Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Aspiring to a higher standard

Educators are becoming concerned about the high rates of illiteracy and are seeking solutions. Our high school students are not preparing to be global leaders. Parents now want some new, serious educational options (see the Broader, Bolder Approach movement) in a wider range of prices and models to choose from (see the school voucher and scholarship movements).

Free education has proven to mean the same as a free lunch, there just “ain’t” no such thing.

Parents of elite private school students may conclude that I don’t know what I am talking about, as their kids are “just fine, thank-you. Those illiteracy statistics must be for some other area of town.”

My response is that their standards of literacy are too low. If you disagree with me, please stop and read the following paragraph from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:

“Thus necessity, like a gravitating power, would soon form our newly arrived emigrants into society, the reciprocal blessings of which would supersede, and render the obligations of law and government unnecessary while they remained perfectly just to each other; but as nothing but Heaven is impregnable to vice, it will unavoidably happen that in proportion as they surmount the first difficulties of emigration, which bound them together in a common cause, they will begin to relax in their duty and attachment to each other: and this remissness will point out the necessity of establishing some form of government to supply the defect of moral virtue.”

This pamphlet was written to be readable by the average twelve year old in Colonial America. An interesting aside is that over half the people who purchased Thomas Paine’s Common Sense were either indentured servants or African slaves.

Few modern adults, let alone a sixth grader, can read this document well enough to explain its arguments and conclusions to another adult. Parents need to recognize that our current literacy standards are very low. Our ability to understand our heritage and national identity is in decline for the same reasons, according to a recent study by the Bradley Foundation.

For most of American history, teenagers taught children of all ages in one room school houses (after their parents had taught them to read and earn a living) and raised the most literate culture ever seen on earth. They used very inexpensive and highly effective techniques.

The 21st century has its own issues, but good learning techniques never change. We should be able to recover our historic literacy rate of over 90% in this country using a piece of chalk and a slate.

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