In a comment he posted in response to one of mine on the ‘Looking Toward November’ thread below, Elwood Lee wrote, ‘ … I am retired and in my 70's and am out of touch with public education. Please specify if you wish to what you see wrong with it [the federal No Child Left Behind Act].’
For decades, republicans have been promising to do away with the (entirely unconstitutional) Department of Education, yet during that time no one in Washington has elevated this critical issue beyond the level of politically-opportune lip-service. George W. Bush has not only avoided the topic; he has, instead, championed possibly the most liberal, destructive, unconstitutional piece of education legislation ever to be foisted on the American people.
I could write a book on what I have seen while substitute teaching, and what I have heard from my piano students, regarding the erosive nature of No Child Left Behind. In a nutshell, I believe that NCLB stifles gifted students, and pressures schools to conform to a certain bureaucratic 'norm' – by establishing the reaching of that pre-ordained 'norm' as the goal of education. If we continue down this road, the success of our public education system will ultimately depend on the inherent value of that norm. And anyone who has taken a close look at the related goals can't help but be overwhelmed with pessimism regarding the hope of our future generations.
If we seek to have uniformity of results (which, despite protests to the contrary, is the goal of this program), then we are worshipping at the altar of bureaucracy-dictated terms of 'success'. And (worse), by requiring an interminable mountain of paperwork, and a demand that all students move at basically the same pace, we are officiously suffocating, at our peril, excellence that would naturally rise far above the norm.
My husband and I attended a conference last year at which our son, Dan, had been asked to set up a booth exhibiting the physics labs that he uses in his classroom. Dan is a high school physics teacher who designs his own labs from scratch. They are extremely innovative, and require large amounts of student hands-on participation and considerable, detailed follow-up analysis of the results.
The students love his labs, and they learn a great deal from them as a result of their real-world applications, and the fact that the students have a personal stake in carrying them out to their successful completion.
Partly, I believe, as a result of Dan's personal, real-world-connected, original style of teaching, more than a handful of his students, who had little or no interest in physics before taking his class, have decided to take what they have learned in his class and use it. A few have gone on to major on physics in college, and two have entered the armed forces with the intention of studying in a physics/engineering-related discipline.
With all of that said, Dan is your typical 'absent-minded professor'. He abhors paperwork (especially of the needless, bureaucratic sort) and does not look favorably on rigid, often outdated methods.
He has requested permission to perform many innovative labs -- some of them located, by necessity, off of school grounds, and all of them extraordinarily ground-breaking, worthwhile and meaningful to a well-grounded physics education.
The department head, and the school principal, are, from what I have observed of them, rigid, by-the-book administrators who do not take kindly to innovation of any kind, but would rather their teachers teach from a textbook that has been used for a decade or more, and simply stand in front of the class and lecture. Dan does the best he can to work around their rigidity, and often, but not always, succeeds.
No Child Left Behind fosters and emboldens such rigidity.
Let’s just take a look at one of the myriad of repercussions of NCLB mandates on our local schools: one of the changes that is scheduled to take place at Dan’s school, as an indirect result of NCLB guidelines, is that emphasis on physics, chemistry and biology is going to be decreased, and a new emphasis on the study of ‘environmental sciences’ is going to be gradually implemented to replace some physics/chemistry/biology classes.
In the minds of most conservatives, any political entity that hands down edicts containing the word ‘environmental’ is immediately suspect as embracing and promoting political correctness. And I am certain that this ‘gradual change in emphasis’ represents nothing more than politically correct curriculum changes.
In Washington, the majority of our ‘leaders’ who voice consistent concern over ‘environmental issues’ are merely left-leaning politicians who use those issues as a means of (1) gaining further control over our lives, and (2) systematically eroding our national sovereignty in deference to (often conveniently invented) global ‘environmental crises’.
If we allow the integration of these often-times-phony environmental issues into our public school curricula, we are cracking open a Pandora’s box of enormous proportions.
In a public education system that is producing high school graduates who are increasingly less able to compete with students from other countries, why on earth should a bill passed by the congress result in our nation’s school systems de-emphasizing the teaching of those science disciplines that are needed not only to see to it that our graduates are able to compete with the youth of other countries, but – even more importantly – de-emphasizing the study of those disciplines that will be vital to ensuring our national sovereignty and security?
When America is in dire need of scientists, engineers, physicists, and practical and research technicians, etc. capable of designing and building missile defense systems, aircraft, weaponry, detection methods, medications, antidotes, chemical and biological agent counter-measures, and the like to protect us from the malevolent forces that are intent on our annihilation, only a civilization bent on self-destruction would turn their young people’s focus away from the study of theoretical/practical sciences and toward politically correct ‘environmental studies’.
Yet that change of focus is just one example of many long-term potentially deadly side-effects of allowing a bloated, left-leaning federal bureaucracy to dictate how and what our children will learn. The emphasis on ‘environmental studies’ is simply the tip of the iceberg. The toxic insistence that ‘multicultural studies’ incrementally replace the study of America’s own glorious past and unprecedented moral foundation represents perhaps the most insidiously self-destructive influence in public education, and invasive academic/media indoctrination, in our history.
I also believe there are three major factors that make the classrooms of today less genuinely learning-conducive than they were forty years ago:
(1) The majority of today's students do not receive support – in terms of discipline, work ethic, and the instilling of the desire to achieve and succeed – from their parents.
(2) Innovative teachers, like Dan, are often perceived as 'troublemakers' –- especially by AFT and NEA members (Dan is one of only two teachers in his entire school who have refused to join a union) who seek to maintain the status quo, rather than using dedication and innovation to inspire.
(3) Pseudo-innovative teaching methods (that are really anything but) and pseudo-innovative curricula (‘new’ math methods, and an emphasis on leftist-authored, feel-good subjects, for example), have taken the place of focusing on the (especially, but not exclusively) science and math basics that are needed to (a) keep our graduates on a competitive level with the rest of the world, and (b) help them to comprehend the fascinating and meaningful real-world applications of what they are learning.
No Child Left Behind not only provides no solutions for any of the above, and adds even more insurmountable roadblocks to those already in place on the (cluttered) path to effective public education. But it is also being used, covertly, to lay a government-dictated groundwork for public education curricula that, I believe, will … over the long term (think frog-in-the-pot) … not only insist on politically correct viewpoints and teaching methods, but will, in effect, ‘outlaw’ any others.