END COMPULSORY EDUCATION

Though the only real hope for American education is privatization, public education isn’t going anywhere over night. Jack Batson, a career teacher and former city councilman for Fairfield, CA — about 20 minutes from the YAL@DHS Chapter — wrote an excellent editorial for the Vacaville Reporter in light of a coming education reform bill from thegovernator’s administration:

So we’re going through another “education reform,” because “our schools have failed.” Well, here we go again.

Pardon the cynicism, but haven’t we seen a goodly number of these crusades before? When I first went into teaching in 1971, we were in the midst of the first great convulsion of educational reform. You may remember the books that fueled that long-ago fire: “Why Johnny Can’t Read” and “Teaching as a Subversive Activity.”

Do you remember Ronald Reagan’s 1983 National Commission on Excellence in Education? It claimed that, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Well, performance is worse today.

Maybe you recall the last reform spasm — high school graduation standards. Everyone got excited about them but the kids — they boycotted them. Pretty much, they’ve been watered down across the nation. Everybody passes.

Forty years and countless reforms later, we’re still wringing our hands in despair. Well, so are teachers, but we’re not holding our collective breaths. We’ve seen it all before and I feel confident that I speak for many, if not most, when I say weakly, “Go team.” But the terms of this reform, without going into the details, are, once again, ho-hum. Something about being able to take your kid to another school district. Wow.

May I make some observations? First, our schools have not failed. Maybe in the inner cities they have, but not in Fairfield-Suisun or Vacaville. If you have a child who comes to school ready to learn, she will get a great education here. The problem is, there are so few in that category.

Second, education, like all other enterprises, suffers from scarcity. Everything is scarce: money, good teachers, good administrators, and, of course, good students. There is a great malaise in the latter category that stretches from the Atlantic seaboard to the Pacific. I know, because I’ve talked to teachers from across the nation.

Third, I’ve come to the conclusion over a long period of time of watching our spasms of hope and despair, that only a cultural shift will jolt the 50 percent of high school students out of their dream sleep, the kids who don’t care a fig about education. Stop this merry-go-round of chasing hostile and recalcitrant students around the hallways. End the mountains of suspensions and the annoyance of teachers who can’t get administrative action on legions of minor insults and offenses. Stop the charade of “everybody’s got to get their education,” because lots of them are not getting an education in high school, and everybody knows it.

So I propose to end compulsory education after eighth grade. It will change the whole dynamic. We can honestly look a kid in the eye and say, “If you really don’t want to be here, why, here’s the door.” They would have to stare directly into their futures. It might be sobering. If that happened:

  • The value of a high school diploma would rise dramatically.
  • Most kids will stay in school, with a better attitude.
  • Many kids will watch television for a year and then return.
  • A few kids will get a job (Is that so bad?). Later, when they mature, they can get their diploma by attending night school, adult school, community college or perhaps a charter school just for them.

For those kicked out due to a pattern of misbehavior, they can come back at the beginning of the next school year — if allowed. Maybe they will have cooled down a little.

Any of these kids might enroll in a revived Regional Occupational Program class. ROP is one of the great programs for vocational training. At its height locally, ROP offered more than 30 classes, but, tragically, the program has been cut back to fewer than one-half dozen (scarce money). But if a kid truly hates books and desks, let’s offer him something different.

I predict that some of these kids will burgle your house. Here we face the real world. Choose, America, between education and baby-sitting.

I know — you’re smiling. “Nice idea, Jack. Now go back to your afternoon nap.”

Sadly, I know we won’t adopt this ultimate reform. But I insist that the problem is way too big for the silly measures I’m reading about now. Student lassitude and outright hostility are our overwhelming problems. We have to address those if we really want to educate kids after eighth grade.

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