Yours Truly, The Secretary of Education

Learning, n.  The kind of ignorance distinguishing the studious.  ~Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

The Sean Connery Elementary Shcool

With the 2010-2011 school (shcool?) year well underway, I feel a need to rant again. Not because American education is inherently bad (although it is pretty bad) or Americans are inferior to any other nationality (they’re not), but because I think the system as a whole is doing a great disservice to students because it is broken. The common definition of insanity is the repetition of behaviors in the hope that one will get different results. And for the last 30 years or so, more and more money has been spent on a system that is clearly not working right, with the antipation that somehow it will get better. Sound familiar?

Just for today, I will play Education Secretary, or Education Czar, if you will, since one of the platforms of my idea is to abolish the Education Department entirely. For your humble consideration:

* First and foremost, the immediate abolition of the Education Department…and the teachers’ unions

The DoE is yet another well-meaning institution established by liberals “for the little guys” which spiraled into a huge bureaucracy that doesn’t really do anything aside from providing cushy jobs to pencil-pushers. Education, like so many other Cabinet-level departments, is something that can be handled much better, and more efficiently, at the local and state level. Anything government-controlled is a monopoly, plain and simple. Establish charter and magnet schools that require competition to stay alive. Sorry, all you would-be socialists…that’s the way of things. Competition will always exist. As for the unions, I never met a union I didn’t dislike (it’s all that doing things in unison stuff which I mistrust.) Unions not only encourage apathy and mediocrity, they reward it with the t-word…tenure.

* Make the recruitment of teachers, especially those in areas such as languages, math and science, a top priority

Now that the gov’t bureaucracy is out of the way, make teaching a desired profession. That’s not to say it isn’t already. However libertarian I might be on some issues, I think teachers, along with law enforcement, the military, and emergency responders, need to be paid well for the important work they do. We need to also increase the numbers of male teachers and minority teachers.

Reading...still the most important skill

* Make students pass a reading profiency exam at each grade level before they are promoted…period

In an age of Ipads and Ipods, Facebook and Friendster, we often overlook the fact that our country is headed for a serious illiteracy crisis, and soon. No amount of technology can change, or will ever change, the need for a mastery of reading and language. (Psst…this also includes learning about grammar, punctuation, and critical writing.)

*Emphasize physical education for ALL students

This one is tough, because I myself loathed gym class. However, it doesn’t have to be the traditional rope-climbing and group volleyball games. Every student can find something to do at his or her ability for 20-30 minutes each day. Modeled healthy eating and exercise habits by adults are more effective than any amount of spending for programs. As for school lunches, there should be two choices…take it or leave it. If they don’t like the meatloaf or peas, they can bring something from home. It is NOT the government’s job to make sure everyone is eating.

U.S. citizenship...the greatest gift

*Likewise, emphasize the importance of being a good citizen

This does not mean having Hitler Youth or Mao-style classes. Being a good citizen means many things, including learning about one’s history, culture, and how to take part in a federal republic. There is a time and a place for learning about other parts of the world, but this is America…and we are raising a generation of children who know nothing about its past.

* Make sports an optional participation activity and separate them from the schools

You may look at me as though I’m crazy. Consider the jocks-vs. non-jocks culture in America. Also consider how much false hope it gives student athletes, and how many careers are lost to terrible injuries. I say, set up a “club” type system (as often seen in Europe and Asia) in which those interested can pay to play. There would be a scholarship fund set up, through private boosters, for those who could not otherwise afford it.

*Get rid of standardized testing

I’d much rather have a student who could practically use his or her knowledge (ie, a lab or participation test) rather than just parrot back what they have learned. The real world is not about the memorization of facts, it is about the practical application of knowledge and the ability to think on one’s feet. Schools sadly do not reflect this.

*Teach students where they learn best…even if it seems absurd

As any special needs parent will tell you, an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is a good thing. Instead of using a one-size-fits-all, homogenic version of education, why not construct IEPs for all students who need them, regardless of (dis)ability? You could spend the money that would have been spent on the unions and the bureaucracy.

*Bring back corporal punishment…with strict guidelines

I am not advocating paddling or any other such thing. Sometimes, however, as a last resort, it is necessary.

*Be serious about anti-bullying measures

Every student deserves a safe, secure place to learn. Three bullying offenses should get a student expelled.

*Reward the good teachers…and get rid of the not so good ones

Don’t you wish you had a job where, regardless of how badly you were doing, you were set for life after a certain time period? That’s teaching. It should be, like any other position, merit-based and not based on tenure.

*Include non-traditional subjects at the middle and high school levels

There’s more to life than reading and math. If a student shows a specific interest in aeronautics, or culinary arts, or animal husbandry…allow him or her to use their basic skills in an industry-specific class. This will better prepare them for life in college and a career.

*Not everyone is destined for college, so stop perpetuating the myth

There are many great recession-proof industries (for example, do you take your car to India or Mexico when the brakes go out?) We need people to do these jobs as surely as we need accountants and doctors. There is no shame in being an electrician or a farrier; in fact, the best at those jobs make a great deal of money.

* Make school fun and relevant

Students always ask what the point is of doing algebraic equations or writing essays on the symbolism of The Scarlet Letter. Instead of the lecture format, why not make school more of a discussion? All the students I know feel better, and smarter, if they can contribute to the topic. What about a modern-day re-enactment of Romeo and Juliet? A design competition to teach principles of physics?

* Be able to laugh at school

A sense of humor helps with everything…including school.

Got comments? I’d love to hear from you…drop me a line at!

~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on November 18, 2010.

One Response to “Yours Truly, The Secretary of Education”

  1. ha ha I started reading and thought you were going to be a lunatic at the beginning with the abolition of the DOE but after that you have some great ideas. In fact, I agree with everything except the DOE. I think we need it but it needs some SERIOUS tweaking. Maybe just a czar instead of an entire department. If the education czar would implement most of the ideas here – anti-bullying, standardized tests, make school relevant, teacher recruitment, reading proficiency exams – imagine how much better the schools would be. Why DON’T we have these things in all the schools already? You get my nomination for Education Czar.

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