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Steve Hansen ‘One size fits all’ education is bad for students’ futures

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Steve Hansen

Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 6:01 am, Tue Jun 26, 2012.

George Neely's recent column on students and college couldn't be more accurate. "One size fits all" education, driven by social idealists, has been an obtuse failure.

The U.S has been "reforming" education since 1957. In those days, we found ourselves falling behind the Russians in math and science. This communist country surprised a sleepy '50s America with the launch of the first satellite, called Sputnik, during October of that year.

More than half a century later, and after hundreds of billions of dollars spent on public education, we still hear the same chant: "America is falling behind in math and science." Nothing has changed on the mantra, but the country has changed dramatically from 55 years ago.

In those days, my mom used to say: "Get a college education. It means a better life. You'll have a higher-paying job." Of course, those were the days before modern technology and cheap electronic communications. People didn't worry about having someone in a foreign country taking their livelihoods at 20 percent of what Americans were accustomed to being paid.

Those were the times when student loan debt was not even close to what it is today, at $1 trillion. Average individual student debt was not between $100,000 and $200,000, but often under $10,000. (In 1960, a full ride at University of the Pacific was less than $3,000 annually.)

Most people with a variety of college majors could find employment — even liberal arts folks like me. Now, only a few college majors have direct value to the employment world. Even these are up against foreign competitors who are willing to work harder for less money. We have spent billions to educate some of the finest table servers and bartenders in the world!

The secret to success in today's world is not necessarily following beliefs that have worked in the past, but rather adapting to a world economy that is rapidly changing.

This leads to a simple rule about success that few people seem to understand. It is simply this: "The fewer people who can do a job that's in demand, the more that job will pay."

Of course, the opposite is true as well: "The MORE people who can do a job, the LESS it will pay." That's why more college graduates flooding the markets will not mean higher incomes.

This premise has been true for centuries, but often gets lost in good economic times when unions and politicians artificially raise wages and salaries. Ironically, it has led to our present state of dismal affairs, where millions of manufacturing and thousands of professional jobs have left the country for better business climates.

The above premise remains true during good and bad times. For example, physicians with many years of training and experience have just about eliminated any worry of being in an unemployment line. A Harvard Business School graduate, with superior intelligence and skills, will find that he or she also has eliminated almost all competition.

One may or may not go to college to acquire special and in-demand skills. Professional athletes are paid millions for talents that few possess. Million-dollar salespeople are in demand for their rare networking abilities and work ethics — not necessarily something learned in a classroom.

Harry Pellow, although a nuclear scientist, became world-famous by restoring classic Porsches. (He claimed he didn't want to spend the rest of his life figuring how to blow up people for the government.)

Red Adair, before his death at age 89, was paid over $1 million per day to extinguish oil well fires. (Do you know anyone else who can do that?)

And then, there was Steve Jobs. Need I say more?

If schools and politicians wanted real reform, they would stop trying to pound square pegs into round holes. They would put individual needs of students first. They would give up their political idealism, which over half a century has only led to inch-by-inch progress while ignoring mile-long failure.

Instead, each child would be given an opportunity to discover his or her individual talents. Courses would be designed to develop unique personal skills that could be used to make independent livings. College might or might not be an option, depending on where those discoveries lead.

Our present ways of doing things in education is simply not cost-effective. We can't afford it, and for far too many, the job at hand is not getting done. Radical change in educational thinking and purpose is the only way for our kids to occupationally survive during the next half-century.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Stuart Klein posted at 12:46 pm on Fri, Jul 6, 2012.

    Stuart Klein Posts: 6

    I think the real problem is that so many students in higher education end up with totally useless degrees. It's nice to read a lot of Shakespeare and end up with a degree in English or to delve deep into Plato and end up with a degree in classics. However, you will not learn any marketable skills with these majors. We need to scale back funding for students that seek these kinds of degrees. Even better would be if the government put in quotas for the student loans that required the majority of students to get degrees in math or science. This would force our young people to stop getting degrees in "Beer Studies" and actually spend some time on their homework. Math classes with 12 problem sets a quarter are a lot more useful and demanding than a two paper course on why Socrates was fine with hos own death.

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 4:58 pm on Mon, Jul 2, 2012.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Mr. Maple wrote: "As far as demanding a parent get involved ms b, what makes you think they do not? What makes you think they even can? What makes you think... "

    I've seen parent involvement at Vinewood School that was detrimental because the "elites" alienated other parents because they weren't the "IT" parents. I've seen the principal at Vinewood (whom I won't name, but she just retired this year, thank the Lord) go along with alienating parents who were not the "IT" parents. It only took one volunteer experience for me to understand that I was not the "quality" they wanted (read - didn't have the political or monetary gravitas).

    On the other hand, I have witnessed my husband calling parents in the evening, mostly Hispanic, many Russian immigrants, and VERY low income white parents and grandparents (guess which ones could hardly speak English!) in the evening and letting them know about concerns with their children, school events, etc.

    Surprise! The Hispanic parents and Russian parents were receptive and/or showed up because their child's Vice Principal had made a personal phone call. They couldn't NOT show up and be embarassed.

    On the other hand, white parents and grandparents showed up with their student so they could show the child - "this is how you deal with administrators, Suzie or Joe, you tell them to their face that they are a piece of S...t, you let them know that they can't tell you what to do, you let them know that they can't suspend you, you let them know that you are superior because you are white."

    The latter is the kind of parent involvement that many teachers get. That needs to stop.

  • Patrick W Maple posted at 3:09 pm on Mon, Jul 2, 2012.

    Pat Maple Posts: 1805

    Public schools have educated over 80 Billion people worldwide since 1635...when the Boston School was founded. There is little wrong with the systems except for the people who run them and fund them. I find it interesting how people now expect the schools to teach students everyting from a foreign language to table manners to football to social engineering and "fairness". In short it is not the duty nor the responsibility of a person who may or may not have learned these attributes themselves to do so. I don't want someone else teaching my child about sex...or sexuality. Nor do I want my child bringing home a bunch of homework...under the guise that they are still learning or need more rote work....just to make it look like the "educator" is going the extra mile.

    So...I pose the question: WHEN does a kid get to be a kid? WHEN does a kid get to learn from his father or mother (you know the ones who are at work trying to pay their bills)? WHEN does a kid get to learn self discipline? THIS question comes from EXPERIENCES...both received and given.

    Mr Neely professed he had answers for the problems...I have yet to see one.
    Steve Hansen is correct in much of his assessment. The next step must be solutions. I have given many solutions on this site as well as many during my campaigns. Most of those involved leadership and innovation...which is sorely missing in the admins, boards and classrooms today.

    What has evolved is a dual question...do we want a babysitting service that teaches some stuff...or do we want an education system that teaches babysitting (metaphorically speaking)? I choose the latter.

    As far as demanding a parent get involved ms b, what makes you think they do not? What makes you think they even can? What makes you think...

  • Deborah Mangini posted at 11:20 am on Sat, Jun 30, 2012.

    Smart Solutions Posts: 3

    Maybe there shouldn't be public education OR citizens should have a choice which education option is best for their tax dollars....that is -if we are really trying to do what's best for the student. Whoever holds the tax dollars has the power and the responsibility for the results.

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 8:33 am on Sat, Jun 30, 2012.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Please refer to my comment under George Neely's column, Mr. Maple.

    To condense: Teachers do their jobs. Teachers be given the tools to do their jobs. Parents need to get involved - by this I don't mean asking nicely. We must demand parent involvement.

    Lastly, find out why African American and Hispanic students are not doing well in school. Much, I suspect, has to do with ALL of the above.

    I remember back in 1996 or 1997, the principal at LHS called my husband and asked if he could come and put some order to a CLAD (or whatever incarnation of CLAD it was called at the time) class that was being conducted with the teachers at the LHS site.

    The teachers were in rebellion - they didn't want to be there. They were actually throwing fits, yelling and screaming at the principal and walking out. They didn't understand why THEY had to learn the skills to be able to properly teach LEP students. Students, they believed, should magically learn English on their own and/or just be able to keep up in classes where they had no idea what was being taught.

    Hopefully, with the help of the requirements for teacher preparation now being taught at the university level, a new type of teacher will be entering the "system" and the old attitudes will retire with the former "entitled" class of teachers who don't understand why THEY need to change also and not just the students.

    This is why it is dangerous for individuals like George Neely and Steve Hansen, who both come to education from prior careers and who only have the preparation of the teacher credentialing courses under their belts. No understanding of the nuances of their student community.

  • Patrick W Maple posted at 3:58 pm on Fri, Jun 29, 2012.

    Pat Maple Posts: 1805

    Supply and demand:

    This leads to a simple rule about success that few people seem to understand. It is simply this: "The fewer people who can do a job that's in demand, the more that job will pay."

    Of course, the opposite is true as well: "The MORE people who can do a job, the LESS it will pay." That's why more college graduates flooding the markets will not mean higher incomes.

    Steve: There are a couple of small caveats here: Teachers want fewer students...less work same pay. Schools want more students...more ADA...more money. Administrators want more students, more teachers, more assistants and more money. Unions want more teachers, more influence, more money and more benefits. Hmmmm...what do students want? Parents? Taxpayers? Employers?

    The delicate equation has become....aw heck you figure it out.

    msb: Then, by whom HAS it been driven? Where are your answers for these problems...

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 10:47 am on Fri, Jun 29, 2012.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    Curious - what is Dr. Hansen's definition of "obtuse failure?" Odd use of the word "obtuse."

    As far as education failing because it has been "driven by social idealists," that is just a bizarre assertion, just as bizarre as George Neely stating that we should look to drop out rates for African American and Hispanic students to realize why these two groups should be shuffled into non-academic or vocational programs.

    I am shocked by the attitudes of both of these individuals.


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