The Purpose of Education 4 - Passing the Torch

Education is supposed to pass on our culture to the next generation.

It's become a commonplace to bemoan the biased, blinkered, value-free "education" being churned out by modern public schools and large liberal-arts universities.  Students put in their time, but graduate unable to critically examine anything outside the party line and can't get jobs anywhere but in government.  In this series, we've talked about why this is, how it came to be, and how the Internet offers students a chance to bypass the established system and learn on their own.

Education wasn't always like that.  There was a time when teachers and administrator understood the obvious goal of education and felt it their duty to mold young minds, not into politically-correct unthinking boxes, but into free and independent citizens.

Passing the Torch

Regardless of what we may think of our education industry, it's the major mechanism by which we pass our civilization on to the next generation.  A culture can die in one generation if it isn't taught.

Acquiring skills and cultural norms is hard work, regardless of whether those skills are academic knowledge or the more practical sort.  It takes lots of study to climb a pole and fix problems with the electrical system.  It takes much practice to be an effective plumber or builder.  It takes both study and practice to become a doctor who cures patients rather than killing them, and even more of both to get a research scientist who'll invent or discover new wonders.  It takes a great deal of study to pick up the norms of any complex culture or working environment requiring specialized knowledge, which most of them do these days.

If we don't have enough tiger moms pushing their kids to practice enough to play piano in a symphony orchestra, there won't be any symphonies.  If teachers don't inspire kids to read the great works of literature, how could we expect those kids ever to write great works themselves?

When everyone from the President on down knocks factories and energy production as dirty, smelly, and bad for the planet, why are we surprised when kids choose not to enter those fields and our factories move overseas where society welcomes job creation?  Unfortunately, the stuff that runs modern economies has to come from somewhere, or we won't have it anymore.

Very few teachers recognize their responsibilities as the custodians of civilization, but that's what they are.

Some teachers get it.  This is from a Principal's speech at a graduation.

A doctor wants his child to become a doctor.........
An engineer wants his child to become engineer......
A businessman wants his child to become CEO.....
A teacher also wants his child to be one of them.....
Very few become teachers by choice.

That's very sad but that's the truth.  Most of our teachers do that because they couldn't find anything better to do.

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.  A CEO decided to explain the problem with education.  He argued, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"

To stress his point he said,

"You're a teacher, Bonnie.  Be honest.  What do you make?"

Teacher Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness, replied, "You want to know what I make?  She paused for a second.

"I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.  I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor winner.  I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can't make them sit for 5 min. without an IPod, Game Cube or movie rental."

"You want to know what I make?"  She paused and looked at each and every person at the table.

"I make kids wonder.  I make them question.  I make them apologize and mean it.  I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.  I teach them how to write and then I make them write, and write, and write.  Keyboarding isn't everything.  I make them read, read, read.  I make them show all their work in math.  They use their God given brain, not the man-made calculator."

"I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know about English while preserving their unique cultural identity.  I make my classroom a place where my students feel safe.  Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life."

Bonnie continued, "When people try to judge me by what I make, with me knowing money isn't everything, I pay no attention because they're ignorant.  You want to know what I make?"

"I make a difference in all your lives, educating kids and preparing them to become CEO's, and doctors, and engineers."

"What do you make, Mr. CEO?  Quarterly numbers?"

He went silent.

It's too bad that so few parents or teachers have the same concept of duty these days.  I was blessed to have three teachers from that school of thought.  For most of my education, I was homeschooled and my teaching came from my mother.

She, too, saw herself as the custodian of civilization.  She wasn't interested in finding the "real me" because she knew that kids are born as selfish barbarians.  She looked for the "best possible me" she could find and insisted on it.

She passed the torch.  Thanks, mom.

Days Gone By

There was a day when our schools recognized their common duty to pass the torch.  Generations of Italians, Germans, and others came to America.  The schools taught their kids American values in English and turned them into Americans.

Modern educrats pander to race-baiting politicians and teach kids in languages other than English.  This traps kids in substandard "bonehead" classes where they never learn what they need to know to fulfill their potential.  This went on for so long that California voters passed an initiative forbidding teaching in languages other than English.  As one father put it, "You want my kids taught in Spanish so they'll grow up to be waitresses and busboys.  I want them taught in English so they'll grow up to be doctors and lawyers and engineers."

The goal of teaching in Spanish wasn't to keep the kids down, that was a side effect.  The goal was to cut them off from mainstream American culture so they'd be dependent on ethnic politicans who stay in office by getting more and more benefits from society at large.

As we're debating our immigration policies, people keep pointing out that we're all immigrants, except for native Americans, of course.  We know how well unrestricted immigration worked out for the original Americans.  Immigration worked well for America in the past, but that's because it was restricted.  Our laws were choosy about who could enter the country.

Until recently, the tidal wave of unlimited illegal immigration we're seeing today simply wasn't permitted.  Without really meaning to, the New York Times documented the stark, unbridgeable chasm between how the successful immigration of the past worked and the de facto open borders policy we have today.  They described the contents of Marion Meanwell’s alligator bag which was salvaged from the Titanic:

First chartered to sail on the liner Majestic, Mrs. Meanwell rebooked on the Titanic after that vessel was removed from regular service. Tucked into her handbag were a number of documents, among them a letter from the London landlords Wheeler Sons & Co.

This innocuous note, stating blandly that “we have always found Meanwell a good tenant and prompt in payment of her rent,” carried an extra freight of meaning for an immigrant hoping to build a new life.

“If you were coming over without credentials or with no prospect of work,” Mr. Davenport-Hines [author of “Voyagers of the Titanic: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats, and the Worlds They Came From,”] said, it was not uncommon for examiners at Ellis Island to refuse entry to new arrivals and to send them home as “vagrants or tramps.” [emphasis added]

Ms. Meanwell's letter of good character would help persuade the Ellis Island examiners that she was a responsible worker who paid her debts, provided for herself and contributed to society, rather than a mooching freeloader or criminal sort that American didn't want.

Assuming they weren't vagrants or tramps, the educational system quickly taught new arrivals what was expected of them.  They were supposed to abandon their former ways of life and sign up to the American dream.

Techer's unions have turned out public K-12 education system into a machine for funneling taxpayer funds into union-backed campaigns to help elect Democrats.  Progressive politicians have subverted the torch-passing role of our educational system and made it nearly impossible for parents to have any influence on what schools teach.  Parents who want their children to learn useful skills must either send them to private schools or teach them at home.

All colleges try to crank out wealthy graduates who'll contribute to the alumni fund.  STEM universities encourage graduates to found new businesses which create jobs for classmates by selling new products and services to willing customers.  The Ivies create wealthy alumni by teaching graduates to seek government power where they can raise taxes and write regulations to create jobs for their government-oriented friends.

The regulations and taxes which are the lifeblood of creating government jobs make it harder for STEM graduates to boost the economy.  The Ivies have succeeded in blocking STEM efforts to create wealth all during the Obama administration.  It's not clear how this conflict will work out over the long term.

The Internet revolution will break or severely weaken the current educational monopolies by making it a lot easier for any motivated student to get knowledge, particularly if the student is fortunate enough to have a parent who's enthusiastic about helping and encouraging.  One reason most of the new wealth-creating start-ups are Internet-based is that the government hasn't been able to regulate Internet businesses into oblivion.  They're trying, though.

Where Will It Lead?

As with all revolutions, on-line learning will create winners and losers.  Those who seek knowledge and are willing to work hard to get it will win because the cost of self-driven education has fallen so far.  The more citizens learn to earn their own way, the fewer votes for welfare-oriented politicians.  Businesses who have to train their own workers will save a lot of money - McDonalds uses on-line games and web-based courses to teach employees how to deal with difficult customers.

Society will gain in that fewer geniuses will be overlooked for lack of access to existing knowledge.  We may be able to pass the torch if enough students can find the motivation to bypass failing public schools and learn for themselves.

The Economist pointed out that in both Britain and the United States, many people with expensive liberal arts degrees are finding it impossible to find decent jobs.  Residential colleges whose degrees don't map to increased income will have to cut costs or go out of business.  STEM universities will be more likely to prosper, but they, too, will have to become more efficient to compete with free on-line training and with competition from overseas universities.

We aren't even close to figuring out how to bridge the gap between competency and certification.  Nobody wants to be cut open by a surgeon who got a degree from an on-line diploma mill.  Even a traditional degree from a STEM university didn't allow new graduates to build bridges or anything else without supervision.  Businesses like construction and architecture and even auto repair and plumbing have always required young graduates to work under experienced practitioners before being allowed to work on their own.

On the other hand, traditional certification isn't perfect - we've all known people who were certified graduates but couldn't do anything useful.  The issue of what to do about verifying competence gained through on-line education is even more open than the mismatch between certification and competence in traditional education.

Better on-line resources will give more and more parents the courage to teach their own kids at home.  The resulting drop in support for school taxes will slowly affect union power.  Declining revenues will force public schools to improve and will also make them fight more and more bitterly over fewer and fewer dollars.

All in all, it's an exciting time to watch the process of education.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

Nice article Will, an excellent view of our education process from the eyes of a rational man. I would add a few points to your article. I doubt that home schooling will be much more prevalent than it is today. It could triple and still not be a large percentage of the student population. I feel this way because 1) many mothers are either incapable of teaching or work away from home, 2) a lot of mothers want their kids out of their hair for a few hours of the day so they can get something done, and 3) they believe that some social skills are lost when not being at school tends to make the kid more selfish. The internet is the way of the future for teaching kids. The Kahn system is an excellent example of the power of teaching on the internet. When that type of teaching is allowed in the school system each student will be better off. It allows students to continue at their own pace. Another point to consider is the real killer in education, the unions. If we could eliminate the Department of Education and turn the schools over to local controll how much better would we be? Today the goal of most teachers is to get out of the classroom and into the front office. There are reasons for this, one of them is the unruy behavior of the students and why would any sane person want to subject themselves to bad behavior? The threat of lawsuits by ambulance chasing lawyers cause many a teacher to want ot run for the hills. It should be the other way around, only teachers should be able to sue parents and not parents sueing teachers. Do these things, shut down the unions, change the lawsuit fiasco and close the Department of Education and you would see our education system change overnight.

June 4, 2013 11:28 AM
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