Sunday, December 13, 2009


I have a good friend who is a prominent lawyer with the city of San Diego. He is an African- American man and one day we were debating the merits of affirmative action. I believe affirmative action is simply racism. I don't understand how giving some one preferential treatment in college applications and employment based on your race is any better than denying someone an education or employment based on your race. They are both wrong and two wrongs do not make a right. His argument was that his grade school education was so substandard that if it were not for affirmative action he would never have been able to get a college education. My response was that the solution was to solve the problem at it's root rather than trying to correct the problem after it has been created.

I know that the little black kid in the slums is every bit as intelligent as the rich white kid in the suburbs so I tried to figure out why the white kid could easily end up with a scholarship to college and the black kid will be lucky to graduate. I decided that the difference is homework. The kid in the suburbs will be sent home with hours of homework and his parents will make sure he gets it done. The kid in the slums will be sent home with hours of homework and never do it. His dad disappeared years ago and his mother is working two jobs and will come home late and very tired. It is my firm belief that school work should be done at school and no one should be sent home with more school work to do. I know for a fact that many projects are done by the parents and if you run into problems with math most parents can't help you anyway so why not do your homework at school where you can get some help if you need it? Many of the younger rich kids are also enrolled in after school programs where they get even more help on their school work and so they have an additional advantage over the poor kids.

If it were up to me, school would go until 5:00 just like most adults jobs do. Your formal classes would end at 2:00 or 3:00 and then you have two or three hours of homework time. This is when you write your essays and study your math. If you run into problems there will be teachers there to help you. If you are an "A" student you can participate in other activities like school sports or band or drama etc. but if you're struggling in any of your classes you stay in study hall. This way the inner city kids who never do their homework will have the exact same opportunity to study as anyone else. Staying until 5:00 would actually help the single mother or families where both parents work (which seems to be most families now days) and for anyone who does school sports, getting home after 5:00 is already normal.

Speaking of the "A" student, I would also get rid of grades. To me, a "C" in a subject simply means you don't know the subject very well. I would only have a "pass" or a "fail". If you know your material you pass, if you don't, you keep studying until you do know it. Ben is taking calculus in college and he is struggling not because he doesn't understand calculus but because he doesn't have a good grip on the algebra. How did he ever get to college without learning algebra?

I would also get rid of grades levels such as grade one, grade two etc. and break all of the subject matter down into units or concepts that can typically be taught in a few weeks. When you pass the test for one concept you proceed to the next concept. For example, teaching the times tables could be a concept. Until you know your times tables you do not proceed to the next stage of math. For people who are struggling with a concept you can take an extended version of the concept over a longer period of time. If you find yourself struggling with a concept and you fear you may not pass you can simply switch into the extended version and take it at a slower pace. The way the system is now, if you struggle with a class you could lose an entire semester. You could also challenge the test at any time and test out of the class if you want. This would allow the brighter kids to advance quickly and it would allow the kids who are struggling to get the help that they need. Once you have passed all of the concepts then you graduate from school.

I would also get the government out of the education business. The government should set the standards but leave the teaching up to the private schools. I would do this with the voucher system. Do you realize that some states spend more than $13,000 per student per year? In a class room with 30 kids that is $390,000. The teacher gets a mere fraction of that and the rest goes to support an inflated bureaucracy. Tell me that a private school couldn't give those kids a better education for a lot less money. I would give each parent of a child a voucher that they can give to any school they want to educate their child. This would force the schools to compete with each other and the poor performing schools will simply die away. If the public schools want to compete with the private schools they're welcome to try but they will have to trim down their overhead. I firmly believe that this system will reward the good teachers with a lot more money and give the students a much better education.

Finnish school kids have consistently scored first place in standardized tests for the sciences even though the cost per student is a fraction of what it is in the states. This is largely due to the freedom given Finnish teachers who have a high degree of freedom in what they teach and how they teach it.


Pete said...

The comment section is not a good place to have a discussion but I wanted to point out a few things.
First, you make the assumption that all kids in the slums are children of dead-beat dads and single mothers. That's not true. And I would argue that even for the rare child in the ghetto who does all his homework and gets good grades, he still faces obstacles that middle-upper class white children don't face. I'm not saying that affirmative action doesn't frustrate me, I'm just saying that I think there is a difference in opportunity for children of difference race and socioeconomic status.
Also, I don't think the issue is homework as much as it is where the children see the rewards. Children in the ghetto don't see much beyond the ghetto. So for them the most reinforcing behavior is crime and drugs, because the results are immediately visible. Whereas, I think for upper-middle class people the emphasis on long term rewards and consequences is more apparent.
Just a few thoughts to add. It really warrants much more discussion. Thanks for bringing up the issue.

Fred ... said...

You're right, this is a poor place for a discussion but I appreciate your commenting anyway. Your point is exactly why I think we need to have the school voucher to go along with this. Vouchers allow the kids who really do want to escape the slums to attend the school of their choice. You are much more familiar with life in the slums than I am so I would love to have this discussion with you some time.

Lynn said...

I just want to say that your comment about no more homework being sent home and that all of it should be done during school hours where there is help available from a teacher is BANG on!!!! Dean and I have been discussing this very thing for a couple of weeks now. It's getting so that teachers send homework home with our kids with NO class discussion or lesson previously given on the subject that they are sent home with....... Only instructions that they are to learn it from another source........ Mom or dad usually is at the top of the list..

If I wanted to home school, then my kids would be home all day and I would be home schooling. I am sending my kids to public school with expectations that the teachers (who are being paid with my taxes) are teaching the lessons there. There is hours of homework that kids are doing each night. It's like each teacher of each subject thinks they are the only ones sending any homework home.....forgetting that the students have SEVERAL other classes and homework assignments for the day.

The problem is getting so out of hand that Dean and I are prepared to sign the petition or help support this local man who has been in the papers lately regarding this issue. He's is trying to get nightly homework banned from all the schools within our city. I hope he wins. It really is a huge problem.

Oh.....and I also agree somewhat about the levels of education that one child gets and another does not due to their race, background or financial situation. Dean and I also feel it is unfair, that one child has to work a part time job all through high school, while another does not because his parents have the means. Guess which child gets a LOT farther in their post secondary education than the other. Life certainly is unfair in a lot of areas, but this one certainly takes the cake.

We remember a day when you could apply to a college or trade school or whatever, without all the prerequisites. Any person from any background could apply.....go to school and LEARN how to do what it is that they wish for WHEN they got to the college or school. have to KNOW a certain level before you even get there. For example.....if you want to go and study music you have to have several certificates in music or show a video or CD of what it is that you have already achieved. OR if you want to go into Fashion, then you have to send in a complete hand sewn outfit or man's suit that you have sewn showing all the types of sewing skills that they ask for.....

I totally disagree. This gives those kids who's parents had the means and money to give those kids all the private lessons and skills they wanted during their childhood to have these prerequisites completed (already) before their post secondary education. And those kids, who's parents did not have the chance what so ever of ever entering a college to learn the things they wanted or dreamed of doing.

And yes I am totally speaking from experience.

Dean too. He applied to Rick's to gain a college certificate in drafting. He went and learned. Never having picked up a drafting tool before in his life. It truly has blessed him having that education. We as a family continue to be blessed from that education. Now? Well.....if he tried to do that now?.......he would not even be accepted. He would be expected to show some of his skills as a draftsman FIRST when applying to go.

This is just one example.

Anyway.....I will get off my soap box now...; D

Thanks for the great post! Lot's to think about.

Lynn said...

KarinC said...

Our kids have gone to school in 5 different states. It would be good to take the best of each system and create a system that would be acceptable in each state. I also would love to see the schools but more effort into the learning style of the so called average child.
I love education. Would love to see it advance into the 21st century.
KarinC and RickC