By John Rajcic
Our public schools have served and are serving my children and grandchildren well. This is not the case with many children, who will end up in low wage jobs, enter our prisons, become welfare recipients and generally become wards of the state.Our State Superintendent of Public Instruction is calling upon our school district to close the “achievement gap” even though state revenues will be less.In the case of our school district, revenues also will greatly diminish because of declining enrollment and place additional stress on the way the district operates. The assumption should be that learning is paramount. Is there a disconnect between teaching and learning? Lincoln did quite well basically in the absence of a classroom teacher. Many kids today readily pick up the same information delivered in the traditional classroom short of a formal teacher by use of the computer.Have traditional libraries become an anachronism? Few if any students go to the bookshelves when doing their papers and assignments. They go to the library to socialize and use the computers. Why it is that students can hardly wait to “bust out” of most classrooms and it requires a crowbar to pry them away from a computer?Our kids have much more useful information than Socrates or Plato. Socrates and Plato knew nothing about iPods. The English language our kids are confronted with has 5 times more words than existed in Shakespeare’s era. Technology has also created a great gap between effective learning and the way our schools are organized. Many kids think they are forced to “learn” in an antiquated and tedious manner. Learning may be hard work, but hard, purposeful work in any field need not be viewed as being tedious,We live in a global village. When it comes to the means of production, our nation will continue to have difficulty competing with cheap land and labor abroad. Today capital is also in short supply and is moving from the East to the West. The key to our nation’s strength and competitive success has been innovation in creating new products and more efficient ways of farming and producing other goods and services. Schools must play an important part in creating innovators.It is said that “the hand mill creates the society of the feudal lord and the steam engine creates the society of the industrial capitalist.” The manner in which a society makes a living determines to a large extent its organization, mores and how that society functions.Our elementary schools are based upon an agrarian society where the economy dictated that kids had to take the summer off to help bring in the harvest. This obviously is not the economy of today. Our high schools are based upon a factory system. Students receive instruction in one subject for an hour and then are moved on by the “assembly line.” They confront different disciplines along the way. After four years they emerge “finished” like a Model A Ford. There is hardly a teaching task that cannot be accomplished in a multitude of ways; and many of today’s capabilities were entirely impossible when the present organizational structure of our school system was set in motion.Those who refuse to change their minds or have a vested interest in the status quo can not change anything.Organizations must evolve to continue viability.Are the unions with their political clout behaving like the railroad unions of not so long ago that protected a fully staffed caboose years after the caboose had no useful function?The organizational structure of schools where the lockstep salary schedule dictates the compensation level of the teacher regardless of what is taught or teacher effectiveness must change in time. Do the unions really place children first? Some teachers are uncomfortable with the current arrangement but insecurity and risk dampen the enthusiasm for a more meritorious compensation plan where effective teachers would be paid more.Now about the current budget. Just a few things that the board and union may consider in the bargaining process as revenues decline or basically remain the same as the prior year. Assuming there is a desire to maintain the same programs for students. Freeze salaries and fringe benefits (step and column changes, also), eliminate conference periods, put some courses online that will enable high school students to meet graduation requirements, increase class size, close a school and shorten the school year by 3 or 4 days (take up the lost days by having everyone work 3 days of their vacation and/or “no school” days). Some of these suggestions may be viewed as dire, but they readily deal with more than the anticipated revenue short fall. An aside: foreign speaking children begin to learn English as soon as they reach the classroom door. English speaking kids can’t even begin to learn Spanish or other languages in our schools until they reach the 9th grade. This does not make any sense.Another aside: Is the criticism of the testing required by “No Child Left Behind” an honest criticism? Teachers have historically given standardized and achievement tests and such testing did not seem to impact upon a “well-rounded educational program,” but no one was accountable for the results except the student. This is not to say that families do not have an educational responsibility. Our district like most districts receives only five percent of their budget from the Federal Government. Why all the concentration and debate on only 5 percent?There is a better day ahead and our republic will endure. I am thankful that my grandchildren’s teachers are having a positive impact on them. They look forward to getting up in the morning and heading for school.John Rajcic is a Ramona resident.