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The content on this blog is my personal opinion and does not reflect the views of the Department of Defense or the US Navy in any way.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Educational Priorities

I occasionally run into some Prager University videos on my Facebook news feed. Out of all the conservative media I get, they have a better than average chance of being well thought out enough to avoid obvious pitfalls. Unfortunately that's not the same thing as saying they're right, and it's also worth pointing out that the average is pretty bad, so it's not that hard to do a little better.

Anyway, I do occasionally watch them, and I usually have something to say afterwards. So today I'm responding to "Every High School Principal Should Say This". Mostly because I was curious what sort of ideas the right wing thinks might improve our schools. The whole thing is set up as a speech that a new high school principal gives by way of introducing himself and what he intends to focus on.

While I can see some good intent in some of the points, overall I don't like it very much. If I had to summarize... basically, I think several of the things this is trying to "fix" weren't problems in the first place, some of the others will make existing problems worse, and many of the problems we do have with are education system aren't made any better or worse by changing these things.

Now for specific issues with each point.

Point one doesn't start out too badly with its call for equal regard, but it quickly gets worse as he dismisses the value of any identity other than American. You can't make people just decide that the parts of their identity that have to do with their ethnicity, their sex, their religion, etc. aren't important. Trying to do so is mostly just going to damage their self-esteem and make bullying and suicide problems worse. And pretending that identity-specific clubs only have value to people in those specific groups is fairly short-sighted; they often serve as great places for members of other groups to learn about other cultures and other ways of thinking - which is an incredibly valuable thing to learn. (Incidentally, it's funny that he talks about learning language at the end of that part - because doing so without studying "national identities other than American" is a difficult and unhelpful way to study language.)

Point two I really don't have any problem with. Some schools might want to focus on international students and have classes taught in foreign languages, but that wouldn't define more than a relatively small handful of schools.

Point three... also no real problems. I think focusing on modes of address might be focusing a bit too much on the appearance of an appropriately formal relationship versus actually encouraging appropriate relationships between students and teachers, but that's more of a minor nitpick.

Point four I also have no problems with.

Point five... based on what I said about point one above I think my reaction should probably be obvious. But just to spell it out: This is an absolutely terrible sentiment. If you don't have any self-esteem at all, if you don't believe that your best effort will have any effect, then many people wouldn't even try. Lack of self-esteem therefore becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the only way to break the cycle is to gain enough confidence to try, and to keep that confidence even if you fail. (In fact, that's a great skill to have throughout one's life.) So ensuring that your students have enough confidence and self-esteem to keep trying is one of the most vital duties an educator has.

In his defense, he may have intended just to repudiate the idea that multiple people can win and emphasize that effort is rewarded. But it's still phrased in such a way that makes it sound like he doesn't care about self-esteem.

Point six is simply irritating in multiple different ways. It's kind of amusing that he says he's going to reject politics and then goes into a discussion of issues that is a straight run down the Republican party platform. Any Democrat, of course, would tell you that allowing the school not to cover those issues would be worrying about propaganda rather than science. 

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