TCS Daily

John Hughes Was Right

By Mark Storer - March 2, 2006 12:00 AM

I remember watching John Hughes movies in the 80s. Ferris Bueller's Day Off, The Breakfast Club, and others bring back some pretty vivid memories. The "brat pack" would get together and bloviate those grand truths. You know; grand truths that only teenagers know. I was young, too -- and I thought how cool it was to see such gritty reality. 80s teenagers knew more than anyone, didn't we?

Plus c'est change...

Well, here I am 15 years into teaching teens in high school and I am hearing it all again. The same clichés from the same cliques. They, too, believe they hold grand truths that none of us adults could possibly dream of, let alone understand. John Hughes would be proud.

Meanwhile, we adults are busy trying to figure out how best to educate them -- and we are falling short.

Today, every other article on education reform seems to be either a treatise on why we need vouchers or a lecture on why we need to make sure more tax money goes to public education. President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is filled with wish-lists and the ever-popular unfunded mandates that seek to accomplish nothing, it seems, but higher test scores.

So our staff meetings at school now revolve around how to get our test scores up. We've finally arrived at the "new" notion that what's actually keeping our test scores below where we'd like to see them... are the kids who do poorly. A shocking revelation. These are your tax dollars at work.

Meanwhile, the teacher's union wants to increase dues by another five dollars a month -- bringing the monthly tribute to somewhere just over $70.00 per teacher -- and still not provide any substantive resources to teachers in return. Teacher training schools around the nation are turning out more and more people who want to teach -- but with less and less classroom acumen. It's amazing how many new teachers need help in the basic academics of their subject area. This is not to say that there are no good new teachers, only that they seem, perhaps, appropriately trained in how to tell if a kid needs self-esteem screening. The kind of imagery that's present in The Great Gatsby? You won't find that in the new teacher toolset.

Standardized to Death

Contrary to John Hughes's formidable film-making sensibilities, teenagers really do not know it all and require some real teaching and a little maturity so that they can get grounded, find what they want out of life -- or at least what they need. To be sure, there are plenty of bright, gifted, witty, wonderful kids out there. If there weren't, I'd be working somewhere else right now. But they need an education that doesn't want to measure them all day long. They need to expand their minds by exploring ideas, writing essays, doing projects, working with their minds and hands on the issues within the math, literature, science and history that provide a good, well-rounded education. Instead, they are relegated to a stifling curriculum -- e.g. less than two weeks on the Civil War (only a couple of questions on it on the test, you know), and a paltry few opportunities to write long papers that require real research and synthesized thinking (that's not on any of the state tests at all).

The bottom line is that what we are doing isn't good enough. And NCLB is merely a refashioned design of what President Clinton's administration attempted to do by also demanding more tests in the classroom. The word "accountability" has been batted around for some time now, but not with respect to the students and the parents. Our school is currently focusing on what we call a "structured, college preparatory environment" but there will be little to show for it when, in fact, the majority of our students go to two-year, not four-year institutions (and many of those never graduate).

Public Monoliths

In the search for better ways to educate our children, we have failed them by simultaneously holding higher standards for them, while lowering standards for the schools themselves. Outdated technology (Windows 98 in our school). Poor facilities. Over-crowded classrooms. Schedules that resemble something you'd find in a steel factory circa 1850. A school-year still based on a harvest calendar of the 18th Century when most of the nation lived and worked on farms. So much of the status quo has remained as we have demanded more and more from our students and teachers in terms of testing, but without providing the tools for independent learning. And nowhere is accountability discussed when it comes to the parent and the child. Nowhere.

In those John Hughes films, these beautiful, troubled and brilliant teenagers would sit and solve their problems with no adult input, except from some unlikely source -- like the janitor or a homeless guy. The teachers, administrators and parents are almost always depicted as out-of-touch, dull and even cruel in some cases. They don't have the insight to simply provide these kids with what they need to struggle through and learn some things for themselves...

On second thought, could John Hughes have been right?

Mark Storer is a sommelier, educator, and writer in California.



Lordy, how true
Measure "success" with standardized test scores, but spend your education day "clarifying values" or "appreciating other cultures" or "putting on a condom." It's a no-win situation where the remedy is not tailored to the malady.

That's because the remedy is tailored to the desires and ambitions of the administrators (mostly), not to the good of the children. The Educationists win along with the administrators and the union(s) -- all of whom have self-perpetuation as the goal. Naturally. It's all a vast bureaucracy.

They create the problem (poor education) then sell the solution: hire more teachers, get higher salaries, fight vouchers and private schools and home schooling (competitors), demand more "teaching materials," etc., while actually teaching something is continually put on the side burner. But it's only teaching something that will get scores up. Funny thing how that works.

And here's how the Education scam works:

1. Stipulate that test scores will measure success.
2. Ensure that the test scores remain poor (e.g. instead of teaching, spend time "appreciating" other cultures or worrying about self-esteem).
3. Demand more resources to fix the problem (or blame parents).
4. Repeat.

It's worked great for several decades and shows no sign of diminishing.

I remain unconvinced that what we need in schools are better computers or more technology or raises for teachers or more money for curriculum or any new social program.

I remain totally convinced that we do not need a national educational bureauocracy.

I remain convinced that any taxes imposed upon the citizens of this country and used to fund the education of the individual should follow the individual totally. Much the same as purchasing something at Wal Mart.

I am totally convinced that a total free enterprise education system is the only way to adequately prepare the individual for the future.

Schooling is not education and education is not schooling
Schooling is not education and education is not schooling. Most of what we learn we learn outside of school. I am still struck by the ignorance of some college graduates just as I am convinced of the fact that my grand parents, who went to 1 year of school each where educated. The testing aspect of school often crowds out the learning example dates in history are easy to test but make learning the principles behind history hard learn but we must test so we must teach dates same with physics the principles are simple and useful for everyone but we load the subject with math to make it a good test crowding out learning. (It is funny that people love to watch the history channel but history teachers can make the subject boring. )

Richard Vedder in his book “Going Broke by Degree” makes a good case that we spend way more on schooling each student than we should.

Steve Sailer makes a case that you replace much of school with well designed IQ tests.

With cheap books, cable the internet, TV and libraries etc. what portion of the population needs more the 2 or 3 years of schooling.

If we want to learn guitar we go to a teacher once a week for half an hour fro individualized instruction. Why not a similar model if we need to learn calculus?

Amish and Mennonites shun school and do alright. Black leaders talk up education as if it solution to all problems and they have succeeded in get money and affirmative action for blacks schooling and yet blacks do poorly.

Excessive government paid for schooling killed apprenticeship are you going to tell marginal, mostly male students would not be better off apprenticing than sitting in the back of a classroom carving up the desks or worse on the street committing crimes.

Business who have no requirement of what is learned passed the 3rd grade consume college education (requiring it for the job) because they do not pay for it directly, it is a cheap way for them to screen candidates.

I could go on.

John Hughes Was Right
The wine celler steward is right; however,those going into teacher training are not the only incompetents being spewed forth from the sacred halls of our institutions of "higher" learning. As a "profession", "group","field" whatever term used to describe them collectively,teachers do stand out in a community, moreso than those who toil in other fields thus, they become convenient lightening rods. It must be recognized, also, those entering colleges of education, on a whole, GENERALLY, demonstrate lower levels of educational achievement than do those of other disciplines. They are certainly not of "brain surgeon" quality, intellectually. It has been a given for eons, that those who can, "do"; those who can't, "teach". Added, what we experience today, in every field, be it politics, education, medicine, science, military, etc., those laboring in every field of endeavor are simply reflections of OUR total society. Perhaps this begs a question, what does this tell us about our society? Should we be concerned? You bet your sweet bippy we should. Are we? It doesn't appear we are. We'll just continue to shirk our responsiblities as parents and citizens and let the "government" take of it. The shocker here is: in a democracy, the "government" is the CITIZENRY, you, me, us; not some nebulous group of nincompoops occupying and dba as our city councils, county boards of supervisors, state legislators and members of Congress.
In that context, it become readily apparent, "government" has failed.

Not just the students
When I was in high school, the head of the music department got me an Annie Oakley to a Lyric Opera dress rehearsal of Aida. Paul was on stage with a herald trumpet, dressed like an Egyptian, playing the trumpet tan-ta-ra's during the triumphal march. I've go t a recording from 1958 where the school Principal called him "possibly the finest music teacher in America."

But the Chicago school board wanted to fire him - - - Because he didn't have a degree in teaching. He'd studied with the Civic Orchestra, but during the depression, not a lot of musicians could afford to go to college.

The most important thing he taught was a love of music. Teach a student to love a subject and the rest is easy. But nowdays we've got policies and procedures and meetings and metrics up the ying-yang.

I know what Paul and my dad, (who taught with him,) would say about the present day, but it would never make it thru the language filters.

I once called a radio talk show where the guest of honor was the Superintendant of the local school district. He was bloviating about how they could improve the performance with more money. I asked a structured series of questions about how simply throwing more money at the system would improve thngs. He started out by saying that the quailtiy of teaching would improve. I asked if that meant that he'd fire the teachers he had now, and get more expensive ones, or the ones he had now would ramp up their efforts? If they were sandbagging and would ramp up their efforts, at what point would they be at maximum performance? Then would he fire them and get even better ones? They went to a commercial.

Mike Royko had a great phrase "Educated beyond his intelligence".

No Subject
And yet the same "education scam" takes place in countries where students fare much better than American kids.

And what about these American kids' parents? According to their own Gallup polls and other studies, the average American adult cannot even name his own Vice President, name at least one government department, or even point out his own home state (let alone Iraq, Afghanistan, or China) on a map. Outside standardized testing, the average American student can hardly say anything about the American Revolution, the American Civil War, or even both World Wars. A recent study also shows that the average American college graduate can barely perform functions such as determining how much supplies to buy for a business.

Several American readers agree in saying, "John Hughes was right." Why am I not surprised?

And yet...
...the same "education scam" appears in countries where students do much better than American students. As early as the 1980s, writers like E.D. Hirsch revealed that the average American student can hardly recognize historical events like the American Revolution, the American Civil War, or both World Wars.

What about their parents? Gallup polls and others reveal that the average American adult thinks that the sun revolves around the earth, cannot name his own Vice President or any government department, or point out his home state (never mind Iraq, Afghanistan, or China) on a map. A recent study reveals that the average American college student cannot perform basic functions like determining how much supplies to get to replenish inventories in a business.

And yet (one more time)...
The problem with your argument is that many American adults are as ignorant as American children. How many American adults (never mind children) will go out of their way to learn how to play musical instruments or learn calculus?

Parent`s ambition is more responsible for future of child`s eduction
Iam from India, and my experience is limited only in cotext to India. Here in India every parent put pressure on his child that hemust study hard and be doctor or engineer, that way he want to fulfil his ambition through his child. In India we are never give importance to child`s natural talent. His only duty is fulfil pratent`s ambition. Real tragety is every India child try hard to fulfil his pratent`s wish. and kill his natural talent.

On Teachers
From what I know, fewer American citizens want to teach because the pay is too low. The U.S. is now hiring the best teachers from other countries (including the Philippines), and some of these teachers are very good (definitely more knowledgeable than the average American adult). The problem is that these foreign teachers are needed in their own home countries (which are often much poorer than the U.S.).

Definitely not just the students
I might be wrong, but I think Finnish schools have the same "policies and procedures and meetings and metrics" and so on. And on top of that, Finns take music for many years.

Because of this, the average Finn adult can play at least two musical instruments (one used for Finnish folk songs and the other mainstream), and spend part of their time listening to Finnish traditional songs.

Here's the interesting part: Finland probably has the highest density of musical groups, symphonic orchestras, and others. Listening habits are incredibly diverse, with something like more than 50 percent of Finn teens "crazy" over Western classical music. On top of that, most argue that Jean Sibelius is the "greatest" Western classical music composer.

Apparently, a love of music doesn't involve removing policies and procedures in formal music education. Rather, it involves two things: (1) a willingness to spend money on things outside that education to make that education work, and (2) adults going through the same process of appreciating music which they impose on their own children.

On India
I think that is because India is a poor country, where many adults are unable to receive enough education. That is why they hope that their children will do better. Such occupations are chosen because they are the ones that may provide financial stability.

About as many as learn how to play musical instruments or learn calculus now.
'How many American adults (never mind children) will go out of their way to learn how to play musical instruments or learn calculus?'

About as many as learn how to play musical instruments or learn calculus now.

I remeber the nuns when I was in the firs grade telling how much harder the Russians where working i
At least since I was a young child I was told how inferior USA education was but it seems to not have held us back much. I remeber the nuns when I was in the firs grade telling how much harder the Russians where working in school than we were and how they would blow past us. Makes me laught to think about it.

You mean by pushing schooling we can become as successful as India.
You mean by pushing schooling we can become as successful as India. Read Richard Vedders 'Going Broke by Degree' to see school fundings effect on economic growth.

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