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Education Recommendations for Federal and State Agencies

7 May

The following list of fifteen recommendations is not exhaustive, but rather a starting point for federal and state level governments.  This list is provided to these bureaucracies as they consider future development and implementation of education programs that come packaged with national implications.
Recommendation #1: Transparency. Transparency would have provided the necessary debate and open sharing of costs, benefits, and public concerns.  Changing programs from one thing to something else should never been undertaken without open discussions. Understand that government does not know best, but that an honest and open government that lifts up people to the changes they view as best is a government of the people. Such a government works best.
Recommendation #2: Remain Politically Neutral. Remove the political aspects of agenda from partisanship and political maneuvering. Validate Americans, and not political parties.
Recommendation #3: Focus on Students First. Focus efforts to change education upon students and families, and not the types of jobs required for future corporate employers.
Recommendation #4: Consider the Arts, Music, and Trades. Consider how all the areas not included in Common Core standards can be incorporated.  After all, students in America are not students in Europe or Asia.
Recommendation #5: Place Less Emphasis on International Assessments.  Be wary of utilizing international assessments for the basis of changing entire systems of education in the United States.
Recommendation #6: Avoid a National Curriculum. Steer completely clear of any discussion of a nationalized curriculum, or a one-size-fits-all area of content. The United States is not Europe, and many foreign nations that have national curricula have lower academic performance than America.
Recommendation #7: Develop More Accurate Domestic Assessments.  Understand that assessments are not the picture of whole persons; they are snapshots and moments in time. Reliance on imperfect assessments does not tell the whole story about American education. Continue development of more and better domestic assessments.
Recommendation #8: Empower States to Step Up. Enable states to compete for federal grants to establish exciting and different programs that include trades, technology, and innovative careers geared toward the future.  Empower entrepreneurialism, beginning in elementary school.
Recommendation #9: Do Not Force All Students into a College Mold.  Understand not all students are college bound and that forcing students into a federal blueprint for education is perceived as control and not as freedom to choose.
Recommendation #10: Allow States to Structure Teacher Accountability.  Allow states to hold their own teachers accountable for education. Allow universities and colleges of education to ramp up their requirements to enter programs of teacher training. There should be no federal punishment for teachers struggling to finds ways to educate the masses in inner cities.
Recommendation #11: Provide Block Grants for Trade and Tech School Startups.  Support states with block grants, so high schools can partner with businesses and create jobs for those who wish to work in high school, as they train for a trade, or experiment with business start-ups online.
Recommendation #12: Attract the Best and Brightest to Teaching.  Mount a campaign to attract the best and brightest to colleges and universities to train to become teachers.  Focus on demand, not just supply. Find those called to teach and invest in their lives.
Recommendation #13: Cease Partisan Argumentation. Cease the side-taking and partisan bickering over the direction of education. Allow more local control of decisions on education. Enable states to work together to create regional hubs of excellence, so that regional certification can be added to state certification. In the process, focus attention on impoverished areas and bring communities and families together to brainstorm ways to move forward.
Recommendation #14: Be Proud of Our American Heritage.  No nation is perfect.  Do not be ashamed of America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, as it provides a mooring to our purpose as a nation.  Students need a sense of purpose for their existence.  Not everything in American education should be about individuality. Common good should also be in the equation.
Recommendation #15: Recognize School Choice. Recognize that there are models of schools that meet the needs of families throughout the nation.  Support these families for their choices. Whether public schools, private schools, private religious schools, or homeschools, support all of them and encourage all models that parents deem best for their children.


*Excerpted from Ernest J. Zarra, III, The Wrong Direction for Today’s Schools:  The Impact of Common Core on American Education.  Rowman & Littlefield, 2015, pp. 260-262.

Core Beliefs of a Common Culture

3 Jul

Stepping back from the edge of a problem is often wise practice.  Retracing our history, enables Americans to gain perspective.  Therefore, as we glean much from our past, a historical perspective informs our nation’s present understanding.  Viewing the historical values that unite our nation from the beginning, provides a larger scope within which we connect a national sense of belonging and pride.  From the beginning, the colonies that seeded our great nation, posited education’s prominent place in the developing American experience.  Passing onto colonial American children the values and virtues of homogeneous enclaves and communities, where the colonists lived, was paramount.  Education was local and left to the states, because they simply knew their people better and were much closer to the needs of local constituents.  Over time, immigrants assimilated into the already established culture.

As the United States came into existence in late eighteenth century, there were shared common beliefs across America’s states and these could be found within American schools and in her curriculum.  Certainly, there were differences.  Yet, our new nation was marked intentionally, incorporating both commonalities and distinctions of American civic and moral culture.  Moreover, public education in the United States began in a tradition rooted in the westernization of the works of Greeks, such as Aristotle and Plato.[1]  Now, many read social justice advocates and gay rights activists, believing a large government can foist upon a nation new sets of precepts.

U.S. education during the colonial days signaled that the essence of national character sprang from the belief that the divine purpose of educators of the day was to mold children in the ways of common culture, based on moral and religious colonial philosophies.[2]  Mission, purpose, and calling are hallmarks of American education.  Prior to the colonial period, education had flourished in Europe—largely due to the impacts of the Reformation and Renaissance—and character and moral education played important roles.  Today, in contrast, educators would be hard-pressed to find vestiges of the roles that once helped to define American culture.  In fact, it is not far-fetched to conclude that some culture-shapers are no longer tolerant of American culture of the distant or recent past.  Enter Common Core . . .

Education in Europe and the American colonies was embedded with theology—the “queen of the sciences.”  Over time, this queen has been dethroned by the secularization of public education—compartmentalized away from corporate culture–which is quite dissimilar to “corporate America.”  “The Founding Fathers of our nation believed that schools would be the crucibles within which there would be a melding of academics, civic virtue, and religious and moral instruction.[3]  The mission to produce more godly creatures grew out of a three-fold framework:  (1) The Holy Bible, upon which education was originally established in the colonies,[4] (2) the deistic and theistic religious beliefs of the colonists, and (3) the importance of the teachings of philosopher John Locke, and others.[5]

Locke’s stated educational goals included virtue, wisdom, and learning.  The teachings from this framework were plain in the lessons of colonial texts, such as Pilgrim’s Progress, Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac, and McGuffey’s Readers.[6]  If the very foundation of one’s society is separated from generations that follow, how then do we expect new generations to live? [7]

America is born of a Judeo-Christian heritage.  We should never apologize for this.  Our laws, the reasons we are extremely beneficent toward other nations, have a First Amendment protecting religion, and that fact that we understand unconditional love are all testimony to this heritage.  Today, some would be hard-pressed to find this heritage in some corners of contemporary culture, particularly in areas of morality, entertainment, leisure, and in the American public education system.  Unlike the past, when students were taught values from great literature, including the Judeo-Christian guide, the Bible, today’s students must navigate a vacuüm, often attenuated by classroom teachers, biased curriculum, and a culture continuing to find purpose in changing secularism and amorality.

Removing moral purpose creates a moral vacuüm.  If one’s work becomes moral purpose then what exists outside of work?  Unfortunately, telling students they must be educated to compete in a global economy is no replacement for deeply held values.  For example, today’s students are called lazy.  So what do bureaucrats decide?  They propagate an entirely new educational accepted point of view. Truthfully, what some call lazy, others call student boredom.  The brains of teenagers are still developing–another commonality often misunderstood by Common Core advocates.

Most public schools today, as corporate entities, and are self-declared moral-free institutions.  This is especially at American universities and colleges.  Education institutions have become satellites of secularism, whose purpose is the valuation and promotion of deeper cognition and employment after high school.  The nation now refers to this as “college and career-ready.”  How does this secularism square with aimless students somehow finding moral purpose and achieving excellence in school, especially with families also undergoing redefinition?  How is this accomplished when the very moorings of marriage and family are undergoing such radical redefinition.

The reality is the production of workers for the next decades from within a system such as Common Core is going to challenge the very notion of educational progress.  One might ask, “What is the nature of this challenge?”  The sets of values of the past are different from those of the present.  Changing education policy and drafting new education legislation is one thing.  Actively seeking the undoing, or repudiating of past education toward a new purpose, has become more of the federal government’s business.  It is flat-out the wrong direction for America’s schools

The question we must consider is whether Americans want the federal government, it’s ideas and policies—along with political secularists—filling this void.  Conversely, America would do well to consider whether to more deeply engage her people and their states and local governments.  An educational system which had rotated and spun tightly for years, is now wobbling quite badly.  Our schools are far from perfect.  But why strive for growing ever more imperfection wit Common Core?  The bottom line is that in a vacuum, there is room for anything.

[1]. Ernest J. Zarra, III.  “Pinning Down Character Education.”  Summer 2000.  Kappa Delta Pi Record.  Vol. 36, No. 4, pp. 156.  Cf.  Thomas Lickona.  “An integrated approach to character development in the elementary school classroom.”  In Moral, character, and civic education in the elementary school.  Jacques Benninga (Ed.).  (New York City, New York:  Teachers College Press, 1991, pp. 67-83.)  Cf. also, J. L Elias. 1989.  Moral education:  Secular and religious.  (Malabar, Florida:  Robert E. Krieger Publishers, 1989.)

[2]. R. J. Nash.  Answering the “virtuecrats”:  A moral conversation on character education.  (New York City, New York:  Teachers College Press, 1997.)   Cf.  Robert Bellah.  Habits of the heart:  Individualism and commitment in American life.  (New York City, New York:  Harper and Row Publishers, 1985.)

[3]. Nash, Answering the “virtuecrats”:  A moral conversation on character education.

[4]. R. H. Hersh, J. P. Miller, and G. D. Fielding.  Models of Moral Education:  An appraisal.  (New York City, New York:  Longman Press, 1980).  Cf.  H. A. Huffman 1993.  “A character education without turmoil.”  Educational Leadership 51 (3), pp. 24-26.

[5]. J. L Elias.  Moral education:  Secular and religious.  (Malabar, Florida:  Robert E. Krieger Publishers, 1989.)

[6]. Ernest J. Zarra, III.  “Pinning Down Character Education.”  Kappa Delta Pi Record, pp. 155-156.  Cf.  Ernest J. Zarra, III.  “Character education:  An analysis of state history-social science and English-language arts curriculum frameworks and content standards.”  Ph.D.  Dissertation, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, 1999.

[7]. Francis Schaeffer.  “How then should we live?”  The complete works of Francis A. Schaeffer:  A Christian worldview.  Volume 5, Book 2.  1982.  (Westchester, Illinois:  Crossway Books).

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