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I completed my degree with a decent GPA due to grade inflation, yet I couldn’t comprehend the French in Henry V, the Latin phrases in the National Review magazine, or the English in The Federalist Papers. I couldn’t tell you a single constellation, the name of an African country or an Australian province. I could not say what century Charles Martel, Pepin the Short, and Charlemagne lived in, whether they were related to one another, or what kingdoms they ruled. I could read very quickly, but to this day my vocabulary is limited. I knew a major change was needed in our family’s educational approach when I had difficulty in explaining to my son why he should write “should’ve” rather than “should of.” I knew “should of” was grammatically wrong, but didn’t know enough about the parts of speech to explain why.
~ Leigh A. Bortins, The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, p. 33
I am a product of a mix of public education, private education, and self-education. I know just what Leigh Bortins is talking about in the above quote. I am only now able to critique my own education and the educational systems I see in our society because I took it upon myself to become educated beyond that produced by my formal training. My ongoing education has come in fits and starts, often meandering and without focus. I am still rather ignorant and I have a lot to learn, including learning about learning.

Education is hard and humbling work. It takes years of struggle. That is often the way with valuable goals. What is most valuable is usually most costly. One of the most important activities in which adults can participate is to nurture and to guide the education of young people. The most important relationship in this activity is that between parent and child, but it is an activity for us all. Providing a quality education is one of the greatest gifts any adult can give a child. In fact, one might call it a duty.

When we pay our taxes to fund government education are we fulfilling that duty? Although we can point to a few great public schools here and there, for the most part the answer is a resounding no. But still, and with great frequency, students matriculate through our government school systems, even through to graduate school. I have two bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees and I doubt I could properly parse a sentence today. I should have been able to do that long before I even reached high school. I received a lot of schooling but a mediocre education. Poorly educated students, which include the majority of students today, go on to be the creators of our culture, run our governments, and teach in our public schools. We can do better.I do not believe the issue with government schools is primarily that they have the wrong methods (which I believe they often do) as much as they are aiming at the wrong goals. Though I frequently disagree with the methods I believe government schools actually come close to achieving their goals, which I find frightening. This is not to say there are not many great teachers in public schools. I am sure there are many and I salute them wholeheartedly. But like the rest of us, public school (and many private school) teachers suffer from their own education, as well as from the prevalent educational theories popular today. The goals we have greatly affects the methods we choose. The goals of education in this country are, for the most part, wrong. Hitting the wrong target is not a success. We need better goals. We need the goals of a classical education.

I believe we should begin with fairly straightforward and simple goals, somewhat like the following taken from The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins:

Someone who has acquired proficient levels of literacy can analyze and synthesize a variety of ideas from a wide range of documents and defend her conclusions by using the source text. This is a much higher, nimbler level of literacy than just being able to read a novel or newspaper. (p. 19)

The classically educated are not defined by their occupation so much as by their breadth of knowledge and understanding. (p. 40)

A classically trained [high school] student would have the skills needed to read the original text, ask and find answers to her own questions, and clearly present her findings to her audience. (p. 55)
Those kinds of basic goals seem like they would be easy to achieve, but they are difficult. Most people do not have those skills or breadth of knowledge, not even when they complete college. I know this from both observation and personal experience. When I taught at the local state university I was encouraged by the enthusiasm of the students but greatly discouraged by their scholastic and intellectual capabilities. In short, they suffered from being poorly prepared. Something needs to change.I am less and less convinced that the agents of the change we need should primarily come from the ranks of state certified teachers. I believe it is parents who must take the reigns and lead the charge.

As an interesting aside, if you are inclined to think future educators would be the most likely do what it takes to become well educated, think again. According to this article, from which the title of this post comes and which is anecdotal for sure, those students working towards their teaching degrees are comparatively the worse offenders when it comes to cheating their way to degree completion. Unfortunately we do not have figures on the scale of the cheating. Hopefully the numbers are small. But even if they do not cheat, one wonders how an educational system that is in desperate need of wholesale reform, including radically different foundational principles, can produce teachers with the capacity to produce that needed reform. I would hazard that it cannot.

This is one more reason why we have chosen to homeschool our children, though it is not the only reason.

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