DeVos Right Secretary of Education

Bill Neinast

Unfortunately, President Trump did not adopt one of his primary opponents’s promises.  Abolishing the Department of Education was one of three departments that Rick Perry wanted to abolish that he could remember.

Fortunately, the President has done the next best thing to abolishing that federal agency that meddles in local affairs where it has no legitimate interests.  He appointed Betsy DeVos to be his Secretary of Education. 

DeVos has the teacher unions in a panic because  she is a proponent of publicly funded vouchers to allow students to flee the failing public school systems.  This, obviously, is a threat to tenured teachers continuing to “teach to the test” instead of teaching to educate.

Personally, I believe DeVos is on the right track.  The American public education system is failing.  I know this from personal experience.

In the early 80s, I taught government and business law at Blinn College.  I was appalled at my students’ lack of knowledge of federal and state government organization and functions and in their lack of ability to communicate in written English.

Every one of my tests and exams included at least one question that required a written answer instead of true/false or multiple guess. On the first test in every class, several students would turn in their tests and comment, “This is the first time in school or college that I have had to write an answer on a test.”

The lack of, or inappropriate, punctuation, subject and verb not agreeing, and other grammatical errors were obvious proof of those statements.

I also required a research paper in each class. The assignment was made the first day of each semester with written instructions.  Although the subjects were government or business law, grammar was stressed as an important element of the assignment.  They were told that one point would be subtracted for each grammatical error and misspelled word (this was before word processors with spell check).

The instructions included a suggestion to complete the paper early in the semester, to put it aside for several weeks, and then review it for substance and errors.  Then have a friend check it for errors.

When the papers were turned in, it was obvious that most were done the night before.  Most were sad commentaries on the American education system.

A copy of the worst of the lot is staring at me as these words are written.  It is eight pages for double spacing with 1-1/2 inch margins at the top.  Among those few words are 88 grammatical errors and misspelled words.

I gave the student 50—and that was a gift— on content and then subtracted 88 for a grade of -38 on a major part of the course grade. 

About ten years after having to wade through those eight pages, I met an exchange student from Poland attending high school in Somerville.  I asked her how she liked American schools.  Her answer was that she was bored to death.  She said that her assignments in Somerville High School were what she had learned in grade school in Poland, particularly in math and algebra.

Shortly after that exchange, I met a Polish computer tech in Austin.  Communism had just called in Poland, and he said he was moving his family back to Poland that summer.  The reason was simple.  He believed that his children would get a much better education in Poland than they were getting in Austin.

Three other personal experiences might provide a hint about some problems that contribute to a poor performing public education system.  The late Clyde Thomas, Bill Tockhorn, and “Big Joe” of KWHI Radio fame told me that each of them retired as teachers on the first day of eligibility for the sole reason of their lack of authority to maintain discipline in their classes.

So here’s the perspective.

These personal experiences make it easy to believe the reports that a college education is required for American students to reach the high school equivalent of other industrial nations.

Assuming, therefore, that those reports are correct, there is ample reason for the teachers’ unions to be concerned about Betsy DeVos becoming Secretary of Education.

Fortunately, there are a number of excellent models that could be blueprints for relaunching an effective public education system.

Let’s discuss those next week. 

P.S.  Some time ago I was sitting in a waiting room.  A young mother sitting across the aisle from me said, “Dr. Neinast, you don’t remember me do you?”  I answered, “No, I’m sorry, I do not recognize you.”

She continued, “I was one of your students at Blinn.  I did not like you because you were so hard, particularly in your emphasis on English.  I wanted to drop your course, but my Dad would not let me.  He said I now knew what you wanted and that I should stay in there and do it.  So I stuck it out, and by the end of the course I was so impressed with you that I minored in English.  I am now a teacher.”

Knowing that you may have had positive influences are moments to live for.


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