The cost of sending your kid to a university has gone up by 8 percent in the middle of the next-best-thing to “The Great Depression” that my folks lived through. President Obama—God bless his pointy little head—has offered a plan to help some of the worst off. His Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has been hard at work on a plan to replace the much-despised “No Child Left Behind” with “Well, Some Children Will Be Left Behind.” (At least it falls in the tradition of what American schools have been doing for two hundred years.) Asian countries have been gaining on American educational achievement like alligators fed on a mix of steroids and speed. Americans are desperate for better and more cost-effective schools.
I’ve taught at a little college for almost twenty years and at an Enormous State University for half a dozen years before that, so I’ve got a pretty good idea of what high-school graduates bring with them to college (aside from enormous bongs and that idiot dub-step music). I’ve got two boys aged twenty (graduated from a public school in the suburbs and attending a private college in the farther suburbs) and seventeen (who may graduate from an elite private school—unless he does one more thing to piss-off the headmaster), so I’ve got some idea of what kids are capable. Here’s my plan.
Close a bunch of the lesser universities and colleges, public and private. On the one hand, this will increase the competition among students to get in to colleges. There won’t be “safety schools.” There will just be clerking at Wawa or being the assistant manager for deep-fried products on the swing-shift at McDonald’s. You’ll end up looking like Jabba the Hutt and you’ll never get a member of the opposite sex to look at you. So, get good grades in high-school or Darwinism will take care of the rest. On the other hand, this will stop the facilities arms race that began in the Seventies. I spent six weeks in a Harvard dorm one summer a few years ago. No air-conditioning, buy your own fan; drizzle of lukewarm water from the shower, no matter how far you had run; took five minutes to get the badly-cut key to turn in the door lock; Army noodles with ketchup in the dining hall every night; did you want them with fish balls, pork balls, or tofu balls? Gym is crowded? Go for a run and do some push-ups. Library is crowded? Read your textbook in your room. Classroom is crowded? Get there early or stand at the back. Long line outside the professor’s office? Bring a book—or chat with the others about Darwin.
Fix the public schools. On the one hand, “Waiting for Superman” was right up to a point, but then confused the little bit—teachers’ unions are bad–with the larger whole of the problem—the schools are a mess. You have to be smart, committed, and know your subject to teach. Nothing more. Teach for America is right: smart kids who know a lot about their subject do better than ordinary teachers. Socrates didn’t have an Education degree. In fact, nobody had an Education degree before the end of the 19th century. Education schools didn’t exist. How did we ever manage to progress? On the other hand, stop using the schools as the vehicle for delivering useful public services. Self-esteem, psychological disorders, poor nutrition in the home, bullying, obesity, and sports-band-ceramics for that matter, are not central to the educational mission. Focus! (NB: That doesn’t mean some other agency can’t deliver those services.)
At the root of all our educational problems is the family. Turn off the “social media” (including the television). It turns kids’ brains to applesauce. Take your kids to the public library. Library is closed? This is worth burning buses over. Most of all, read to your kids. Nothing is more important. Except, maybe them seeing you read too.
Technology? Remember, Bill Gates didn’t have a computer in his house or school when he was growing up. Imagination and ambition come from somewhere else.