM. Not only were these things all included in the curriculum but society, via government agencies, began to demand that they be taught, and guidelines were established to ensure that all students attained certain standards in the different areas.
Initially, local communities through their boards of educations, oversaw the functioning of the schools and were responsible for raising funds to operate the schools. Individual states became involved in helping to fund schools. As state governments began to exert more control over schools through financing, they also tied financing to a school’s record of attaining standards that they now have set. Then we find that the federal government got into the act. Money was floated to schools through grants or other programs. With this money came expectations and dependency. With this dependency comes leverage and as we can see today, our federal and state governments are playing an ever- increasing role in WHAT is being taught in the schools. Mandates are created.
Schools are being forced to comply.
Sadly, many have come to accept this government oversight and direction as the way it must be. It does not have to be this way.
“We the people” can take back control of the schools and more importantly, what is being taught in the schools, as it should be. Get involved. Find out what is being taught. Do not leave the teaching of our most important resource, our children, to chance.
Douglas Geertgens is a
Elementary School principal.