Common Sense, not Common Core.

The United States of America, one of the greatest nations in the history of our planet, has reached a tipping point. Sixty million of its citizens willfully voted for a populist narcissist with no political experience in hopes he will make America great again, mostly through clever positioning, racism, extortion, and bullying. The fundamental problem is those sixty million people have no critical thinking ability. That is entirely our fault, fellow citizens. We have failed as parents, as neighbors, as priests, as politicians, as teachers. The next four years will certainly embrace this failure and masquerade it as success, which makes solving this problem even more daunting. Unfixed, this single issue may unearth the cornerstone of America’s greatness.

Before you pull the race card, know that a large majority of those sixty-plus million people were white. Think segregated. Rural and suburban. Entitled through dirt poor. Common Core or not. And every single one of them horribly misguided for one reason or another. You can’t pin this problem on the inner cities, folks. Proof-positive American education is experiencing a long-term wide-scale systematic failure.

Common Core was flawed from its onset. Textbook manufacturers support powerful lobbyists who push political candidates that support enriching their already health bank accounts. Business runs education in this nation. And until we change that, we will keep shoving useless information down our children’s throats until they regurgitate it as well as they can, pass to the next grade, and forget it almost immediately. I am a learned individual, and I cannot remember the last time I referred to zygotic meiosis, I have never quoted anything from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and I have never in my life found it necessary to multiply polynomials. In a poorly executed attempt to make our children well-rounded, we are wasting precious years of our kids’ lives preaching useless information dictated by a fascist business entity. Children are confused, bored, and uninspired, and leave high school with little to no relevant life skills. Common Core or not – American education is a terrible failure.

Education is mandated by the states, not the federal government. So why aren’t states recognizing and fixing this magnificently flawed system?

One of the wonderful perks of a capitalist society are the sublime studies commissioned via pork barrel spending. If you’re a typical American student, you might not have been taught that “pork barrel” is the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district, included as hidden or footmark items on completely unrelated bills to ensure legislative votes. It’s a neat way to pay your friends with my tax dollars. Examples of this sort of wasteful stupidity include the U.S. government spending $750,000 on a new soccer field for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay; between 16 and 20 million dollars helping students from Indonesia get master’s degrees; $175,587 to determine if cocaine makes Japanese quail engage in sexually risky behavior; $200,000 on a tattoo removal program in California; and $3 million to researchers at the University of California at Irvine to fund their research on video games such as World of Warcraft. Yes, folks, truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Yet, no commission or study I am aware of has been funded to measure and test an alternative curriculum based on life skills and critical thinking right here in America. Someone doesn’t want this problem fixed.

I too thought Charter Schools would be the answer. Charter Schools were created with a theory that since they’re in a smaller boat, they could change things with less resistance, perhaps as an experiment to test and prove new concepts to the larger school systems. However, the more I learn about charter schools, I realized many of these too were set up by people with financial motives. What has happened now is we have effectively doubled or even tripled the number of vendors who now serve education, and we have run into the same or even more resistance we experience with a larger system. And nothing has changed.

Some folks believe change begins with finding better teachers. There is some truth to that, but the fundamental problem is the curriculum. Our daughter’s first period was Algebra 2. We coaxed her into taking the honors class since that was what the admissions folks at the University of Florida recommended we do. I hoped that since it was an honors class, the teacher would also be on top of her game. Wishful thinking. Our daughter is stuck with some prim and proper Southern Belle who panted about her class being nine days behind while begging parents to bring in more Lysol wipes and dry-erase markers. I couldn’t help but tune her out as I glanced at her bulletin boards that were filled with elementary school posters recommending students wash their hands when returning from the bathroom and use their “16-inch voices” to avoid disrupting the class as she droned on about the dean’s office being right across the hall. She bragged about her college basketball team once beating Michael Jordan’s while casually mentioning she is flying there to attend a game this weekend. It was then I realized this woman was locked in la-la land. She has absolutely no concept of the real world because she has never done anything else but attend school and teach. Our “A” student daughter has complained about this teacher being ineffective. She currently is failing this class. Regardless of Algebra in general being a useless life skill for 99% of the children who are forced to learn it, I am confident Ms. Belle is the problem here.

During second period, we visited a fairly spiffy lab for our daughter’s advanced placement chemistry course. This teacher had a couple masters’ degrees, two decades of experience working in a paper mill, and once ran a materials lab for an automobile manufacturer in Detroit. She was very sharp. Our kid enjoys the teacher’s real-life stories as applied to their lessons. She has a 94 average in this class, which to me, seems much more difficult than Algebra 2 honors.

I discovered night school about midway through my own college experience. After running out of money twice and being forced to sit out a semester here and there, I found a day job that would contribute to my college fund. What I found was most of the night school professors also worked real jobs during the day, most in the industry in which they were teaching. The most fascinating teacher I’ve ever had was a local district attorney who peppered our constitutional law class with real-world stories. I’ve also had the good fortune of sitting in classes with a few retired or ex-CEOs, cops, nurses, and scientists. These folks were there not because they needed the money — they simply wanted to teach.

I don’t necessarily agree with the old saying “Those who can’t do, teach.” We have met several excellent career teachers who have a certain charismatic chutzpah. Unfortunately, these teachers seem to be the minority. People who have ventured out of academia have a better insight into what works in communication via practical application of knowledge. Those who return seem to be more ready to effectively pass on that knowledge.

Not everyone was cut out to teach. I’m not sure how we got here, but we don’t appreciate or reward great teachers in this great nation. It’s not supposed to be a fallback position — teaching needs to be the single most lauded profession in the world. Perhaps teaching should be the aspiration of those in the working world. Elevated perks and salaries should be reserved for those who can offer enrichment and enlightenment to our children.

Our current K-12 curriculum is disastrous. It’s dated and irrelevant. We force all children to learn the same things at the same rates, which hinders some from moving at a faster pace and hurts those who simply don’t have an aptitude for certain subjects. First, we must collectively fix the curriculum. I’m working on that now. It has to begin somewhere.

Once the curriculum makes sense, there are two ways to fix education. The first would be to increase teacher salaries to attract the best and brightest to inspire children to learn the revised curriculum. Unfortunately, for many pretty stupid reasons (outrageous textbook costs, lopsided tax rates, contractual mismanagement), states can’t seem to find the funds to make this a possibility. And since the founding fathers neglected to include education as a constitutional right, the federal government is more involved in funding political favors and buying things that kill people.

The second method can work, we can do it right now, and it would save a fortune. Find the best and brightest teachers we already have – the most inspiring and enlightening people who have dedicated their lives to education – and digitally record their classes. Think a TED conference. Those lessons would be rebroadcasted in current classrooms nationwide, with current teachers acting as proctors and tutors. Kids get the inspiration they need, the required information sticks better, and teachers learn what works – ultimately making them better teachers.

Recorded lessons would be freely available online, available for review by current students, parents, or even adults who might be interested in a refresher course.

Regarding the ridiculous cost of textbooks held ransom by three large “not for profit” companies, the federal government would have the select teachers along with handpicked specialists author all-original national textbooks. An impartial committee of educators, industry experts, psychologists, and parents would then edit and evaluate these textbooks, resulting in a compilation of ideas that works, which would then be distributed electronically for free.

To make America great again, we need to begin with our children right now. We’ve lost several generations of Americans who are set in their ways and will not change. But kids are still moldable. And it’s up to us, the other sixty-two million, to ensure America doesn’t continue its slide into obscurity, or failure. It’s not too late, but we’re coming dangerously close. It all begins with a little common sense.

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