But is it Education?

Some time ago ago Bill Gates gave a televised interview in which, understandably enough, he extolled the advantages of math and science, and of course computers, to the future education of young people. Soon after, the Kentucky legislature passed a bill that lets school districts raise the dropout age from 16 to 18, with Gov. Bashear sweetening the pie with a proposal to give $10,000 to each school district that successfully met the higher educational bar. One Man’s Opinion

I respect Bill Gates; more often than not I approve of the General Assembly; and I hold Steve Beshear in high regard. In this instance, however, Gates, the Assembly, and the Governor were all wrong, though for different and equally wrong reasons They mistook the popularly identified symptoms of substandard academic performance for the root cause.Poor academic too often finds its origin in undernourished children coming to school from broken and de-motivating home environments. More often than not, these young people grow into failures destined to repeat the experiences of their homes for their own children just as their parents, or, too often parent, handed down to them.

Everybody recognizes the problem but save for a few dedicated, and always underfunded, individuals or groups nobody seriously tries to do anything meaningful about it. To their credit, projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation often extend to humanitarian areas and the humanities generally, but for the most part Foundation projects are decidedly skewed to the hard sciences. Such a response has become de rigeur; when still another study is released noting that America has once again academically slipped in comparison with other nations, cries and demands for more math and science in the schools are deafening. Those cries are well off the mark.

A society is measured by the way it treats and the degree to which it treasures its children. As a whole, we do a poor job indeed and a critical omission, right up there with poor diets and unfavorable home environments is the troubling near-absence of schools and educators who expect student excellence as the norm. Children and young adults are taught to get by; worse, we are giving those few who remain through 12th grade only a partial education. We’re teaching them less than half of what they should know when they leave school and we’re teaching it the wrong way. A true education is comprehensive; for the most part we’re teaching a collection of distinct and often unrelated nodules.

I’ll go so far as to suggest that education in today’s world doesn’t even begin to be complete without a minimum two years of post-secondary exposure. In that vein it should be noted that renaming what were once called Vocational-Technical schools “colleges” and “universities”, some of which offer “Masters'” and “Doctorates”, might have been brilliant marketing but it didn’t change the zebra’s stripes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a Vocational-Technical education, but it should be recognized for what it is: Vocational-Technical education.

When somebody says they have a college or university degree anymore the statement can’t be taken at face value before ascertaining if the degree is an Associate’s (usually earned with non-transferable credits) or a Bachelors‘ from an accredited school.

There is a reason successful people in all walks of life are often those with diverse interests; their left brains and their right brains have learned to talk to each other. That becomes increasingly true as our understanding of a given art or science increases and expands to that mystical point where the separateness of a subject from other subjects begins to blur. That is why, for instance, students who do well in music often do better in math and science than do other equally able kids; after all, what is music but identifiable mathematical sound frequencies arranged in a way appealing to the human ear? Should we be surprised that Albert Schweitzer, a physician, was also a theologian, philosopher, and classical concert pianist?

A few examples: General Patton was a scholar of ancient Rome; Churchill and Eisenhower were both accomplished painters; Moshe Dayan, commander of Israeli forces during the Six Days War, used his encyclopedic knowledge of ancient Hebrew texts – especially the Torah with its detailed descriptions of Arab lands that modern Israel’s military had never seen – to crush the enemy in short order.

Thomas Jefferson was a skilled violinist and accomplished in such a wide range of subjects having nothing to do with politics that at a White House dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners of the Western Hemisphere, JFK remarked “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered together at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone. Someone else once said that at age 32 Jefferson was a gentleman who could calculate an eclipse, survey an estate, tie an artery, plan an edifice, try a cause, break a horse, and dance the minuet.”

Moving to the world of entertainment, for those old enough to remember them, vaudevillian and early TV comic Red Skelton’s oil portraits of clowns, portraying them in all the joys and sorrows of mortal men, still sell for $80,000. Skelton also composed 64 symphonies that were performed by the likes of Arthur Fiedler, the London Philharmonic and Van Clyburn, as well as conducting them himself.

Multitalented entertainer Steve Allen, a self-taught intellectual, was an expert on Chinese history, art and culture and Biblical criticism. His book “Reflections” was a tour de force on issues ranging from abortion to world government, poverty, crime and capital punishment. Allen’s landmark PBS show “Meeting of Minds” in which scripted guests in period costume, such as Marco Polo, Marie Antoinette, and Charles Darwin, discussed the issues of their day.

Albert Einstein supposedly remarked “I fear the day when technology overlaps our humanity. It will be then that the world will have permanent ensuing generations of idiots.” There is no proof he actually said it, though it sounds like him. Regardless, the point should be well taken.


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