Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Get Rid of the Public Schools

At a park near where I live, every morning there are a dozen or so high-school drop-outs who gather and socialize. They sit in a circle under a tree. They aren’t employed, and I suspect probably never will be. Or if they are, it’ll be some minimum-wage job. Fast food, perhaps. And if they never end up employed, then they’ll live on welfare, which means they’re parasites.

These kids may have been “schooled,” but they sure haven’t been educated.

Schooling is one thing; education is another.

I define “schooling” as the public schools and as such is based on the Political Means, i.e. force and fraud. Education is what you get when you remove the State from interfering in “education.” It’s voluntary.

Of course sometimes there is education in the public schools. Even they can generally teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Beyond that, though, they start to collapse – and that collapse has been going on for a long time.

Since “schooling” is involuntary, public schools are essentially prisons (my high school had no windows). For some, boring prisons, which is one out of many kinds of torture. It certainly was for me, which I why I daydreamed all the time and barely did my homework.

I’d have to agree with the late Ray Bradbury on this one: if there have to be schools, they shouldn’t do anything else but teach kids to read and write and do arithmetic. He claims math doesn’t exist in real life, and for most people it doesn’t. How many people who aren’t mathematicians ever use algebra in real life? No one, for all practical purposes.

I once had a girlfriend who has an MBA in Accounting and Finance. She had to take a calculus course twice to pass it (she told me it “didn’t click” until the second attempt). Does she ever use calculus? No.

I taught myself basic statistics and probability theory. I don’t use statistics except now I know when I’m being lied to (“lies, damned lies, and statistics”). I never use the probability theory (and notice that I taught myself both).

For that matter, you can teach the basis of probability theory to a six-year-old, say, how to figure how many possible outcomes there would be to ten coin-flips. (“Well, dad, 10 coin-flips would be 2 to the 10th power, so that would be 1024 possible outcomes.”)

Incidentally, I once read my six-year-old nephew a newspaper article about economics (he was whittling a stick and I thought wasn’t paying attention). When I asked him if he understood what I had read to him, he said, “Sure, when the price goes down people buy more. When the price goes up people buy less.” I just stared at him.

I never learned a thing beyond the first grade. Even in college I had perhaps six classes which were worth anything. That’s less than a year in college. This means my 17 years of schooling could have been done in two years.

I learned most of what I know by checking books out of the library and wandering around looking at tadpoles and wondering how they turned into frogs (or mud puppies). Or wondering why my car wouldn’t start. Or why my computer broke down.

The only time I ever enjoyed school was when I went to summer school a few months before I turned 12. I took two classes. Each was probably about 30 minutes long, with a half-an-hour break between them. I wasn’t in school more than an hour-and-one-half, and I remember the classes I took: German and oceanography. I enjoyed my time there immensely.

I don’t remember the names of any of the classes I took in grade school, middle school or high school. (By the way, I don’t blame the teachers. It’s the crushing bureaucracy inherent in all government, including the schools.)

I also learned a lot as a Cub Scout, and although I never made it into the Boy Scouts, I am a great fan of both organizations, and think it’d be a good thing if more boys joined them. For one thing, boys need mentors to show them how things work. That’s what the older are for, to teach the young instead of sitting in a recliner and eating Cheesy Poofs and watching cable.

In my opinion I’d rather have children in the Cub Scouts and the Brownies rather than go to public schools. I still buy cookies from Brownies when they knock on my door. It’s my way of supporting them. At least I have a choice, unlike my taxes, which go to people I’d fire if I had my way.

One thing I missed (and regret it) is a grandfather-type who would have taken me on walks and explained things to me. I have met people (a very,very few) who had such mentors, and I have always envied them (I am always reminded of that scene in Meatballs where Bill Murray, a camp counselor, is playing cards with a 12-year-old Chris Makepeace – who, by the way, wins all of Murray’s peanuts).

The purpose of education to develop a person’s inherent talents. I tried to teach myself to read when I was four. If anyone had noticed, I could have learned at that age. In school, I wasn’t taught until I was six, and to this day I remember how disappointed I was with Dick and Jane and Spot and Pony. After encountering those white-bread bores I had no interest in reading until I was about 11, when by pure chance I encountered Edgar Rice Burroughs and his Barsoom (read Mars) novels.

I would have much preferred the Iliad or the Odyssey, even in kindergarten, with the Cyclops eating Odysseus’ men and then Odysseus putting the Cyclops’ eye out with a spear. That’s way cooler than Dick and Jane, even if they did find a toad in the bushes (like I haven’t found hundreds of toads. And frogs. And crawdads. And snakes. And snapping turtles).

When I was 12 I taught myself grammar out of the back of a dictionary that belonged to my parents and was published in the ‘50s. I still have that dictionary, which is right next to me.

What exactly is learned in 13 years of public schooling (and if you count kindergarten, it is 13 years)? A lot of kids would be better off learning to read, write and do arithmetic, then go to vocational school and learn how to repair cars or be plumbers. Someone with an IQ of 104 is not going to be interested in Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem, or how David Hume influenced Kant.

Back in the ‘20s and ‘30s if you wanted to be a lawyer you took the bar exam. These days, you have to get a college degree then go to law school. Obviously there is far too much schooling and far too little education.

As far as I’m concerned a person should be able to take proficiency exams for almost all of a college degree. Sitting in ranks and rows in classes…grade school….middle school…high school…college…graduate school…for many, it’s torture and cannot be endured.

When I was in college the idea of sitting in economics classes was unendurable. So I took proficiency exams for Intro to Macro and Micro. I made an A and a B. The dean came out and shook my hand. He said what I had done was almost impossible. I didn't mention it wasn't all that hard. I just studied, and I certainly was motivated by not having to sit for a two semesters in classes and being just crushed by boredom.

Considering that the drop-out rate for high school is 50%, clearly the public schools aren’t just failing – they already have failed. And for those who claim without public school kids wouldn’t be educated, well, with a 50% drop-out rate they aren’t being educated.

Not all education can be fun. Very few people are going to say that rote memorization of the times tables is “fun.” But if learning isn’t interesting students will avoid it, especially by voting with their feet.

These days, far too many children are avoiding the public schools, by dropping out the first chance they get. That’s bad for them and bad for society. It’s good for sitting under trees and socializing in parks, though.

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