Thursday, January 27, 2011

Leigh Bortins Response to 2011 State of the Union Address


Last night, our president addressed this nation on a multitude of topics with his vision for the future of America. A considerable portion of that address was on the topic of education. Much of what he said was right.

It is absolutely correct that our future, the future of any people, is dependent on future generations of well-educated children. These children need to be thoroughly educated, and the importance of math and science is especially in need of emphasis.

As the CEO and founder of Classical Conversations, Inc., a leader in home education, I greatly appreciate the president’s stressing that the responsibility for educating our children resides in the home, and it is the “family that first instills the love of learning in a child.” Removing top-down mandates and restoring local authority over education is a move in the right direction; a move I affirm.

However, these can only be the beginning. President Obama stressed that “nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school degree.” While employment is a practical outcome of a good education, it is not the goal of a good education. Children are not to be educated so that they can learn a skill and earn a good job. The skill they should be learning is how to learn, not how to manufacture wares. The reason we fear one type of job going overseas is because our education has not enabled us how to learn the necessary skills for another job. We should rejoice with Kathy Proctor, who is earning a degree in biotechnology, so that she can earn a living in another field outside of furniture manufacturing. We should rejoice with her for doing what all of us should be able to do, but are afraid of because our education didn’t give us the skill of how to learn.

The president also discussed the importance of “high expectations” and “high performance,” schools that don’t “meet this test,” and “standards” developed by governors throughout the country. He also referenced statistics such as, America is “ninth in the proportion of young people with a college degree.” The point is missed. Children are souls, created to be loved and nurtured, not statistics or test scores. Life is not a series of multiple-choice-#2-pencil-bubblesheet tests. Life is something we live, in which we are constantly learning. Yet, in the very stages of development where our children are being prepared for life, they are being taught to become test scores and statistics in the number of high school diplomas or college degrees being awarded.

Of course, standards, testing, and statistics are necessary tools in the education of children when the responsibility of educating them is being shared with “our schools.” These schools are responsible to their district school boards, their state government, and ultimately to the federal government if they want any funding. And these agencies are so distant from the actual child being educated that this student becomes a series of test scores and grades on a stack of papers or a computer screen. Just consider the hubris of Washington to think it knows what is best for the education of children in Vermont and New Mexico. But let’s not stop there. Consider the hubris, too, of my own North Carolina government in Raleigh to think that it knows what is best for the education of the children in Boone. Or, that the Moore County school board knows what is best for little Johnny Smith living on the opposite side of the county.

Responsibility doesn’t only begin in the home, it resides in the home. Only Johnny’s family knows what is best for his learning. And when she doesn’t, or more likely, doesn’t think she does, there is a community out there to help her. But the community doesn’t exist to create or impose standards on Johnny. How can they have the authority to do so when they don’t even have the responsibility to do so? They are there to provide guidance, advice, and assistance to the family who is responsible to do so.

So, while working toward a brighter future for America might include the reforms President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union Address, it cannot be anything more than the beginning of its reform. Ultimately, education must be a means by which our children are nurtured, not recorded as statistics. And the responsibility for nurturing them must remain with the family, not pulled out from under them and put into the hands of a bureaucracy hundreds of miles away.

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