Rich Howell: Failures of education | TheUnion.com

Rich Howell: Failures of education

Other Voices
Rich Howell

As a retired educator, nothing fires me up faster than opinion pieces like that offered by Norm Sauer. Unwittingly, Mr. Sauer makes a different case for the failures of education than he intends.

Had we, as educators, done better when Mr. Sauer was in school, he would have documented his "facts" and separated them from his biases.

Beginning with the facts, Mr. Sauer, vouchers won't facilitate minorities being able to secure a better education for their children. The American poor, for the most part, lack the resources to support charter school educations, unless such schools provide transportation and day care for the working class parents. Vouchers, which make private forms of education more affordable, don't cover such costs. It is the well-to-do who want the public to underwrite the segregation of their children in private schools who take advantage of vouchers. They don't see why they should have to support public schools when they don't send their children to school with the lower classes. That, Mr. Sauer, is what the research shows.

It is not poverty, per se, that makes inner city schools inferior. Anyone who has paid any attention at all to educational statistics for the past century knows that achievement scores follow socioeconomic lines. In our own community, the wealthier members of our community live in Nevada City or South County, and so test scores are higher there than in Grass Valley or the distant reaches of Penn Valley, which has a working class and retired base.

Not defending obstructionist politics ... the art of compromise has been thrown aside, leaving an NFL-like competition for control.

Working class folks are not "bad" parents, but being "good" parents is more difficult for them. First, so many are single-parent or two-income families. Their children, beginning nearly at birth, receive less of the intellectual and social nourishment that children of the more well-to-do receive. Children who are enriched with lots of face-to-face interaction, emotional support, and enriching activities come to school miles ahead of their less enriched peers. Children of the poor, on average, begin school with half the vocabulary of those who received significant individual attention between birth and five years — and the gap widens as children move through school.

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And it is here, Mr. Sauer, that we must look into your partisan bias. Folks who are isolated and fail to reach out beyond their circle of friends for information, tend to confuse their group's "common knowledge" and philosophies with "Truth." For example, the Republican Party complains that teachers' unions are the reason that Democrats fight innovation in schools. As a former union member, I was aware that my union supported pro-education initiatives and candidates. I'd argue, though, that we had little choice. Republican policies have not been supportive of education for all.

Teachers, and their unions, strive to advance education. Sadly, improvement in education is a slow process. Progress is being made in the face of an economic, social, and thanks to folks like you, Mr. Sauer, political environment that makes the public school teacher's job increasingly difficult. And teachers are human, just like you Mr. Sauer. They rely greatly on past experience, making innovation slow and difficult. Mrs. DeVos advocates nothing that will lead us to better educational practice.

You take Congressional Democrats to task for aggressively challenging Mrs. DeVos. What, I ask you, did Congressional Republicans do with cabinet choices of President Obama? What, in fact, have Congressional Republicans done and continue to do to this very day? Not defending obstructionist politics, I'm noting that in contemporary American politics, the art of compromise has been thrown aside, leaving an NFL-like competition for control. I have no doubt, that as recently as last fall, you supported the same sort of Republican tactics that you now decry as obstructionist and uncivil when practiced by the Democratic party.

Mr. Sauer, you paint a positive picture of the "Great America" that the Republican majority will construct, and you equally impugn the motives of the Democrats. There are some whose concern for America transcends your partisan frenzy. We see the poor getting poorer and a president who's vowed to reduce taxes for the rich. We see working class folks struggling to make ends meet and a President and Congress which is intent on enriching corporate America, while thousands lose minimal protections. We see immigrants, most who make significant contributions to our culture and economy, vilified by politicians hoping gain political advantage by appealing to the basest instincts.

Yes, Mr. Sauer, our educational system has failed, and I for one think you and your fellow Republicans are the proof.

Rich Howell lives in Nevada City.

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