Bruce Deitrick Price
The traditional view is that students are entitled to as much education as they can handle.
Please discuss this manifesto as a catalyst for finding new insights on how to improve our public schools.
THIS BILL OF RIGHTS states the need for a knowledge-based education. For most of human history, and in good schools everywhere today, this sort of education is the goal and the essence of what real educators are trying to do. Given the many counterproductive ideas that sweep through education, given all the endless, murky debates conducted in our media, it is helpful for the American people to focus on what, at a minimum, young people are entitled to in our schools:
1) THE RIGHT TO LEARN TO READ. All progress in education depends on literacy. It is imperative that children learn the alphabet and the sounds early, and that they are reading in the first grade. Children have a right to be reading age-appropriate books by the second or third grade.
2) THE RIGHT TO MASTER BASIC ARITHMETIC. As fads have undermined effective teaching for many decades, millions of children never learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. These are such basic skills–easy enough to teach, easy to test. If administrators can’t ensure that all children can do these essential things, find other administrators.
3) THE RIGHT TO WRITE, IN BOTH SENSES. One essential goal in the first years of schooling is to be able to write a small essay or a letter to grandmother, signed with a real signature. Cursive handwriting, according to many experts, is an indispensable assist in learning to read, write, and spell.
4) THE RIGHT TO KNOW CORRECT SPELLING. Very quickly children need to know that there is a right and wrong way to spell words, just as there are right and wrong ways to compose and punctuate sentences. Correctness and precision are birthrights that children are entitled to. Fuzziness and guessing are detrimental.
5) THE RIGHT TO GEOGRAPHY. Children have a right to know the names of their city, state, and neighboring states. During the first eight years of school, one reasonable project is to learn the names of the 50 states. A parallel project is to learn the names of the 25 countries most often mentioned in the news. Without basic geography, children cannot understand history, literature, environmental science, current events, etc. Geography was once called the Queen of the Sciences–it’s that important. When a teacher says, “Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape of Good Hope looking for China,” children should be able to go to a map and explain what that sentence means.
6) THE RIGHT TO LITERATURE. Children need to experience the rich legacy of their own language–nursery rhymes, poetry, fairy tales, scenes from Shakespeare, popular songs, limericks, novels, anything that shows children what the cleverest people have done with English through the centuries. (Ideally, children study a second language, which will sharpen their skills in English, and make them more appreciative of language in general.) They do not need to be indoctrinated into correct political thought.
7) THE RIGHT TO HISTORY. Children need a sense of history and time. They understand when people talk about Colonial Times, the Middle Ages, Greco-Roman Civilization, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and Ancient History. They should learn first about their own culture. and then the world. They need to understand the importance of the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Then they a context to understand world history.
8) THE RIGHT TO SCIENCE. Children need to know how the world works. What, for example, is snow? What is a moon? Kids should start learning General Science in the first grade. This leads by easy steps to biology, chemistry, physics, math, etc. Studying the physical reality around us is an obvious introduction to scientific thinking, cause and effect, and a systematic approach to solving problems. Science should not be used as a tool to teach a political ideology.
9) THE RIGHT TO MEMORIZATION. Children have a right to know things in a permanent and intimate way, as they know the memories of their own life. A child learns facts, names, and dates, because all of these together make history and all other subjects more meaningful and three-dimensional. Students should be encouraged to learn knowledge now so they won’t have to look it up later.
10) THE RIGHT TO REAL CRITICAL THINKING. First, children learn the facts of history, science, etc, and then they learn to sift and analyze those facts. Additionally, they study Aesop’s fables, famous quotes, and maxims. Things we sometimes call clichés are, in fact, the collected wisdom of the human race. Why is it true to say we can lead a horse to water but can’t make it drink? Creative thinking, independent thinking–these are possible only when children have knowledge and are free to reach new answers about it.
UNFORTUNATELY, SINCE THE TIME OF JOHN DEWEY, many schools have been obsessed with social engineering, and indifferent to what might be called intellectual engineering. This mistake in emphasis needs to be corrected. The goal of education is not indoctrination but to take each child as far as each child can go. Genuine education is the cement that holds the people in a society together, and connects past, present, and future.
ONLY WHEN CHILDREN acquire knowledge and master essential skills can we speak of education that will make children college- and career-ready.© Bruce Deitrick Price
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