I was recently asked by Chip Marce, “What is your plan for actually improving the state of education in New Hampshire, rather than simply spending more money on it.”
A proper answer on my part must begin with me making it clear that I have no specific plan per se; rather I see a critical need to reform our methods and increase our commitment to education. I will address the need to act momentarily, but first I must strongly state that without more financial resources (spending) allocated to education no meaningful reform is possible. Therefore, I am for spending more on education as one of the tools available. Second, it is of paramount importance that we realize that without a proper (not adequate) educated populace the United States of America cannot survive as a nation committed to the ideals which produces the hope - and subsequent fulfillment - to pursue and enjoy what has been historically described as “The American Dream.”
Like many, I have been a witness to the social and cultural changes in our world since the early 1950s. Certain facts, along with the myriad of pressing issues and the explosive advancements in science and technology can seem overwhelming. At the same time we can take a look at antiquity and recent history to find the help we need to mold the future. I will not attempt to link all of that to this particular answer at this time, except to say that I have always found the most difficult task of any decision maker is to identify the right questions to ask.
For me, I have found that there are just two primary questions to ask that will lead into meaningful debates which can lead to meaningful civic action. One of those question is, “How committed are we to providing a proper education to our grandchildren?” (Please note I have carefully included precise words in this question. Any changes or modification of it makes it a question I am not asking.)
“What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures, to make manhood more noble, womanhood more beautiful, and childhood more happy and bright.” – Samuel Gompers, early 20th century labor leader
I include Gompers quote since I personally embrace his views as stated. In Coos County New Hampshire some people have come to celebrate the construction of federal and state prisons while in Conway there is a significant push to shutdown and abandon existing elementary schools.
The United States has 5% of the world’s population, but we have more than 25% of the world’s prison population. There are more people in prison in America than there are in all of China’s prison. The American human population is 316 million. China’s human population is 1.3 billion. At the same time our nations ranking, as it pertains to education, which at one time was the envy of the industrialize world, now is embarrassingly low. It certainly seems that perhaps we should try to flip the order of these two things – more schoolhouses and less jails.
It is clear something needs to be done. Again, I do not have specifics to a plan. Yet, it seems to me that we should be more demanding that a rigorous curriculum be provided. We should look at the fact that proper education includes preschool. I believe we should revisit compulsory attendance for student over the age of 16. We should encourage home scholars. There should be a renaissance in a liberal arts education, (i.e. Philosophy, poetry, music, and the fines arts - the humanities if you will). Exact history must be taught. Our state and federal constitutions should be taught, as should civics.
More professional development is needed. We need to make good teachers better; we need to make excellent teachers superior; we need to separate from bad teachers who cannot or will not improve in their profession. We need to recognize that not all students learn in the same way, or at the same rate.
As a society we have allowed social scientist to do the work that is the prerogative of the normative scientist. We need more parental involvement as together we teach our children well in regards to virtue (not values) essential to the human race. These would be such positive attributes as, self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty. loyalty and faith. We should seek a virtuous society – not simply a virtual society. To this end logic and ethics should be taught, not so much on how one should act (that would be teaching social graces). Rather, logic and ethics courses should explain the different ethical models, while the steps of logic can assist individuals on why they may choose one ethical way over another.
I conclude this brief answer by stating, in New Hampshire there exists an inordinate reliance on local property taxes to pay for public education. This is not sustainable. Worse, it pits two age groups against each other - the children and the seniors. How sad is that? The seniors have age and knowledge (and hopefully wisdom and compassion), as well as money. The Children? Well all they have is their future and hopefully the love and commitment of a society wishing to leave them a world that is better than the one that was left to us. We shall see.