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May-28-2011 14:16TweetFollow @OregonNews
New Wave From Seaside:
Op-Ed by Henry Clay Ruark for Salem-News.com
Artwork by Salem-News.com
(SEASIDE, Ore.) - Ever since our Founders invented American-style democracy --built with a true republican rationale for representative government and controlled by the individual voter's choice OR damaging "apathy"-- the then-existing system for education of the young has been an easy target for too many seeking undue, unearned personal and dollar advantage in our society.
Each-and-every pattern, provision or process for education has come under constant fire from those seeking to evade and avoid their fair share of the costs-involved in this required rational action to extend and defend democracy, no matter how managed or financed to provide the responsibilities demanded of responsible citizens.
Ironically, many if not most thus react irrationally despite their own common-school "free" education, including millions making massive forward personal strides due in large part to their college training under the GI Bill.
That is surely a prime and proven example of government doing for its citizens what they cannot possibly do for themselves in the social, fiscal-financial and cultural milieu prevailing on its passage.
Most also do so in defense of "smaller government" without in any way providing possibilities within any such format for what we MUST NOW HAVE for the 21st Century. Upon examination it is obvious they simply cannot provide any pragmatic and workable substitute.
Again ironically, that stance is taken in the face of very obvious facts proving up the pragmatic potency of our true money-flow in this nation, remarkably open to further strong national management.
Many blithely disregard their own inherent advantages granted by chance placement and often private-school education or attendance at well-supported schools in ultra-elite suburb-situations.
Others are rightly proud of their own very determined and driven-action to advance, both in status and income, and demand like-success from those hampered by many circumstances, almost always far beyond their own individual control.
Yet many parents today --ironically, often those educated under the GI Bill-- are the same ones most troubled by the much higher costs of college and the resulting large-amount loans and other costs consequential for the current college generation.
But nevertheless the concept of the common school, making possible many varieties of common experience for multitudes of highly diverse learners, and extending from kindergarten through graduate school, has proven its worth by its very sweeping success with all those diverse elements we know were directly affected, over many decades --and STILL continuing.
First well-recognized for effective, efficient learner/management --recognized as immeasurably valuable over many decades both to democracy and our place-in-the-world -- despite decreasing funding and further attack, the same now-maligned system has managed to manipulate, somehow, the demanded conversion of a new wave of language-hampered learners at all levels during more recent years, as they have fled from revolution and other radicalizations in their home countries.
(Today's daily here reports some 109 non-English/speaking learners in elementary and high school in a nearby small city, a fact little recognized as occurring, as it is truly, all across the nation. Check for "see with own eyes" in your own daily.)
From hence (that inimitable Americanization process inherent in the common school) came-and-cometh our place in the world as a nation, and our hopes for still further elemental and advanced development as world leader in democracy itself.
There is no possible question about these successes in past decades, despite the long-continuing --and now at an alltime/high-- conglomeration of such attacks. The same process is still at work in every state, for some of the same reasons, with learners of all ages and abilities coming from the disturbed nations, especially in the Far East. Do you really want them to remain UN-Americanized?
There has always been in our nation that small clique --sometimes it has been a crowd-- whose main purpose in life seems to be to reap any possible additional rewards for themselves vs the common cause, despite unavoidable and always-damaging impacts on our democracy.
They try to do this by finding diverse --sometimes evasive-- ways to minimize their fair share of the taxes due from all of us, under law, disregarding the well-known fact that the tax system itself is designed and decided by our own elected representatives, so chosen by the majority precisely for that task, in the unique American Way of democracy patterned by our Founders.
In effect their actions represent their demonstrated contempt for that very basic principle on which our American democracy has built its way into world acclaim, winning wide and very honorable acceptance as leader and pattern for development of other democracies.
Perhaps that's ironic, again, since until very recently the unavoidably complex, constant redevelopment of American education has been continually at work just to keep in sight all/else in a now-onrushing world --especially including many cognitive, fiscal/financial, management and other further furious developments in the multiplying key areas of impact on this continuing tried-and-true system.
That, too, is historical fact, so recognized world/wide by the massive work of many historians, psychologists, cognitive scientists, curriculum and learning media specialists; academicians --and, yes, classroom teachers, too ! They are the pragmatic potent leaders for whom all the rest of this system doth exist, and without whom we will surely see collapse far beyond any possibilities yet projected.
Yet only a small fraction of those solid research-and-practice/findings are known to the many who make much loud/noise re "failures in education", with absolutely no information on them nor understandings re their application to that "failing system" as major, massive, method, management and fiscal/financial facts --the beating heart of any pragmatic action to make our system what it MUST BE for the 21st Century.
That distressing fact-of-life in any current assessment of our educational system cannot be neglected, especially since there already exists a strong, deep and growing professional and public-level pool of studies, reports, books and the constant flood of magazine articles which highlight American life these days.
AGAIN ironically (!) it is irrefutable fact that the vast majority of changes and remediations we now MUST HAVE were researched, proven by performance, and well publicized over the past twenty years --in addition to the moving and massive new information-and-practice modes we continue to learn NOW.
"The word is out there, no doubt about that," declared a current leader in educational change and development, "and that has been the fact for more than twenty years now". That was Howard Gardner, whose memorable book (already cited earlier) is THE classic guide to massive change-and-developments in the system --published in 1991!
He was pointing out for recent conference participants the distressing details of how long it has taken for "what we know we must do" to get done, "even in massively-impacted, socially, politically and financially distressed American debacle-cities like Detroit."
True to the wit, wisdom and will of most Americans, this seeming disregard and downright neglect --the destructive attitude we so often encounter today-- comes mainly for most from simple misinformation and lack of understanding for complex situations involved. (The three-Ws inevitably kick in when those involved learn for themselves the facts truly involved...as numerous historical incidents surely prove !)
These situations are both cognitive and fiscal, as a constant flow of academic research has proven over the past several decades, when deeply-concerned persons (Yes, even some politicians !) sought reasonable ways to remedy the radical hampering and defeating affects highly visible in many of the absolutely-required financial/fiscal voters-choice confrontations around the nation.
BUT there has also long been a well-documented Far Right and "neo-conservative" ongoing attack program designed and dedicated to decimating funding for education, operating at all levels from local through state to national, ever since the early beginnings of the destructive Reagan-era reiteration of tax-slashes for corporations and the rich, coupled with still-continuing determined actions designed to kill off union developments, with special attention to those unions servicing the professionals who in turn serve the schools of the nation.
The continuing plunge in public opinion position, and particularly in provision of potent resources for the current system-pattern, became a leading political-nostrum declaration from that era, until today tax-cuts have become the ideological center of political life for one party, even to standard print-form promises with signatures exacted from every candidate, NEVER to permit a tax-RISE --with education an unavoidable victim since it necessarily demands a large share of tax receipts.
(Many leading politicians of the Far Right have made their career on this issue-alone --Grover Norquist comes immediately to mind-- with no visible evidence of its inevitable eroding impact on conscience, concern for others, and the demanded wise concentration of resources for all of us.)
The tax-system is the obvious target, with education universally and unavoidably among its most-costly components since it must operate primarily on and through so many people, with such ubiquitous and costly tools as buildings, busses, "free"-lunches and counselors, as well as the primary and most essential classroom teacher.
Then, too, the entire educational system is definitely always vulnerable since reflecting complex and skilled-teacher relations with the young --not an easy-shot within that system itself; demanding high competence, and continual further perfection -- which is why continuing-education in education, with emphasis on cognitive advances and classroom applications, is demanded of every effective teacher wishing to remain so.
That's a most difficult point for those "outside" to see-and-accept, while seeking any way to attack current costs, due largely to a permeating lack of understanding by most citizens of what education IS and MUST BE to build, preserve and protect any true democracy.
(Example: Name the seven widely-variant forms of individual "intelligences" any teacher must take into account in any classroom, especially when multiplied massively by more learners than 20 !)
The immutable fact is that true education --the kind we really want for our children-- is a very complex learning process demanding close and very personal sensitivity to individual learning styles and the interplay of (at least seven !) varying forms of intelligence helping to shape what is learned.
Cognitive research over many decades, strongly developed in the last three, has illuminated and emphasized "what we now know-we-KNOW" to build rapid and accurate application of true understandings in other settings and frames than for the original learning, for nearly every learner, at many levels from pre-kindergarten essentially up and beyond the graduate levels in college and university.
That research demands special levels of understandings --most beyond the scope of many school parents and patrons, both methodically and for learning goals involved-- making it an extremely difficult task to summarize and communicate to those who really need to understand it the most.
The massive failures in the American media are highly evident, even with modern media channels more open to parents and others involved than ever before. That's partially because to do the job right demands sensitive, skilled (and thus costly) staff, supported by solid working time and with major additional resources.
We have observed such determined attack on average about every twenty years ever since the early struggles amidst the Puritans and other progenitors of our world-leading democracy.
The fact is that no single nor combined practical or projected system of education in practice OR theory has ever satisfied these comparatively few, which is perhaps the most defining and indicting of findings we can make from the historic record, now open to more probing examination by many more citizens than ever before simply via new technologies (read: Internet, magazine-growth, even Google --all easing access to professional educational terms and situations, and their clear meanings in practical classrooms.)
The further fact is that for many of the most-determined deniers of the dollar-demands difficult to lower for most new educational advances we want for our children many will never have visited a school-at-risk; nor participated in any school district dialog/discussion in a "normal" situation; nor met with/planned with any of their own children's teachers --and most reside in more expensive suburban homes, often to avoid precisely the conditions forced upon schools-at-risk by the irreversible cultural changes in our nation over the past fifty years.
Thus many more citizens, driven by deep interest in their own family involvement through children participating within the system --and now facing the obvious great additional needs surfacing in the new Century-- now find easier ways and less time-demanded to keep closer watch on what goes on within the system --and what is happening also with what we must see our children learning to really understand, in these early days of the 21st Century.
Not only has the computer-and-Internet combination now reached widely and deeply into nearly every home, but we are also faced with the growing ubiquity of rapid-connection and easy search on that same Internet, including many cellphone types and a still-growing variety of IPads.
Check out what the kids are learning via those new technologies --and then try to remember that all these devices can also ease the time-and-access demand for any concerned and active parents --who also remain our most intense and inquiring tax/payers, too.
Local control of curriculum --in our earlier history often tied to the traditional needs to know of primarily rural-and-developing areas, and to the widespread use of apprenticeship --perhaps the best demonstration possible for one-on-one learning-patterns-- necessarily dominated the developing system, and led to more than 15,000 local school boards. ("Apprenticeship" is the true pattern of mentor teacher and intern teacher-students also used widely starting with "oldfashioned normal schools" preparing new teachers -- like Maine's Aroostook State Normal School, mine own starting place in education circ 1937.)
Those boards played historic roles in shaping and wisely directing education then; but they are no longer of value for that outmoded curriculum necessity.
A national curriculum is looming unavoidably on our future horizon, demanded by worldwide developmental patterns and hastened by the necessity to devise new and different fiscal/financial foundations for education than the property and other tax sources, long a major role of local boards.
With it will come national learning standards to guide new and comprehensive ways to evaluate both student learnings and teacher competency sans "standardized tests; seen clearly by then as the anathema they have already proven to be.
(Still another ironic/twist here: Many of those making the most noise now re "the failing system", not only in the trades and working professions but in the white/collar small/business groups, gained their own working understandings and skills in either organized apprenticeship or family/likewise situations. The standard test there has always been easy: quality performance on the job, directly monitored and evaluated by the mentor/master.)
O WHY should we be surprised --much less mesmerized into too-radical and too-rapid remedial action-- by that occurrence-again of further attacks, so obviously political-ideologically/driven ?
And further rapidized and radicalized by now much more widespread discussion and even demonstration than in past similar situations ?
As with all-else in any democracy, our choice/by/vote reigns.
That is still true even though we have allowed by far too-widespread citizen apathy and inattention, leading to "easy-pickings" for those always motivated by their own driven behaviors seeking always and all ways for dollar and power advantage in our culturally-distorted society.
Now that we know WHY this growing re-examination of the whole system --with some radical suggestions for rebuilding and thorough revitalization-- is occurring, we surely find ourselves under extreme pressures to make sure we make the right decisions, built on the right topics for extended and intensive public dialog.
Now that we may be in essence starting-again, we can doubtless also find --invent if necessary, as did our Founders-- new ways to fund our remediated or deeply restructured system well-and-wisely.
Immediately we will then "smoke out" those whose major and massive main interest is only somehow to slash tax-burdens more-and-deeper; and separate them from those many more who seek the best possible learning experiences for their inheritors.
For those-latter ones, we can begin the demanded transition-task of providing full and accurate information leading to deeper understandings of domains of learning involved; and to the abilities demanded of learners at all levels to use those skills and knowledges well-and-wisely, as they create their own 21st Century.
Few but the most responsible and loving parents ever stop to consider what will be the fate of those who are NOT so prepared, and must then, inevitably, contend with inestimably more --and more difficult-- problems and potential catastrophes than our generation ever encountered.
This new series, sure to include several probing examination-shots at this complex (and still-moving !) target, is primarily intended for those whose normal, natural and current situation makes this whole new attack on education-as-system a major social, economic/fiscal and cultural interest worth depth and density of exploration.
Unavoidably that's what is demanded of one of our most complex and confusing institutions, open to strongly-opposing major interests, rapidly changing within itself, and staffed with the most dedicated and decently-striving of staff and direct/participant leaders --the teachers themselves.
(Further ironic fact: Nearly all those who constantly attack any additional tax expenditures for education will gladly acknowledge the impact on their own lives of that one or several always "exceptional" teachers they were fortunate enough to encounter. Mine taught LATIN --yet is one major reason I write...)
Perhaps the key element open for dialog and demanding pragmatic and creative consideration is some other fiscal/financial funding method for the whole system, departing some distance from the property-tax potency for damage of which so many complain. Possible alternative and additional fiscal/financial sources drawing on the massive and increasing dollar-flows in our nation will be considered soon, under expanded research now.
Your continuing comments and especially your problems and examples of desperate and difficult situations involved in the system, will guide us in our explorations. No apology for length-here OR to-come (!) and I thank you all for your kind attention and continuing patience, the real foundation attributes of any such attempt at a public-channel exploration such as this !!
Please note that this series of Op Eds will continue intermittently, often triggered by new development demanding immediate strong dialog among us here. Watch especially for further developments now underway in cognitive science changing the way we learn and teach, and the new technologies of those radically-changing ways. --------------------------------
Reader's Note: Per HCR-usual custom we've NOT listed-here documentation sources-used for this Op Ed. For the record, some 15 books, on the author's working shelf, were consulted in a variety of issues-and-areas, and several new books written especially for these main issues were also read, consulted and special parts/noted. We do not list-here to save space (several pages) with only occasional legitimate user-served. In addition, a whole year of four leading political/economic/social journals was again surveyed, along with an accumulation of some sixty clips from dailies and general magazines over the past year. Every item is named with its proper ID in author's notes; transcript available on request, at $15 fee for reproduction and Internet delivery prepared from writer-notes.
At 21, Henry Clay Ruark was Aroostook Editor for the Bangor, Maine DAILY NEWS, covering the upper 1/4 of the state. In the ‘40s, he was Staff Correspondent, then New England Wires Editor at United Press-Boston; later Editor for the Burlington, Vermont 3-daily group owned by Wm. Loeb, later notorious at Manchester, New Hampshire UNION LEADER for attacks on Democratic Presidential candidates.
Hank returned to Oregon to complete M. Ed. degree at OSU, went on to Indiana University for Ed.D. (abd) and special other course-work; was selected as first Information Director for NAVA in Washington, D.C.; helped write sections of NDEA, first Act to supply math, science, foreign language consultants to state depts. of education; joined Oregon Dept. of Education, where he served as NDEA administrator/Learning Media Consultant for ten years.
He joined Dr. Amo DeBernardis at PCC, helping establish, extend programs, facilities, Oregon/national public relations; moved to Chicago as Editor/Publisher of oldest educational-AV journal, reformed as AV GUIDE Magazine; then established and operated Learning Media Associates as general communications consultant group. Due to wife’s illness, he returned to Oregon in 1981, semi-retired, and has continued writing intermittently ever since, joining S-N in 2004. His Op Eds now total over 650 written since then.