Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Of Statues, and Past History

August 26, 2017

Fitzhugh Lee, writing about his father, probably knew Robert E. Lee better than anyone. He served during the Civil War and later as a general in the Spanish American War.
His analysis of Lee’s thinking in 1860 is pertinent.
He pointed out that prior to the war, it was not illegal for a state to leave the union. That became so after the war; had it gone the other way, the union would be a lot different! But the issue was settled by war.
What I see in the current discussion is lack of empathy, of being unable to put yourself in Lee’s place AT THE TIME, knowing only what he knew then.
We cannot accurately judge a historic figure if we use only modern perceptions and ideals. We must look at their history and their times.
The USA had come into existence less than a century before. States were fearful of handing too much power to the newly-formed federal government. We ACCEPT that same federal government without question now (mostly!), but in the 1850s things were very different. STATES were considered to be independent. Hence the name, the UNITED STATES of America. We view a ‘state’ as a subdivision of ‘nation’. But state can also mean an independent nation. Such was the situation in the 1770s.
Lee’s father had fought in the Revolution (‘Light-horse Harry’). Family and ancestry were very important to his family; the ‘melting pot’ was still in the future. Family was not only the Lees who had settled in Virginia (successful, for the most part). There were others, including the Washingtons and many of the early presidents, who intermarried and formed extended families.
Fitzhugh makes the point that R.E.Lee wasn’t willing to lead an invasion of his home, his county, his neighbors. He understood what most didn’t; that it wouldn’t be a short, easy war, that invasion and conquest would be necessary.
So in a time when states were wary of the federal government, he made a choice.
It’s illuminating to look at what Lincoln intended to do and how Grant carried out the terms of Lee’s surrender. Neither intended to humiliate or punish the Confederates or the states of the Confederacy. Including Lee.
That came after Lincoln’s assassination.
It’s fashionable now to claim that the only issue for the Confederacy was slavery. Not so. Lincoln did not free the slaves immediately; that didn’t happen until 1863,  a year and a half after the war began.
There WAS no confederacy at first; individual states made the decision to remain in the Union or leave. Had the Federal government simply decided to leave them alone, there would likely have been no confederacy and no war.
Slavery as an issue would have vanished within a short time. Simply put, machines had already begun to take the place of people. Economics ruled then, just as it does now.
And we’d have a very different history.
But we have to deal with history as it is.
We know a lot more about slavery now than most people did then. We know a lot more about people, period. Not only the people who write history, or lead nations, but about the ordinary person who has no say in what happens. More on that in a moment.
Right now, history is less important than what a significant segment of our American population believes: that the statues represent the worst of the old south, bigotry and white supremacy (hatred came later).
I suspect they’re right. And for that reason alone, the statues have to go.
As some have suggested, we need at the very least balance, where the crime against humanity called slavery is held up for what it is. Because that’s what it was; legalized kidnapping, where the government supported an industry based on raiding, on taking human beings by force. On systematic murder, where victims were chained in a ship under conditions almost unimaginable. Where a significant portion of them died. Because black lives were cheap and economics ruled; a fast trip, very profitable, and if a third of the cargo died, hey, it’s just capitalism. Investors profited. Capitalism then, capitalism now; foreclose, turn people out, let them beg in the streets. Or die without medical care. It’s not about human beings, it never was. It was, and is, about money.
We know more now. But how many knew it back then?
How many now know of the Enclosure Laws in England? (Look it up)
How many know of the Potato Famine in Ireland? (Research that one too).
How many know of the moneyed classes, who ran governments, ALL of them, and how they treated people? Look that up too. Of how press gangs kidnapped men and brutalized them on the British Navy’s ships. Of soldiers who were considered subhuman, gutter sweepings, ordered to charge into cannons because their lives were worthless, and if not killed outright were turned out to starve or beg when they could no longer serve. It’s worth your time to look at WWI, of conditions in the trenches, of incompetent generals and the ‘nobility’ who sent a generation into machine guns to die.
Of the highly moral people in New England who saw nothing wrong with introducing disease into Indian lands to reduce the population, of forcing them systematically from rich lands so that whites could settle it. Slavery was evil; genocide less so. One was unprofitable. Guess which one that was?
Read the full history of the times, the 1700s, the 1800s, and even the 1900s. Understand it.
Then, and only then, can you really judge Robert E Lee and the others in the old south.
But judge softly; future generations will judge US just as harshly as we judge our ancestors now.
They’ll judge us by how many homeless there are in our society. By our inequality. By our unwillingness to make healthcare a human right. By our unwillingness to educate our people, by our willingness to turn a blind eye when our youth are exploited. By our unwillingness to deal intelligently with social issues such as drug use and care for our mentally ill.
By our unending wars, most of which are based on profit for the few, death and misery for the many.
Of our unwillingness to face head on the global climate change that WE, not our ancestors, caused.
By our stubborn resistance to change that would benefit all, not just the few.
You may judge our ancestors (and the statues they put up) harshly.
I, who live in this age, cannot. I lack the moral authority to do so.

 

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Private Education, and Why Our System Is Failing

May 12, 2015

A recent discussion with two online friends caused me to reflect on education.
I’m a product of a small public high school (in Leesville, Louisiana) and a small university (University of Texas-El Paso). Most Americans share a similar background. The system worked for us, back then, but it doesn’t work nearly so well now.
And none of the proposed fixes have made a bit of difference.
Students are stressed; teachers are stressed; some, lacking any other solution, cheat. Even school boards cheat (EPISD, for one, the district I once worked for; the cheating happened several years after I retired, and it was done at the district-administration level; teachers had no input into what happened).
My friends, who have a libertarian philosophy, feel that the solution to our education mess is the free-market approach. I don’t agree. Such a system has several major flaws.
The first one is simple: there’s no law against opening your own school. Go ahead, invest the money, hire the teachers, apply for certification, and invite people to bring their children. Collect a fee for services and just like that, you’re off and running.
Until you go broke. And you are very likely to do so during your first year.
There are such schools, and many have been around for a century. Excellent schools; the nation’s wealthiest citizens send their children to such.
And that’s the problem; such schools are only for the wealthy. They cost roughly what a university education costs. Ordinary Americans can’t afford them.
The private/charter schools, instead of offering their product in a free-market system where competition would result in excellence, neatly bypass competition by collecting not from customers but from government. In so doing, they siphon off needed money from public schools.
So why can’t public schools compete?
Actually, they do. Note that I graduated from a public school, as did my sons and grandsons.
But public schools must do things private schools don’t.
They provide transportation to those that need it. Simple solution to busing, instead of huge schools that draw students from wide areas, keep schools small and locate them where students can walk to school or be brought by parents. The larger schools are thought to be more efficient, but when you add in costs of transportation, plus the reduced education outcomes, I question whether large schools really are more efficient.
The other thing that differentiates public schools from private schools is government control. Schools are no longer about education; they’re about social engineering, about inclusion, about lawsuits. Some of these are positive, and it may be that all of these trends are positive in the long run; but they’re expensive. And that’s the failure of the American school system in a nutshell.
Testing only proves what many already knew: we’re not producing the level of education among graduates that we once did.
Schools are about funding; the rule is, live within the budget. It’s the ‘business’ approach.
But kids don’t fit into the column of figures. Some require more services, whether adaptive services such as ramps for physically handicapped, to smaller classes (more teachers; expensive) or resource-intensive classes for the educationally handicapped.
If there’s an advantage to the private-industry school, that is where it’s to be found. As a private company, such schools can avoid much of the governmental/judicial mandates that, however well intentioned, don’t come with funding.
In a rational system, trained professionals would assess the funding needs and come up with a budget. This would be presented to the school board or other authority, much as departments of the government do . Instead, it’s much more the top-down approach: here’s the money and this is what you must do, and you’re forbidden to make changes by dropping programs or dropping expensive students because you don’t have enough money.
There’s another hidden corollary to this: unproductive and misbehaving students.
The budget is based on a cost-per-student basis, and if student enrollment increases the budget is increased. But if students are habitually truant, schools lose money. This means that if students violate rules, they aren’t expelled; they’re sent to an alternative school, set up to deal with such. If students cannot or will not benefit from attendance at a public school, they’re still kept there, because doing so brings in money.
Private schools don’t operate that way. Those schools I mentioned in the beginning, the ones that wealthy people send their kids to? They had a different solution. If you misbehave, for example bring a weapon to school, you’re expelled. If you refuse to do the work, you’re dismissed. If you are so disruptive that other students can’t learn, you’re expelled. Parents quickly become involved, because having paid considerable amounts of money to those private schools, they don’t want their children expelled.
One final comment about those private, for-profit charter schools: if they don’t produce, they go bankrupt. Good economics, bad sociology. What happens to the students who were enrolled? If you’re a factory making widgets, you can send the ones that don’t pass inspection back and have them fixed. Kids aren’t widgets; they have a narrow time-frame where education either takes place or it doesn’t. Subsequent efforts at adult remedial education  can help, but it can’t fix what went wrong during those formative years.
I don’t know that there’s a solution. We elect officials, and as soon as they take office they become magically expert in everything. The urge to stick a finger in and stir things up is overwhelming. So they do.
And the system gets stirred up, but somehow it’s not better. Short of a total redesign, I don’t see improvement taking place.