Flashback to 1920 Public Education – A Breath of Fresh Air

Some provocative thoughts crossed my mind the other day that might, possibly, be worth exploring for the sake of primary and secondary public education in America. I suppose that the memories of my childhood learning experiences will always play a part in the way I perceive the solutions to basic and advanced mathematical, logical, and scientific inquiries generally found in life, which are generally posed as solvable problems in an educational application. The way I learned to explore, intuit, deduce (or induce), and solve simple math and logic problems, which were the same methodologies for solving other, subsequent, more convoluted problems, was the way my mother learned to do so under the direction of a master teacher in a one room schoolhouse eight miles south of the City of Chandler in East Texas. This master teacher, a future U.S. Senator, insisted that all of his students learn the rudiments of number operations in order to logically solve math and conceptual problems systematically and intuitively. This particular teacher required daily class recitation and memorization of rudimentary conceptual and numerical facts, and required his students to stand and orally deliver.

In her equivalent of the fifth grade, my mom, Dessie, was given the task, at the age of 10, of solving the following math problem, which was basic to the agrarian requisites of a rural farming community in 1920. Some current educators and educational philosophers might say that what was basic to mathematical problem solving in 1920 is hardly applicable in a modern technological classroom of 21st Century fifth graders, but I totally disagree. The problem she was given went like this:

A farmer sold his crop for $100. After deducting 4/5’s of the amount for seed and fertilizer, what percent of the total amount was his net profit?

If the typical 21st Century American fifth grader, ending his fifth year, were given this very basic problem to solve in class with only a pencil and a clean sheet of paper (with no calculator) on his, or her, desk, would that random student, graduating into the sixth grade, be capable of solving it? Well, I have my doubts. Why? My mother taught me the multiplication tables (through the 12s) and fractions at home before I was eight years old, and she had only a sixth grade education. She made learning fun for me. Today, in the 21st Century world, very, very few high school and college educated parents spend time at home in the evenings, or on weekends, helping their children learn basic math, and most (75 percent) of all seventh graders in the public schools don’t know their multiplication tables by heart by the end of the seventh year of public education. That’s because pocket calculators have replaced rote mathematical leaning in the classroom, and multiple choice testing of young minds has replaced the requirement for paper and pencil calculations where students must show their step-by-step processes in computational solution.

In order to solve the above problem, the student must be able to understand fractions and divide numbers. The intuitive student, who understands how to multiply and divide, will say to himself, or herself, that 4/5’s of 100 is equal to $100 x 4/5, which equals $100 x 4 divided by 5, which equals $400/5, which equals $80. Now, the student looks again at the problem and says to himself, or herself, that the calculated $80 is the amount of money spent by the farmer for the seed and fertilizer. So, $100 – $80 equals $20 dollars, or the farmer’s net profit. Now, the student may solve the problem after determining that the net profit, $20, is a certain percentage of $100. So the student creates a basic equation, Percent = $20 divided by $100, or 20 Percent. As far as intuiting percentage, the 1922 fifth grader who understood fractions was logically capable of seeing that 100 percent of $100 is $100, so, logically, 10 percent of $100 is $10 and 20 percent of $100 is $20, and so on, for fractions and percentages go hand-in-hand.

A famed math and physics tutor, who was very successful over 25 years in helping high school and college students, who didn’t learn their fundamental number operations in elementary school, stated that the reason most 21st Century students in junior high, high school, junior college, and in universities have difficulty with basic and advanced algebra is simply because they cannot factor numbers; and not being able to factor comes from not knowing how to basically multiply and divide whole numbers and fractions. This is a poor statement for the validity of current public school education. Moreover, extending this criticism, I doubt very seriously if, even, two-out-of-ten random 21st Century American eighth graders could correctly solve the foregoing problem, solved by a typical 1920 fifth grader left alone with only pencil, paper, and his, or her, mind.

Going back to the old 1920 one-room schoolhouse approach to teaching might be just what the doctor ordered to heal the ailing public school systems. With master teachers who regard memorization, oral recitation, and comprehension of fundamental number and logic facts as vitally important in a student’s education, and caring parents who regularly spend time at home with their elementary school children, assisting them in learning the multiplication tables and how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers, such a beneficial step back in time would be a breath of fresh air in a stale 21st Century America that calls systematic student regression and federal intervention into independent state education progress. Such a shameful, stagnate place, where public school children are not expected by society to properly develop and use their God-given reasoning faculties to intuitively solve mathematical and conceptual problems they will regularly encounter throughout life as adults, seems to be the America in which we now reside.

The Role of Spirituality in Public Education

I believe we have raised a generation of kids who appear to be morally and ethically deprived, but it’s important to realize that we ourselves are the same. As adults, we are just as seduced by narcissism and materialism as our kids. We are information rich but ethically and morally poor. Biologist Edward O. Wilson says we are “drowning in information while starving for wisdom.”

Many contend that perhaps returning prayer to public schools is the answer to this cultural dilemma, while others argue that schools should be a place free from religious influence. The practice of mindfulness may offer a way forward, as it helps education leaders find common ground between various religions and can effectively teach ethics and morality in a secular way. Practising mindfulness allows us to nurture the development of skills and values that emphasize moral character, love, compassion, patience, harmony, altruism, forgiveness, responsibility and a concern for others.

Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and is the focusing of one’s attention and awareness. It’s a psychological and spiritual faculty that is believed to bring wisdom through reflection. Although it has its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness is not inherently a religious concept, and therefore can easily be taught to all.

Spirituality is defined in many ways. For some, it’s a belief in a power in the universe that is greater than oneself. For others, it’s having a sense of interconnectedness with all living things. For others still, it’s an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life. Spiritual practices can include contemplation, meditation and prayer, and they are intended to develop a person’s inner life. Spiritual experiences can include the feeling of being connected to something larger than yourself, a feeling of being connected to others, a feeling of being connected to the human community, nature, or even the cosmos or divine realm. Spirituality is even often experienced as a source of inspiration, creativity, epiphanies, “aha” moments or intuitive clarity.

A growing body of research indicates that developing our inner selves, using techniques such as mindfulness, yoga, meditation and reflective writing, is critical. Mindful techniques not only help us to cope with the stresses of our world today, but also help us to develop sound ethical and moral practices. Contemplative or mindful-based approaches have the ability to enhance the climate of classrooms and schools, help students and teachers stay calm, concentrate and focus their attention, and feel empathy, kindness and compassion toward others.

Highly regarded research institutions like Harvard and MIT are beginning to measure and understand what happens in the brain when people use mindful techniques. This is significant because there is growing recognition within the scientific community that spirituality is an important part of being human, and the belief in something larger than ourselves may actually be wired into our brains.

In my view, the shift to mindful teaching and learning is a critical next step in the evolution of our public education system. In addition to nurturing our children cognitively, socially, physically and emotionally, we also need to nurture their moral and spiritual development. In doing so, we’ll help them cope with the stresses of life, develop sound ethical and moral practices, bring peace within themselves, absorb and process new information more easily, become more healthy, athletic and creative, tap into their imaginations more freely, develop their intuitive comprehension and be more easily inspired. With this solid foundation behind them, our kids may well become better equipped to deal critically, creatively and compassionately with the challenges of our world today.

If we reframe the way we think about spirituality in public schools, it will be a revolutionary prescription for education in the new millennium.

Comparing Homeschooling to Public Education

The primary similarity regarding the homeschooling concept is that this is a legal way of educating children in all 50 states. However, that is where any similarities end as the laws and regulations of this educational concept will vary from one state to another. In addition to this, the interpretation of these laws and regulations differ from one school district to the next. Another element is that these different laws and regulations oftentimes change every year so it is always wise to find out about this before educating your child this way.

As a suggestion, you should consider contacting the National Home Education Network to find out about homeschooling your child in your state of residency. This is one of the best resources to rely on where finding information regarding the laws and regulations of your state’s homeschooling activities. It lists each one of the 50 state’s laws that you can read about. However, it is best to contact an experienced attorney to accurately interpret them before making assumptions on your own.

The support groups of the National Home Education Network are also an excellent source of valuable information. You can search online for state Department of Education resources as well. They can help you with interpreting the laws and regulations of your state as well as the requirements involved for homeschooling your children. The main benefit of finding out as much information as you can is that this will help you avoid any negative surprises along the way. This is also beneficial if you relocated during the time that you are homeschooling.

Public school disadvantages

As parents, most of us are extremely trusting of the public education system in our home states, maybe a bit too trusting. We make the assumption that our children will receive a good education when we enroll them in public schools and are satisfied with this. However, you have to question whether or not you are actually getting a good value for the money you invest in this type of education. Additionally, you have to question whether or not your child is benefiting from public education.

Supposedly, one of public education’s greatest benefits is socialization. In other words, it is hailed as the method wherein a child attains the rudimentary skills necessary to their survival. Unfortunately, this is a misconception of sorts in that the child is only able to interact with their peers, and that interaction oftentimes leads to negative consequences. There is no benefit if they bully younger children or fear older ones. Nor is there a benefit that they may not know how to behave around other adults.

In closing, just remember when it comes to public education, that environment only allows peer interaction at specific times during the school day. Conversely, a homeschooling type of environment enables them to learn in a social environment that is more natural to them. So ask yourself what is best for your child – homeschooling or public education?