All right, let's get down to business.
I don't pretend to know all things, but I do know one thing: the status quo isn't working. Looking for solutions from within the beltway has as much chance of working as does asking an addict to stop taking their poison while offering him those same drugs at half price. DC is a herd mentality, and its one of those herds that attack their own in order to prevent any lone wolves from rocking the boat. Now if the herd leaders were acting in the interests of "we, the people", then such an arrangement would be ideal. Unfortunately, such is rarely the case. But I digress. . .
You see, the point of this post is SOLUTIONS, not identification of problems. We've got more than enough people to do that, and honestly their "contributions" aren't really contributing to the betterment of society. And while I most humbly submit that maybe my proposed solutions aren't the fix to what ails us, if we can even get a DIALOGUE going about something as simple as IDEAS, then we're a lot better off than we are now. Solutions don't have to come from politicians--in fact, the best ones rarely do. SO, to that end:
I. Education (might as well start off big): First of all, you must understand that I am of the mind that kids will learn, EVEN IF OUT OF BOREDOM, provided they are predisposed to listen in the first place. To me, good behavior is the absolute must in any educational environment, and this is the one area in which the parents are THE MOST CAPABLE to help (especially at a younger age)--and parental involvement is a MUST to improving our education. Secondly, I firmly believe the following truth: parents are either conditioned to caring about their kids. . .or they aren't. Those that already care aren't the problem--they already teach their kids things like manners, and respect, and honesty because it helps their everyday involvement in the kid's life to be less stressful. But not every parent "cares"--that's probably too harsh of a word, but I'm not into splitting hairs here--and these parents are the ones that need to get on the program.
How do we do that? Easy: make it about $$$. We each get a child tax credit right now, right? How about revoking the credit for any child that, absent diagnosed physiological or psychological disorder that cannot be treated medically, causes disruption or exhibits unacceptable behavior in PUBLIC (or public-funded) schools? (Children of private schools are already costing their parents money, and misbehavior there runs its own financial risk) There would obviously have to be some system set up that makes the "punishment" mandatory--not unlike mandatory sentencing rules--so that every parent KNOWS what the school system expects from the students, and teachers and administrators wouldn't have to wrestle with the potential financial fallout of their discretion.
Now I'm not talking about the kid that acts out once and goes to the Principal's office. I'm talking about the kid that is busted with a weapon on school grounds (it may be a "one-time" thing, but it's a whopper of a one-timer!). I'm talking about the kid that seems to start a fight every week. I'm talking about the kid like what I see at my local elementary school, where there's a 5 or 6-year old boy who literally DOES NOT listen to the teachers. He doesn't sit with the class in their assigned location in the morning meeting area; he sometimes doesn't go with the class when they leave that area. I once had to intervene on behalf of the kid (as much as it hurt me to do it) because one of the teachers was trying to physically pull the kid to his proper location, and I felt that the teacher needed to know that dealing with the stubborn kid wasn't worth their job. This kid, this 5 year old kid, has absolutely NO respect for any person of authority. Now I hold out that maybe there's a legit medical reason for his uncivility (hence the caveats above)-- but absent that, this kids' parents need to be taken to task for raising a kid so clearly unaware of authority. Not only is he set up for failure, but I can only imagine what his presence and likely disruptiveness in the classroom means to the productivity of the teacher's efforts with the other kids. It's unacceptable, and the problem lies at the home, not in the school.
Our tax dollars should be devoted to making kids knowledgeable and capable of thinking for themselves--not to taking qualified educators and turning them into babysitters or behavioral scientists. So let's get back to the business of having teachers teach. And when a student isn't helping promote the right environment for the teacher. . .well, than that kid is at least helping to increase the amount of tax dollars that the school district gets.
Local boards would be charged with defining the parameters of this punishment, so there will be the ability for a populace to shape the rules for their school district. School administrators would hopefully have very little input to the decision matrix (the more automatic the system, the easier it is to administer).
I know from experience that people don't like having money taken from their pockets. Trust me, even if it doesn't get desired results every time, it definitely gets attention--and maybe "attention" is all that is needed to get parents involved in their child's in-school behavior.
next up (separate post): housing reform.
UPDATE: I should have warned you--or you should know by now--I normally "rush" these posts to print and therefore frequently have "writer's remorse". Obviously, education reform needs to entail more than just an added behavior incentive. There's got to be. . .you know. . .education.
Of the current "system", I like the idea behind vouchers, but feel it is but a band-aid trying to stop the damage from an open-chest wound. I don't like standardized tests EVERY year, or every two years or whatever. I think there should be one test, to be taken at any point in high school: life skills. Can you do basic math? Can you read to a suitable comprehension level? Do you understand what your signature means on a contract? Do you know what a contract is? And by "basic" and "suitable", I mean enough that passing the test means that you have the skills to contribute to society should you choose to do such.
So what about curriculum checks? You know, making sure our schools are teaching interested learners the right stuff to go to secondary education and the like? Well, here I think the federal government needs to set a nationwide "baseline" for curricula, with state governments in charge of overseeing compliance. "High school graduates" should have at least passed an algebra class in math; should have completed at least one 8-page research paper (written in English) for a passing grade in English; have finished basic civics and American History classes; have passed a life science class and had a brief intro to chemistry and physics--things like that. But please note that a "high school graduate" is not necessarily a kid who's ready for college--he or she is a kid that has the opportunity to exercise the freedom that comes with being 18 to choose a path for themselves. And if college is that path. . .well, they MAY have a little work ahead to get themselves ready for that journey, just like some kids under the current system.
By the way, if you have completed the requirements for a "high school graduate" in your state before your senior year in high school but after your 16th birthday, you can still graduate then, if that is your choice. My hope is that a lot of disinterested students would cease to occupy a place in the schools and strike out to earn a paycheck, paying early dividends to the state income pool (the added benefit would be that 11th and 12th grade classes would be populated mostly by students who realize the worth of their education, which pays huge benefits to the school as well). Children who took advantage of an "early graduation" option would NOT be eligible for unemployment or any other welfare-related product, in an effort to "drive" them towards jobs. Once a student pulls out of "high school" as a graduate, he or she can't go back--the free ride education is over. But if more learnin' is what a kid is looking for, then there's always community colleges and on-line classes to be taken. A path for EVERYONE--with the decisions made by the students, NOT the government.
The goal of our education system should be to make young adults--18 year old adults--possessed of enough knowledge and analytic skills to figure out on their own what they want to do with their lives. The government can't "mandate" that on anybody, and the system becomes too large and unresponsive when we try. Not everybody should receive a "college lite" education from their parents' tax dollars. Of course, there are those who will get that, complete with AP courses and the such to earn real college credit, and that is a service that needs to be continually offered--but that isn't right for everybody.
I "might" be exhausted on this front now. . .but we'll see what I think of over the next couple days before I write this off as complete.