Thursday, March 09, 2006

Educating All Students For Success In Life

Few mission statements more succinctly express the purpose of an organization that the Anchorage School District’s mission statement “Educating All Students For Success In Life”. And with the municipal election of April 4, 2006 just around the corner, with three school bonds and eight school board candidates to choose from, we, as voters, have an opportunity to express how well we perceive ASD is fulfilling this mission.

This election also confers upon us an opportunity to further define the main variable in that mission statement; namely, success. How do we define “success”? Just how do we want the primary education environment to contribute to success? I think we can agree on at least three primary attributes to be passed on to the next generation. First, we want each successive generation to understand the heritage and history of their society, to include the significant historical accounts of each major racial and ethnic sub-community constituting that society. Next, we want each successive generation to be thoroughly trained in basic functional skills and to be exposed to a wide variety of other skills to uncover hidden talents and promote employability and greater self-sufficiency. And finally, we want each successive generation thoroughly trained in character and ethics, to give them the courage and confidence to do the right thing even at personal risk, and to instinctively consider the impact of important life decisions and even ordinary everyday decisions upon the greater society before making choices.

Let’s examine these three attributes in closer detail:

1). Heritage: The Anchorage School District strives to respect the heritage and origin of all students, although it tends to apply greater weight to the heritage of non-whites. I don’t sense the same enthusiasm for St. Patrick’s Day as I do for Cinco de Mayo. However, any deficiencies on the part of ASD tend to mirror those of the greater society. For example, George Washington, the man who founded the country, is required to share his day with 42 other guys, many of whom he would not have invited into the Oval Office to so much as sweep the floor. Yet Martin Luther King, the man who merely changed the country, gets a day all to himself. Since when should the guy who founded the country take a back seat to someone who merely changed the country? But this reflects societal attitudes; ASD merely follows suit.

2). Skills: For the resources it has, ASD does an excellent job with gifted students through Advanced Placement courses, a variety of alternative schools, and the King Career Center for vo-tech training. It also offers a wide variety of services and options for special-education students and immigrant students. However, through funding limitations, ordinary mainstream students can be neglected at times, although at worst they do receive an adequate education. Again, much of what ASD does here reflects societal attitudes and applicable legislation. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires school districts to teach immigrant students English using the more cumbersome, expensive, and time-consuming English as a Second language (ESL) program instead of the more efficient immersion programs which seem to be good enough for American students learning foreign languages. Adding to the burden is our failure to control immigration. Over 90 different languages are spoken within ASD, imposing a significant burden upon their resources. If we were to seriously reduce immigration, we would reduce the number of immigrant students to be taught English, reduce the burden on ASD, and either reduce their budget or redirect the outlay into another area of ASD's operations. However, if ASD doesn’t comply with the law, they could lose Federal funding at best. So rather than directing our ire towards a school district struggling to comply with the law, our ire is better directed towards the Congress that wrote the law.

3). Character: The ASD superintendent projects a no-nonsense disciplinarian image. She has repeatedly and vociferously condemned sexual misconduct, vandalism, and other forms of misbehavior. However, character education means identifying those forms of conduct and life decisions most beneficial towards society, and actively motivating and educating students in this direction. Students need to be better educated in a common environment on how to marry and parent more responsibly. Students need to be motivated towards practicing sexual abstinence until they are economically capable of supporting themselves. Multiculturalism works against this by promoting cultural equality. Not all cultures are equally beneficial to society. Both the strengths and weaknesses of different cultures must be presented, and students motivated to avoid the weaknesses. In addition, we cannot permit the public education environment to sugarcoat failure. How do we effectively prepare people for failure as adults if we do not allow them to experience it during childhood under controlled, supervised conditions? ASD could do more in this area.

While my presentation of these three attributes is original, the inspiration was provided by an unlikely source. During my unsuccessful campaign for a seat on the Anchorage School Board several years ago, I searched extensively for a variety of ideas on education philosophy, from educators, lawmakers, and the general public alike. I even considered sources demonized by the establishment for one reason or another. As a result, I found a pamphlet entitled “What Is The National Alliance”, in which the late Dr. William Pierce, the former chairman of the National Alliance, addressed these very same attributes. Had I rejected this reference simply because it was considered “politically incorrect”, I would have denied myself this wisdom. The lesson: Consider wisdom from any source.

Applicable References:

Anchorage School District (ASD)
ASD King Career Center
Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
National Alliance
"What Is The National Alliance" section on education

No comments:

Post a Comment