Should we scrap STEM in high school?

STEM topics are important (duh!). Finding the future scientists who will improve my health and quality of living is important to me. I want society to cast a wide net to find all those poor kids, minority kids, and girls we’re currently training to be cute who, in the right setting, could be the ones to save me from the cancer I’m statistically likely to get.

But how much value are we really getting from 12th grade? I’m pulling a bait and switch with the title to this post–I think we should keep the norm of teaching 9th graders basic science. But by 12th grade, are we really getting enough value to warrant the millions of hours per year of effort we demand of 16-18-year olds? I’m skeptical.

There are lots of things that should be taught in school. Ask any group of people and you’ll quickly come up with a long list of sensible sounding ideas (personal finance, computer programming, economics, philosophy, professional communication, home ec., and on and on and on). But adding more content only means we do a worse job at all of it. And that means an increased chance of students simply rejecting those topics wholesale.

Society is filled with science/econ deniers of all persuasions. Anti-intellectuals have been a major constituency for at least the last decade. It’s not like these folks didn’t go to school. Someone tried to teach them. What I want to know is how things have would been different if we’d tried something other than overwhelming these people with authoritatively delivered facts (which seem to have resulted in push-back rather than enlightenment)?

The last 6+ years of trying to teach economics to college kids against their will has convinced me that art (especially literature and drama) affects us much more than dissecting frogs or solving equations. And exposing kids to more literature and drama has the added benefit of (possibly) helping them develop their literacy (which we’ve forgotten is not a binary variable).

Although casting a wide net to find potential scientists is important, ultimately, we only need scientific knowledge in the heads of those who don’t flip through it. But literature can help us develop empathy, and that is a mental skill we need in far more heads. I suspect that replacing a 12th grade physics class 98% of students forget with a literature class where you read a good book would do more to promote an enlightened society.

A Compulsory Education Abolitionist’s Thoughts on Common Core

I was homeschooled since the fourth grade for religious, political, and practical reasons. I know quite a bit about public education “bugaboos” (Nixon’s term when referring to national standardized testing). These were the types of things I heard discussed growing up. So naturally, all this recent commotion about Common Core has grabbed my attention.

It is prominent in the news lately because of the backlash from libertarians, social conservatives, local communities, state legislatures, and their strange bedfellows, the teachers unions and the Republican National Committee. Unfortunately, much of this reaction has happened only after the adoption of Common Core standards in all but a few states. Prior to this backlash not very many people knew much about Common Core, what with it having been pushed through without asking the opinion of those most likely to be effected. Indoctrination without representation, you might call it.

My home state (Montana) adopted the Initiative in 2011 but I was only made aware of it for the first time a couple months ago. A good friend of mine had asked me to work with him for several hours that week. He’s very enthusiastic about limited-government and pro-family causes and doesn’t shy away from opportunities to advance them. So he invited me to a gathering of parents and educators who oppose the Common Core Initiative being held at a local social club and suggested that I write something about it. I couldn’t as I had plans that particular evening, but we continued to talk while we worked.

During our conversation he raised a very important point that many are overlooking:

Our schools are already too far gone to be changed for the better, from within, in any meaningful way.

My friend’s interest in Common Core had less to do with opposing further implementation and more to do with using it to convince others to take their kids out of school and be truly responsible for their children’s education. He had his doubts about actually getting through to people. After all, most of their kids are doing alright at the moment, so why should they change their habits, let alone their lifestyles?

Their kids may, in fact, be doing alright. And most of them may continue to do so. But what’s the objective? So they can become cogs and levers in a giant machine? So there can be yet another generation of untroubled, disengaged tax-serfs devoid of any hope or ambition or purpose? Surely it isn’t so they can become critically thinking, personally responsible, successful, free individuals.

And what about the ones who do sometimes slip through the cracks? Are they just statistics? Or, to appropriate the motto of British anti-slavery advocate Josiah Wedgewood: is such a person (flunkee, dropout, victim of bullying/addiction/depression/suicide) “not a man and a brother?”

Then there are all the rest; everyone else harmed by public schooling. The taxpayer. The employer. The parent. The teacher, even.

What of them? What of you?

Consider: before the Common Core Initiative was even a glint in the National Governor’s Association’s eye,

You were robbed via taxation to pay for “free” education, whether you had children in school or not. And even if you did have children in school you had little more say in how they were educated as people who didn’t have children in school.

Your kids were alternately indoctrinated and neglected for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year, for 13 or more years, often by complete strangers. Any actual learning that managed to get past these impediments had far more to do with individual teachers, students, and parents than it did with curriculums, tests, and classrooms.

Your kids were forcibly segregated by age. The foolishness specific to a given age group was multiplied and reinforced by peer pressure and collectivist thinking. These things alienated your children from any social arrangement not conforming to this norm. Any ability a child had to make it in the real world was attributable to a reaction against these trends by exceptional teachers and good parents. And where these were lacking, to the child’s own rebelliousness and obstinacy.

Your cities and states were on the fast track to bankruptcy and insolvency. Increased taxation or federal funding with strings attached were not permanent solutions and caused much harm in the interim.

You, as a parent, had no role or duty or obligation or authority in any of this, save what the state deemed fit for you to have, to be revoked at a moment’s notice.

Many things beside.

Competitive federalism or not, this is the way it already is and too few dispute that it is the way it ought to be. The mere implementation or repudiation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative changes none of this. With, as Lenore Early puts it, the cartel federalism of the CCSSI, the things I listed are likely only to get worse. That’s reason enough to oppose it, even within the system, but at best it addresses symptoms, not root causes. The problem is the entire concept of progressive, compulsory education, the sole purpose of which is to create compliant citizens for public service and an increasingly subservient, stagnant private sector (if we’re lucky).

But these are all concerns for the parents of children in public school, so us homeschool types have little cause for alarm. Right?

Wrong. As is often the case with standards pertaining to public schooling in America, there are those states that also impose them on parents who have already chosen to opt out of state-indoctrination.

This really shouldn’t surprise. Children belong to the community.

So, just homeschooling (or private schooling) is not the whole answer. It takes more than simply removing your children from the state-run institutions to escape them. That is why I advocate they be (gradually, but permanently) abolished. It’s for the children.