A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: email@example.com
- Name: Tom McLaughlin
Monday, April 06, 2015
Education has gotten much too complicated. It was my life’s profession and I loved to teach, but I began to resent modern education after about twenty years. I stayed in for another sixteen while my frustration increasingly supplanted my enjoyment until I finally retired four years ago. Lately however, I’m learning how uncomplicated it can be. Since last September I’ve been teaching a US History course to ten home-schooled, high-school-aged kids in Auburn, Maine. I was recruited by one of the parents and it’s a one-year gig. I have nine classes left at this writing.
It’s a long commute — a hundred mile ’round trip every Tuesday morning, but that’s the only downside for me. Early on, we agreed on curriculum, compensation, texts, format, and venue. There are no unnecessary meetings or paperwork. There are no discipline problems. There are no politically correct strictures — not that I ever worried about those, but I don’t have to defend myself if I should be even mildly critical of any secular-sacred taboos. There are no appalled progressives to be outrageously outraged. My students are bright, cheerful, respectful, and they nearly always do their homework. Best of all? Government is not involved, except that students learn about government by studying the Constitution. We discuss how it’s obeyed and disobeyed by our president. We discuss how Congress has so far allowed him to tromp all over it, citing specific sections of Articles I and II.
We’ve been covering World War II lately and last week I gave them a lesson on the Holocaust. We had little time for discussion since I ended the two-hour class with a description of how Nazis progressed from eugenic euthanasia in the thirties, to mass shootings by Einsatzgruppen death squads in Poland, to systematized death camps using cyanide gas “showers” and ovens. They were quite solemn as they filed out and I’m sure they will have discussed the lesson with parents. Next Tuesday I’ll ask for their reflections after it’s had time to ferment in their minds and hearts. They’re all conservative Christians and so are their parents. So am I. We will relate this example of the Nazi culture of death with other manifestations in today’s world, including mass abortions by Planned Parenthood in the United States, and Radical Muslim slaughter of Christians in Africa and the Middle East.
What we enjoy is the ultimate local control of education. Americans formed our first schools that way at every level. Many provided excellent educations, even in humble venues with small budgets. The quality of education is determined not by money spent or fancy buildings, but by the commitment of parents and teachers with high standards working together. The parents I work for hire professionals for subjects they don’t feel qualified to teach themselves. Last year they hired a physics teacher, for example. This year they hired me for US History.
Most Maine towns spend well in excess of $10,000 per child, per year on government schools. If I had my druthers, I’d initiate pro-choice voucher initiatives in every municipality in the country. Parents could send their children to government schools if they chose, or they could send their kids to private schools using $10,000 vouchers. Running this idea past others over the years, people ask: “What about rural areas like ours? There aren’t many private schools within commuting distance to choose from.”
“That’s true,” I say, then point out that there weren’t many daycare centers around here thirty years ago either, but now there are. First came the demand, then came the supply. The same thing would happen with schools, which would be as good as the parents and teachers working together demanded.
“But what about quality control?” people ask. I point out that quality control of our very expensive government schools is sorely lacking now, but they still have plenty of students and plenty of money, only because parents have no choice but to send them. If we had a pro-choice movement in education, government schools would be forced to improve because of the competition vouchers would provide.
With my druthers, I’d abolish the Department of Education in Washington — except for one solitary function: They would exist only to produce and maintain a battery of tests at each grade level to measure minimum competency in reading, math, writing, and history. And notice I said, “maintain.” They would not administer the tests, only maintain them, updated from year to year. The tests would be voluntary. If municipal officials questioned whether their money was being spent properly, they could require students and/or schools they’re funding to take the tests. Further funding for either schools or vouchers could be contingent on the results.
No other government involvement is necessary. There would continue to be good schools and mediocre schools, but they would be a reflection only of parents in local communities who chose to send their children to them.