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January 12, 2009

The Benefits of Bottoming Out

Steven R. Berryman

Not all progress is linear in nature. As in mountain climbing, sometimes one has to travel down to get up. A glacial valley can lead to a better summit trail.


The many “broken” systems we are now encountering in our great period of “shake-out” and re-evaluation are an inevitable consequence of too rapid growth. Even Mother Nature herself allows a forest to burn down occasionally for good reason!


During the periods of political and economic plenty, sometimes the goal had been to operate by consensus and committee in decision making. This allows for popularity, and presumably votes in the short run but can run right past best decisions.


As budgets decline, we now live with the results born of unintended consequences.


One example is education, as we “left no child behind.” Superficially, it was an easy sell as policy, and a laudable goal. Who wouldn’t want everyone to be successful?


But tell that to children who excel in the system, only to find themselves bored out of their minds in classes as the low end performers drag down the middle teaching ground?


The probability of students not making the cut on exit tests would cause an expensive bottleneck as some are held back. The forced solution: Alternative graduation requirements, projects in lieu of test results, and outright exemptions.


The above is an example of how a poorly constructed policy mutates during a period of declining resources. Obviously, this will not stand during a period of lax immigration enforcement, squeezing language challenged children into more and more overcrowded classrooms.


All teachers may not make it past the budget cuts either, further exacerbating challenges.


And it’s not only a language issue. It is a fact that the average illegal immigrant entering America is already behind in learning, even based on the standards of their own countries of origin.


Comprehensive studies conducted by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) bears this out. See also the white papers by Mark Krikorian, its director.


Sometimes a system needs to fully break down before we gather the political will to fix a problem bundled in political correctness and do-good-ism.


Increasing costs to our county and state governments will cause us pain, especially in education and healthcare, the big budget items. The age of trying to please everyone and the consequent mediocrity must end.


The above will be replaced by the age of hard choices; and isn’t that why we pay our politicians “the big bucks?”


Well…congressmen and above, anyway.


What had previously died in “study groups” and “focus groups” will need to become action plans instead, with a fiscal end-game.


The downturn in our collective fortunes will force a review of:


*Social programs buried within our education monolith.


*Mandated graduation programs.


*A fundamental re-evaluation of just what the core-job of our K-12 system is to be.


*The real costs of educating masses escaping their home countries for economic gain.


*Immigration law reform – at the border.


*Immigration law reform – for those already in the country without legal status.


These items have been off the table due to the obvious sensitivity; current conditions allow for a safe, objective review.


The unneeded distraction of threatening freshman athletics and swimming programs, as has been done, must give way to real and broad-based solutions.


My fervent hope is that in this process we also redefine what it is to be American, and what it means to be patriotic. What exactly is the role of our schools in this?


There has been much discussion of late on exactly what versions of history are taught to our children, when it’s taught at all.


Is “pride in country” a necessary element in our scholastic programs? Are heroes from our past to be selected by their country of origin, or their contribution to our national development?


Will we have cultural quotas in which stories to emphasize in our teaching?


Does an emphasis on cultural diversity mean that we must water down lesson plans by anything that offends anyone?


Lastly, the political cost to assimilation into the United States of America must be evaluated. If budget cuts allow for a fair and productive revitalization of what it means to be American and revalues our culture, we will all glean the benefit.


And more than anyone, so will the newest Americans.


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