Too many school drop-outs; not enough respect or authority in the classrooms; too little value placed on the teaching profession; too little art and sport in the curriculum; too much passive rote learning; and too much “theory and abstraction”.
United States schools? No, French schools quoting French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in an article in the October edition of The Economist and titled, “Bac to School”. France, the President concludes, needs “to rebuild the foundations” of its education system.
A government commissioned report reveals that two in five pupils leave primary schools with “serious learning gaps” in basic reading writing and arithmetic. One in five finishes secondary school with no qualification at all. Even the “bac” baccalaureate is under attack. France has set up after-hours service for secondary school, to supervise homework and help keep kids off the streets. The government is taking a harder look into the teaching profession and to perhaps soften up the unions before less palatable changes. France schools hold back kids called “redoublement” but some suggest it has no effect on a child’s progress. They talk about streaming of pupils by ability, so that children can stay with their age group, but the unions are hostile. France considers less abstract teaching, which might engage less-academic pupils.
The article states that Mr. Sarkozy will find it hard to translate his ambitious ideas into concrete plans. His wish-list for the curriculum is daunting: more art and sport, but also more “civic education”, comparative religion, “general culture”, trips to the theatre, walks in the forest, and visits to business.
I have always believed that schools should turn out a well rounded product but that schools are not to be “social agencies”. However, the original purpose of schools was to teach the basic materials or subjects, while controlling discipline, demanding respect and responsibility. More important now than in my days when we did have “good culture traits” when we left school even if we didn’t have them when we first entered any public school system.
Teaching comparative religion in our public schools? Probably not, but I would not oppose it if the teaching books covered the history of the major religions and the class was optional. Probably not going to happen in the public sector.
France’s rigorous system suits able pupils: half of all 15 year olds match the standards in writing, math and science but the schools fail the weakest. Comparable to us, I believe.
Comparisons to our local public schools are rife. For years I have said that we needed to challenge all students but we need to “stream” kids by ability rather than to socially promote or hold pupils back. Both social promotion and holding back have severe imperfections. That we should have longer schools days? Absolutely. But try to get either of these ideas past the unions. Our out of school by 2:30 dates back to days when kids had “work” to do after school, and the longer school days with after school “services” should be “a no-brainer”. Many parents have no idea what nor seem to care what their kids do after they get home in the middle of the afternoon.
More sports, yes, keep what is working and add more intramurals, and not in just sports. We already have too many “traveling teams” in some activities.
Busing more and more kids out of their neighborhoods causes immense logistic problems. Many of these problems could be solved as the French say, by “streaming" by ability (keeping kids in their own neighborhoods considerably reduces busing) and offering more services. Having the school day lengthened with more after school “services” and by using more private and public transportation would solve many of these logistic and safety problems.
Note that Mr. Sarkozy, himself a bit of a “leftist”, twice mentions the unions as hostile or a hindrance. Unions are thriving in the public sector but statistics show they have lost ground in the private sector. Much of that may change over the next decade as power shifts. I in no way oppose unions; but when less than ten out of more than one hundred thousand teachers are fired in Illinois in a whole year, something drastic is wrong with the school boards, (and public boards in general) administrations and union leadership.
Nothing in this article is new to me and I am probably preaching to the choir. Our public school systems need a drastic retuning but few have the guts to do it. But many do, they move, set up private schools, religious schools or home school.
As the world catches up to us and many say some countries will surpass us in the next decade, it may be too late. Time will tell but then again I do not believe we have the time to wait and see.