The Power of No in Parenting and Education

I first have to say that I know a lot of great teenagers. I’m immensely proud of my sons and almost as much so of many of their friends. I stopped as I was writing this and nearly discarded it, keenly aware that I could inadvertently hurt one of these great kids by causing them to think that this essay was directed at them. It’s not. This for the millions, the lost, not the dozens I know so well.

As comforting as the example of these fine young people is to me personally, it’s nonetheless true that some parents and society as a whole have failed to teach a sizable percentage of this generation of young adults the value of the word “No”. No, as in:

  • “The actions you are taking are unacceptable and will be met with punishment if you repeat them.”
  • “The line of thinking you are pursuing is invalid and these are the unassailable reasons why.”
  • “The things you see in video games, movies, and on the Net are not representative of proper ways of behaving.”
  • “There are people who say that there are no absolutes, no truly right or wrong actions, no definable moral code; however, these people are absolutely wrong and in this house you will follow a code of ethics and morality or face the consequences.”

Our young people hear the word “No” often enough, but in the wrong ways. In our schools and in too many homes, the word “No” is used to tell children that they cannot judge themselves and others in terms of right and wrong, that they cannot hold opinions that might conflict with others’, no matter how obviously foolish, and they certainly cannot give such opinions voice. At other times, “No” is used to say, “No, you cannot be educated to the best of your ability because that would mean someone else cannot keep up with you” and “You cannot carry on the traditions of Christmas and Easter here, because one person chooses to be offended by the things that this country has always believed in.” In such circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that value of the word “No” has been destroyed.

At the same time, in politically correct circles, the idea of judging and correcting a wayward child is all but verboten. There are no right or wrong actions, only ambiguous desires and causeless effects, neither of which have any moral value attached. In progressives’ fantasy world, children grow up free and unhindered by anything as base as ethical judgments of their actions and automatically self-correct their aberrant behavior.

Of course, we see the effects of this failed experiment all around us. Raising children in an amoral, rule-free manner will not reliably result in young adults who live by a well-ordered, societally-sanctioned code of ethics. It is true that many youngsters rise above their upbringing and do so to their credit; however, at the macro level, this way of creating future citizens is doomed to fail. The lack of obedience and proper behavior we see in many of our youngsters is both the ultimate failure of liberal permissiveness and its inevitable result.

In our enlightened society, punishment of misbehaving children is considered crude, gauche, and even criminal. Yet there is no way for children to learn that their actions and thought processes are wrong unless someone corrects them.  Sometimes, this has to be done with enough oomph to make the lesson stick. Unfortunately, as unpleasant as it is – and it is unpleasant, for adult and child alike – there are occasions when the best mechanism for the delivery of a rebuke or reminder is by way of the buttocks.

(Understand that I am not suggesting anything in regard to the perpetrator of the crimes in Connecticut. Some children become even more incorrigible as a result of a structured, moral upbringing and this might or might not be true of this psycho. I have no idea and not much more interest. What is important is fixing the future.)

In the final analysis, considering society as a whole, there is no doubt in my mind that we have erred by sparing the rod and spoiling too many children. The sad fact is that, by pandering to the don’t worry, be happy, do-it-if-it-feels-right crowd, we have vastly diminished the rights of parents and the community to demand good and proper behavior from children and their ability to enforce their rightful authority.

Principals, Principles, and Proper Policy

A student is being punished for her after-the-fact reporting of wrongdoing by her classmates. Obviously this is the wrong way for administrators to gain the trust of teenagers. Policies must be applied in conjunction with the exercise of judgment, not blindly.

DAYTON, Ohio — A charter school student who said she saw two classmates having sex on a bus during a group spring break trip is being punished for reporting the incident, her mother said

High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries

The NY Times:  “When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. And yet in education we do just that. At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. So how do teachers cope? Sixty-two percent work outside the classroom to make ends meet.”

That’s just plain ridiculous, people.

Grandstanding Buffoon Misses Point in Teacher Firing

Quanell X, grandstander supreme and champion of criminals, among other well-deserved titles, completely missed the point in the recent flap in Houston after a teacher allowed students to hit the class bully. The man is so wrong, so often, that he must be doing it on purpose.

The X-man’s take:

"What that teacher did was so reprehensible, so foul and wrong, why did you not make a police report about what this woman did?"

The reality:

"The kid didn’t get beat up — this is a kid who has repeatedly beat up kids in my school," [director of Robindell Private School Chuck] Wall said. "He had punched a little girl like a punching bag and was caught by one of my teachers and what he got back … was absolutely minor in comparison to what he did to this poor little girl." Wall said the boy’s parents have been unresponsive to the school’s pleas for help in controlling the child.

The boy’s mother goes on to make excuses for him, saying that he has medical conditions. True or not, schools cannot tolerate students who are negative influences, particularly those who create an unsafe environment for their peers.

Wall had to fire the teacher for instigating an escalation in violence, true. But the truth is that the brat needed to learn the very lesson she taught him, namely that violence begets a violent response.

It’s unfortunate that the teacher in question had to lose her job because of failing parents, a failing educational system, and a failing society. She will pay the price in terms of her career for a school system that lacks the ability to purge itself of miscreants who render it unable to fulfill its function, educating those who can learn. Of course, it’s unfair to blame the school because we, as a society, lack the moral courage to state the obvious: Some children simply do not belong in mainstream school classrooms.

Devarius Williams is evidently one such child. Woe to the children and teachers at his next school. Perhaps Mr. X should consider their pain before blabbering on about what’s reprehensible.


Another interesting note to this story is the Chronicle’s ad hominem attack against Mr. Wall:

Wall said he fired the teacher the next day after Williams’ mother called the school to report the incident. He said she was the second teacher to be fired in six weeks for allowing another student to strike the boy.

Wall, whose school offers up to 12 hours of daily care for $110 a week, then disparaged the boy’s parents.

Regarding “disparaged the boy’s parents”? How so? In whose opinion? Based on what words, exactly?

Frankly that’s a line I would have expected from the Magnolia Potpourri back in the day when it was run out of a one-room shack, not one of the country’s leading newspapers and the only source of print media in the 4th largest city in the U.S.

Rhode Island Teachers Fired, With Cause

Every teacher in what is demonstrably the worst-performing school district in the state of Rhode Island – which is to a Texan little more than a glorified county, in truth – has been fired.

The state’s tiniest, poorest city has become the center of a national battle over dramatic school reform. On the one side, federal and state education officials say they must take painful and dramatic steps to transform the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

the Central Falls school Board of Trustees, in a brief but intense meeting, voted 5-2 to fire every teacher at the school. In all, 93 names were read aloud in the high school auditorium — 74 classroom teachers, plus reading specialists, guidance counselors, physical education teachers, the school psychologist, the principal and three assistant principals.

Did all of these educators deserve to get the axe? I doubt it. But their collective, unionized decision not to comply with the recommended steps to remediate the school district made the outcome a just one.

Listen, there’s a recession on and you’re saying to your boss that you’re not going to do what’s necessary to get your job done? That’s a foolish, foolish thing to do – in any profession. It’s also the inevitable result of unearned Entitlement Syndrome.

Hopefully the best of the Central Falls teachers will be back at work soon, for the kids’ sake, and hopefully they’ll be bolstered by new, qualified teachers who are willing to work to bring the district up to par. 

And hopefully smug Arne Duncan, who wields his power from Washington like a blunt-edged hammer, will learn that, if he really wants the best and brightest working in the field of education, that salary talks and his B.S. will only make good teachers walk.

(Unfortunately I don’t have much time to write about this now; I hope to delve into it a little deeper at a later time.)

Unlike Other Spending, President’s Teacher Program Too Small

Since taking office just under a year ago, President Obama and the Democrats have tripled the already obscene budget deficit by spending $500 billion on their “stimulus” program, dollars that, in typical federal government fashion, were spent with remarkable inefficiency.

Now comes word of a new initiative sponsored by Mr. Obama that actually does serve a useful purpose – a math and science teacher training program intended to move underachieving “American students from the middle to the top of the pack in those subjects over the next decade”.

"The quality of math and science teachers is the most important single factor influencing whether students will succeed or fail in science, technology, engineering and math," Obama said in a statement. The money will help prepare 10,000 new teachers and train 100,000 more, the administration said.

I know it’s hard, but let’s have a little fun with math, shall we? A typical professional development course costs about $2500 on the open market. There are approximately 100,000 public schools in the United States, so let’s further assume that one lucky teacher from each school would be educated by the president’s program. The price tag for such an endeavor would be $250 billion or about 50% of the amount squandered during the Dems’ prodigious Pork-o-rama last year.

Yes, yes – perhaps the Department of Education, using the feds’ famous ability to make their programs efficient and cost-effective, could magically cut down on the cost-per-teacher. Sure. But remember my other assumption – 1 teacher per school being taught. The reality is that most U.S. schools are staffed by multiple math/science teachers who could benefit from additional training. If anything the number I gave above is low, perhaps by an order of magnitude.

So how serious is the president about the new math and science education initiative? Not very. He’s willing to kick in a mere $250 million for the cause. What a committed leader. That’s just 0.1% of my original number, an estimate that’s probably far lower than the actual cost of training.

Furthermore, I have to question the effectiveness of a week’s worth of training. Certainly every little bit helps. But the problems with match/science education in this country go deeper than a week’s worth of tips and techniques can address. If we’re serious about regaining our place at the top of the technical skills heap then we need to be prepared to spend a lot of money now, before it’s too late. 

(For reference, I highly recommend reading Thomas Freidman’s The World is Flat for background on the consequences of failure in this area.)

The president’s program, while well-intentioned, falls so far short of what’s needed that it would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Perhaps if he hadn’t wasted all that TARP money…

There is some good news. In another area the president has recognized a fundamental problem with the students are educated in math and science.

Through the "Educate to Innovate" campaign, the government will work with major companies and universities to recruit and train teachers. The White House has said a substantial vacancy exists in the so-called STEM field: science, technology, engineering and math. Up to 1 million new teachers will be need to be recruited over the next five years to fill the gap, the White House said.

Involving employers in the education process would be a positive step. Not only do corporations have the correct perspective on what needs to be taught – they are, after all, the consumers of the output the education system produces – but they also have the expertise to fill the gaps the White House speaks of.

It would be a new concept for American children, but why not have them be taught by the people who actually know about the subject material, having applied it in a production setting?

Furthermore, I can envision American companies being willing to do this for less than market rates in order to help ensure the quality of their future work force and thus negating my argument that teacher education will require trillions of dollars to achieve – if the government is willing to give up its monopoly on education.

Call me a dreamer, but inviting corporations into the education mix seems like the only way to make the massive math/science teacher infusion that’s needed happen in a cost-effective way.

American Science Education, as Seen by a Scientist

image Eric Berger’s interview with Michio Kaku is, in his own words, a bit scatter-shot. It’s certainly that, but what Kaku had to say about America’s education system was brutal, fascinating, and dead-on true, particularly as relates to science:

Kaku: We are dumbing down the American high school kid. We have the worst educational system known to science. You can’t create a system worse than our science education system.

Berger: Because we have kids memorize things instead of teaching them to be curious?

Kaku: It’s worse than that. Our kids score below the students of Jordan, a third world country, in science and math. It’s many-fold, the reasons. One is the culture. Look at the Hollywood culture which glamorizes the jock and the cheerleader. But the jocks and the cheerleaders don’t create microchips. They don’t create new transistors. They don’t energize the economy. But that’s what Hollywood gives us, that jocks and cheerleaders rule the world. In high school we have this pyramid with jocks and cheerleaders at the top, and nerds at the bottom. As soon as they graduate the pyramid flips the other way but you’d never know that from Hollywood.

Second, teachers get too comfortable. There’s a lot of deadwood that needs to have a fire lit under their butt, OK? Third, the science curriculum. Humans are all born scientists. Until they get to high school. Then it’s crushed out of them. And you can just see it. Take a typical elementary class, they want to become firemen, doctors, scientists and astronauts. But track that year after year, and by the time you get to 17 or 18 it’s over. Then we wonder why our kids are not scientifically minded.

America produces the greatest financial and legal minds in the world.  Unfortunately, neither of these professions produces anything in the physical sense.  In particular, lawyers are a group of which our country has far too many of.  The abstraction of labor behind layers of technology is a something that has served a segment of our population well in recent decades.  But there is a point beyond which employment cannot be sanitized. 

In order to be consumed, goods still must be produced.  In an increasingly technical marketplace, countries that lead scientifically will ultimately lead economically.  The creation of new electronic technology is more demanding a field than ever.  If American children are not given the educational base they need in order to compete on the battlefield of ideas, economic disappointment is certain to follow.

President Entitled to Indoctrinate Children?

image Regarding his plans to address virtually all American children in their schools, is President Obama operating within his proper sphere of authority as President of the United States?  Probably, though it’s certainly debatable.  But what he has to say – and what teachers do with his words – may give many parents reason answer in the negative.

Yesterday Patterico analyzed the Department of Education’s suggested lessons and the result was a clear, disturbing, and deliberate attempt to indoctrinate our children in the liberal ideology.

Today I see that the DoE has withdrawn one of the more controversial bullet points, an assignment that would have, in the DoE’s language, had children, “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president”, presumedly for a grade.

I’m glad to see both the firestorm of disapproval that burst into being after this blatantly ideological lesson plan was made public and the DoE’s quiet retreat.  Gives me a bit more faith in my country when the people rebel, reject something that’s so obviously wrong, and force the government to back down and remember its place.

That said, President Obama will still be addressing American school children in their classrooms next week.  Given that attendance is compulsory for these children, Mr. Obama is ethically obligated to give what one might term a truthful, inspiring, and politically benign speech.

Continue reading “President Entitled to Indoctrinate Children?”

Teaching the Bible in Texas Classrooms

Sara Story of KLTA reports that a Texas state law that requires all public schools to offer “information relating to the Bible in their curriculum”.  The law was passed 2 years ago and is set to go into effect for the new school year.

For better or worse, some schools have stalled out when it comes to complying with the the law because it is vaguely worded and because the state has refused to provide funding to implement the mandate.

There is also the small matter of parental opposition to contend with as well, to no one’s surprise.  People in the town of Whitehouse, social studies teacher John Keeling looks at the matter this way:

The purpose of a course like this isn’t even really to get kids to believe it, per se, it is just to appreciate the profound impact that it has had on our history and on our government.

Continue reading “Teaching the Bible in Texas Classrooms”

Texas’ New Education Standards Deserve Failing Grade

image A pair of mismatched Houston Chronicle articles demonstrates the failed nature of Texas’ state education standards.  First, the bad news:

The number of Texas school districts rate by the state as “academically unacceptable” has increased to its highest level ever.

Next, the even worse news:

Texas’ new school rating system … helped record numbers of schools in the Houston Independent School District and across the state earn top marks.

Two hundred HISD schools — 77 percent overall — earned either a “recognized” or “exemplary” rating from the Texas Education Agency. Only 4 percent of HISD’s schools are “unacceptable” this year.

That’s great, right? Wrong. Instead of accurately measuring students’ mastery of material against objective standards, Texas’ new math vis-a-vis acceptability “gives campuses credit for improving test scores, even if students are still failing”. In other words, the standards reward marginal progress while failing to reflect the reality of overall systemic failure.

Not surprisingly, administrators whose professional chops are defined by their school’s ratings love it.  Lynn Brown, the principal of McDougle Elementary in Klein ISD:

“In the old system, you’re just like, ‘Well, too bad you didn’t make it.’ I think this way of measuring their growth is very authentic.”

What a crock. Measuring against what? What the rest of the world is doing? Against an absolute sense of mastery? No, against a feel-good, proves-nothing sense of “growth”.

Brown’s attitude toward results in education demonstrates something that’s fundamentally wrong with our system of education, specifically that lack of motivation to achieve real objectives and the abandonment of the principle of honesty by those whose highest charge is to promote it.

“The irony is we actually achieved these accountability ratings by ignoring them,” Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra said.

How ironic that Saavedra – he of the destructive, relativistic teacher bonus system – should be so utterly correct in his statement and so wrong at the same time. State education standards were dumbed down and cast aside. Small wonder achievement rates went up in the aftermath.