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Teaching Kids Resolve to be True Scholars

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Resolve not to be poor; whatever you have, spend less. Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable and extremely difficult.
-Samuel Johnson

Over the weekend, President Obama pitched his would-be jobs program under the guise of educational urgency, noting the loss of 300,000 school teachers as the reason America is slipping in the realm of education. While I'm all for a lot of great teachers teaching our children, I think there are issues that are actually more acutely responsible for the decline in America's educational prowess. Statistics used to prove the more teachers the greater the results are sketchy, and it's more of a touchy-feely kind of thing that sounds good, but in reality there are more important components. I think we are missing out on hitting that hot button that makes kids want to learn.

Moreover, for our economically disadvantaged students, we have given them so many excuses for failure that by the time they get out of the gate many expect to be subpar. This is why the direction of the country is problematic. People that make the least amount of effort are demanding to get a greater share of the end results. The so-called income inequality gap is being used to bludgeon the wallets and pride of achievers while excusing those that aren't living up to their own individual potential. Throwing money at problems alone never solves major issues. It hasn't solved poverty or education in the United States, but has helped to create another problem (debt) that has to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Apparently, the best student to teacher ratio of 15.3 was achieved in 2008, and now at 16.0 (2010), we are back to 2000 levels. The thing is, educationally we ranked significantly higher in the world using the PISA test of kids 15 years old in three key areas of education.


The PISA tests cover all 34 OECD nations (developed world) and more and more non-OECD nations.

In the 2009, PISA reported that there was a section of resilient students defined as those in the bottom quarter of an index of economic, social and cultural status within a country that perform in the top quarter of students from all countries. In other words, these kids were at the wrong end of an equality scale but busted their backsides to perform with the best. What is it that drove these kids to perform so well? There were 25 such nations where the children were more resolved than those in the United States when it came to science literacy (we barely edged out Greece). I don't think it's the money they throw at the problem in Estonia or Mexico.

I'm convinced handing out excuses from the start is hurting poorer students more than a lack of funds. In wealthier schools, the idea everyone should get a trophy is a farce as well. I was on the board of a charter school in the poorest congressional district in America and we had a principle that called all the students scholars. I had a problem with that because the kids that were truly scholars got there through amazing effort that didn't stop when the final bell of the day rang. How did those kids feel when everyone was given the same praise? It hurts motivation.

The dumbing down of America has been a work in progress for a long time, lead by teachers unions looking to protect their jobs more than promoting achievement. It has been aided by communities that fought for easier curriculums so the children feel good. This entire process has eroded the need for resolve. In the 2009, PISA tests of black students in America scored 409 which ranked them behind 53 developed and under-developed nations. It cannot be blamed on money. It can't be blamed on teachers not caring; over 80% of American students say teachers care, but less than 30% agree with that statement in Japan where their students run circles around all American students.

The problem is selling the notion of victimhood rather the notion of resolve. We can get it done. If President Obama and others want to remake America, where underachievers are rewarded from the pockets of overachievers, it's only a matter of time before there are fewer of the latter. That means more poverty for all, less liberty for all and no virtue for anybody.

Using children, teachers, police and firefighters to justify runaway spending is shameful. Not finding creative ways to make children embrace learning while promoting the idea they shouldn't be the best is beneath everyone, including politicians.

By the way ... if it was all about a lot of teachers then 2008 would have been the pinnacle of educational achievement. It wasn't.

* From 1995 to 2008, America went from second in the world in college graduation rates to 13th.
* From 1995 to 2008, America tumbled to the ranking of 26th in the world with respect to high school graduation rates.

By the way, it should be noted that Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls this the New Normal and has argued that low student-teacher ratios are more for an education model of the past and shouldn't be an excuse not to take a business-like approach to teaching our children. Sadly, when it comes to this administration, the New Normal takes a backseat to the Old Normal - spend, spend and spend some more. To be able to spend, tax, tax and tax even more (of course, borrowing has also been an integral part of "paying" for all that spending). In the meantime, toss resolve out the window and replace it with a false pity and false hopes.

She's Back

Angela Merkel is on record saying no more concessions for Greece, which has turned the old truism of beggars not being choosers on its ear, by holding its lenders hostage for the last year. At this point, Greece exiting the Euro wouldn't be a shock and would only rock the boat to a limited degree.


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