Eduacation At Its Finest

Al Jacobs

A brief article titled “My View,” authored by M. Donald Thomas of the Public Education Support Group, was recently sent to me by a friend, with this one-line query: “What do you think?” I normally read these things hastily, respond with a few innocuous lines and put it out of my mind. This is different, as it contains some comments I can’t easily dismiss.

First, a word on Dr. Thomas: He earned his doctoral in Education Administration from the University of Illinois and served as superintendent of schools in four different states. His awards include Civil Rights Worker of the Year (1978), Educator of the Year Award from the Horace Mann League (1997) and Martin Luther King, Jr. Citation from the NAACP (2013). As for positions of scholastic authority and awards with impressive titles, he ranks highly. Concerning any background as an actual educator – meaning some evidence of conveying knowledge to students – not a word is mentioned.

As to a number of comments attributed to him, I cannot help but respond to those I find most controversial. His first: “The sins of our nation are quite evident: racism, poverty, crime and drugs, gerrymandering of voting districts, inadequate funding for public education, segregation based on economics and class and differential pay programs based on sex and race.”

He simply listed the conditions perpetually existing in every nation over the entire history of mankind. Nothing in particular can be done about these circumstances unless he proposes laws be enacted to alter human nature.

His second: “Bold ideas from great leaders produce substantial national benefits. It is urgent that a great leader with a bold idea appear on the scene.”

I can recall one such leader, King George III of England who burst upon the scene in 1760, full of boldness and vigor at a youthful age and succeeded in so alienating the North American colonists that 13 colonies revolted to form the United States of America. I can think of another fine example, Charles L. Bonaparte who, in 1852, managed to wrangle himself the title of Emperor of France. Then, after nearly two decades boldly messing up nearly everything he touched, he presided over a disastrous war with Prussia, then found himself ousted and shipped elsewhere, where he died shortly thereafter.

But perhaps, the bold leader most admired by Dr. Thomas appeared as our 32nd president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. Although the famed FDR, who succeeded to the presidency in 1933, is regularly credited for bringing our nation out of the Great Depression of the 1930s, we actually remained mired in its clutches until our nation entered World War II in 1941.

If anyone deserves an award for our emergence from the economic malaise, it must be the three men who actually performed the task: Benito Mussolini, Hideki Tojo and Adolf Hitler. We may credit their handiwork, which by 1945 left the United States as the only comparatively untouched economic entity existing on earth, as accomplishing the deed.

As Dr. Thomas gets more deeply into the matter of education, he seems fixated on the economic status of each student, as he recommends: “Establish a funding index for children living in poverty. Poverty is a strong handicapping condition.” Although I don’t know whether he grew up in an environment of affluence, I can attest to what it’s like as part of a family with meager assets. Note, however, although my parents were frequently broke, we were never poor. There’s a fundamental difference; broke is a financial condition, whereas poor is a mental aberration.

I’ll now take issue with Dr. Thomas’ contention that accessibility to funding is the principal ingredient in producing high quality education. It’s my belief a student who is both bright and eager to learn will do so, irrespective of the attractiveness of the classroom or the credentials of the teacher.

More to the point, the money devoted to education is rarely allocated in such a manner as to enhance instruction to the student. Neither the salary an instructor or administrator receives nor the plushness of the infrastructure will contribute in any way to a student’s learning. I’m convinced the motivated student who strives to learn will do so regardless of the accouterments. In short, I disagree with the conventional palliative that academic excellence results from the spending of money.

Near the end of Dr. Thomas’ article is a call upon the nation to employ “sufficient support personnel for schools with large numbers of high-need children,” with his final plea as follows: “Will this cost a great deal? You bet it will. So did all of the bold ideas proposed by great leaders: national parks, the Marshall Plan, Interstate highways, Medicare and man on the moon. We have tried Band-Aid education. It has not produced many benefits. It is now time to implement a bold idea on education. In the annuals of history, what we do for education will be recorded as more important than anything else we might have done to eradicate our nation of its sins. It is the sacrifice we must make to regain our moral leadership in the world.”

Let me first translate several of the terms used into what I believe are their intended meanings. By “high-need children,” I doubt this refers to youths suffering from such ailments as ADD, ADHD or autism, but who are instead failing to perform satisfactorily in all aspects of their lives. As for “Band-Aid education,” this means an unwillingness to pour unlimited sums of money into every conceivable program in an attempt to educate persons who are fundamentally uneducatable. The expression “moral leadership in the world” conveys no meaning whatever; it’s simply thrown in to make anyone who questions anything appear to be a discriminatory bigot.

I’ll offer a testimonial of sorts. During my ten years as a classroom instructor, I made a fascinating discovery. My bright students who worked hard did remarkably well. Those who were bright but slacked off, as well as those not particularly astute, but who worked hard, managed to get by. Those neither bright nor hard-working failed.

I also quickly learned providing instruction to students requires no high tech devices. The use of a computer as an instructional tool is only of value if the subject on which you’re teaching relates to computers. Otherwise, a modestly priced blackboard and cheap piece of chalk normally does the job effectively.

In the education business, an even more startling revelation eventually dawned upon me – one which took me a number of years to realize, first as a student and later as an observer of my fellow instructors. It’s that the competence of the professor means little when it comes to conveying information and in cultivating knowledge. Admittedly, it may be a more delightful experience if your mentor is knowledgeable and lectures with inspiration, but if you’re intent upon learning a subject, you’ll do so, regardless of the academic deficiencies of whoever is assigned to instruct the class.

I’ll conclude with a supposition concerning Dr. M. Donald Thomas, the Public Education Support Group to which he belongs and the approach to education he and his group espouse. It seems clear they embrace educationalism, defined as the belief in education as a concept or strategy. In essence, their attitude is that education is something imposed, involuntarily or otherwise, on the recipient, rather than something self-imposed by the student … and, I’m sad to say, the educationalists are firmly in charge. Unhappily, in this world of formal schooling, much of what goes on about the campus and in the classroom under the guise of education is clearly not conducive to learning.

Much of what’s wrong is uncorrectable, partly because of hardened attitudes and deep-seated prejudices of society toward schooling generally, and partly because the corrections run counter to the vested interests of the participants. The simple fact is fortunes are regularly generated and passed around; this creates powerful forces.

A final word: Except in its reflection of current social ills, the classroom is no more anti-learning today than in the past. The progress of instruction in each class must, by its very nature, conform to the lower range of student abilities. Most of what goes on at the primary level and to a somewhat lesser extent at the secondary level, is merely marked time, and most adults and students instinctively know this to be so.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may view it on



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