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Education getting squeezed

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Here is something on which the right and left may be able to agree: The U.S. educational system seems to be on a downward spiral, being squeezed to death by the left and the right.

It’s not just politics; many students today opt for the workless path. In a way though, the politics of Easy-Street teaching and supervising make it an easy byway for schoolchildren to travel — the result is why I hear words mispronounced on radio and TV by college graduates; it’s why some people can’t make change (fortunately, since the world has gone plastic with credit cards, counting is becoming a lost art, and so bad arithmetic is probably only noticed by curmudgeons like me). Easy Street teaching and supervising allows students to miss much of what is necessary to build the architecture to create a well-educated person.

On the right, the staunch conservatives hate the idea that unions, politicians and the federal government are controlling education. And such control often winds up being uniformly bad, with textbooks sanitized to create educational zombies. On the left, equally militant liberals (may liberals be “staunch?” I never see the word used on the left) hate intrusions into the kumbaya thought that all schools should be equal, which seems to mean uniformly below average. Both sides have points, but in the long, long conversation, education seems to be taking the hit. It’s pretty hard to have coast-to-coast lousy schools, but the country seems to be hell bent toward that end. My education is sketchy—for example, I didn’t like high school and ran away from home at age 17 to join the Navy. (I did get my HS degree in the service, courtesy of the Armed Forces Institute.) Is my sketchy education, which includes nighttime college classes, better than top ones today? In my day, even if you were a bad student like me, you had to learn. Today, many teachers don’t seem to teach and students don’t seem to learn. Grammar is dead, and spelling is by Microsoft spell checkers. Words are mispronounced daily by news readers everywhere.

What is it with education in the U.S.? Many of us seem to view it with skepticism. I think, during the endless Republican presidential debates that Governor Rick Perry wanted to do away with the U.S. Department of Education — was that the department he couldn’t remember? (Actually, I’m not sure what the U.S. Department of Education contributes to learning; that should tell you something. One seems is clear — if state and local education take money from the feds — it does, big time — state and local education give up a great degree of control.)

And I think everyone knows that the cure for criminal behavior is education. Yet, many states build jails when creating better teachers and schools is a better and cheaper idea. There are far more soft crime criminals (drugs and prostitution, for example) in prison than there are truly bad people; the soft criminals are crying for education and psychological help, but in most states they don’t get it. And the expense of warehousing goes up and up. Education is cheap compared to incarceration. Of course, the education must be good. Anymore, maybe we just can’t do good (did I mention that we substitute “good” for “well” all the time).

Some smart people in the investment biz don’t like to read, can’t string words together; and spreadsheet programs like Excel throw them for a loop. Life must be a kind of hell for them. I don’t blame them — I blame the educational system that let them escape loving the reading of good books and sometimes making computer math — in a spreadsheet or database — sing. I worry about educational systems so regimented by both the right and the left that teachers don’t teach and learners don’t learn.

Here’s a clue about education in the U.S. We want all people to learn English; I’m thinking we are too lazy to learn a second language ourselves. But, if someone moves here, we absolutely want them to learn our language. What’s that all about?

The U.S. federal, state and local governments need to get political points of view out of education, and focus on education. We can only grow an educated and informed citizenry if students learn all of the points of view; not just a point of view.

Have a great week and think about volunteering to teach high school students, immigrants or prisoners about the basics of financial planning, okay? I still remember the day, years ago, when a former middle-school student of mine (I once taught Project Business, a subset of Junior Achievement) ran up to my table at a restaurant and said, “Mr. Hoe, Mr. Hoe! You’re the reason I became a lawyer.” That made my day, month and year.

For more from Richard Hoe, see:

Unconventional, and the rise of flexible funds

Nice ride

How to sell more than you thought possible


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