Some Factors Responsible

Harry McD. Persaud

Quite recently there has been a spate of articles on Education in the press. With the results of the 4th and 8th Grades ELA Tests out, it does not need a rocket scientist to see that education in New York City is in dire trouble.

Ever since the USSR sent sputnik into space and caught America ‘with its pants down’, as it were, education in its entirety became the scapegoat. America’s immediate response was the introduction of the ‘New Maths’ into its education system. Subsequent surveys almost ten years later revealed that the Modern Mathematics, as it now became to be called, benefited only a miniscule percentage of the population.

For the moment let us ignore the philosophical definitions of education. Let us take a look of what the layman of the inner city expects of the education system. The majority of the parents prefer that their child go to a school that is safe and clean, be admitted into an orderly or non-crowded classroom where the education delivery is at the appropriate mental level and done in a sequential manner utilizing appropriate and suitable materials and methodology. Parents and others expect that the teacher be quite knowledgeable not only in his discipline, but also others contingent on it so as to use multidisciplinary strategies to complement and reinforce learning.

What are the expectations of the teacher? The teacher expects to enter a classroom of normal size with maybe not over twenty-five or at most thirty students. The students ought to be orderly and respectful, and at least seated and be engaged in preparatory activities pertaining to the upcoming lesson. Administrators ought to have adequate and suitable staff and not be expected to shift staff outside their specialty except in dire contingencies. Teachers must be supplied with, or have the wherewithal to purchase adequate teaching materials. Administrators must also feel secure that any decision made in the interest of the organization is not vetoed by people higher up in the hierarchy, at least not too often as to make the administrator feel that the decisions made are not useful.

Incidentally, what we find in reality is so different and varied as we have schools and school districts. These differences are good once they conform to a planned, perceived and acceptable pattern of outcomes. Empiricism shows that this is far from expectations.

Let us examine a school or a set of schools to see what obtains therein. Readily discerned in some is that there is a state of uniformity which is more felt than noticed, in not one, but any classroom. A different sort of behavior different from that which obtains outside, a general demeanor, and an aura of expectancy permeate the environment. Work can start almost immediately. Books not being used are out of sight; the furniture is fixed to a prearranged scheme to accommodate the activity of the day. There are no loiterers in the hallway with the peaks of caps turned backwards, nor small pockets of students hesitant of entering their classrooms.

Enter another school or set of schools. The buzzer sounds and there is a wild dash to enter or leave a classroom with notebooks being hastily stuffed into or pulled from pockets. If it is the start of a lesson some students may be found perched on desks or horse-playing in the room as the teacher enters. The teacher takes an appreciable amount of time to get the students into some semblance of order. Immediately as the teacher turns around to write there are audible comments on subjects completely unrelated to the lesson at hand. Many times comments about the teacher’s anatomy or other personal idiosyncrasies are the subject of loud guffaws or smirks, and sometimes mini meetings are in session.

Accordingly to the teacher’s personality and training, it takes a few minutes to restore the class to some semblance of order. This state of affairs goes on again and again until the mandatory forty-five minutes have elapsed. The frustrated teacher exits as the buzzer goes, sometimes barely saving himself from being crushed by the exiting stampede.

Now this is what occurs in two contrasting schools. This is a thumbnail sketch of reality. It does not take a graduate to extrapolate in which of these scenarios absorption of knowledge or learning takes place. The foregoing may appear a bit simplistic but is nevertheless the day-to-day reality. Is it any wonder that teachers in the latter situation prefer to pay and send their own children to schools in the former arena, even if they have to pay from their own pockets for their children’s education? In the same breath it is moot to ask why are teachers prepared to accept far less remuneration in the former situations rather than succumb to the pressures of the latter?

In these contrasting scenarios lies the dichotomy between the perception and praxis of reality. We know what is right and yet our perception of reality accommodates what is wrong in an attitude of denial and scapegoating that: “It is always the other person who is wrong.” This misconceived practice of always blaming the other person has reached alarming proportions in our society. It is a cancerous malady which begs eradication.

I invite anyone who can make the time to test the veracity of this fact by just choosing and asking adults randomly a few simple questions beginning with: “Why did you do this or that?” The answer will be in over ninety percent of the cases, “He or she or it is….” and never the person concerned, even if it is pellucidly clear that the person is the cause. Wholesale finger pointing is nothing less than unmitigated scapegoatism. For a person to go on the defensive for even the most innocuous of questions is an exhibition of insecurity to the nth degree. Is it any wonder that the W’s and H’s have to be repeatedly taught well into the Upper Grades?

If such answers are the accepted forte` of adults, imagine the practice of children nurtured in such an environment! This has now become an accepted practice of behavior which defeats the fact of being responsible for one’s actions. When this becomes the case that the other person is perceived to be always wrong, it inculcates into the human psyche a sense of false security, and an exhibition of arrogance that blaming the other is always right.

This is not a modern phenomenon. Rather, it is one fostered ages ago among those that possessed more materially than their less fortunate brethren. One wise man once posited, “Money breathes arrogance.” That saying is never more right than in our democracy where knowledge takes a back seat to the almighty dollar, and to those who wield the reins of power. Whether we would like to admit it or not, this is a phenomenon that was always there, but has now grown to unmanageable proportions in the fertile loam and the weak fabric of our dichotomous value system.

What does this mean for educating the young, or for the school and schooling? The answer is an unequivocal, “Everything,” because, whereas education and its delivery should be guided by ages of benign practices, this is relegated to the junk heap of the inept. In its place, new untested and unproved theories and practices are engulfing the system to satisfy the immediate wants and needs of mere transients. Those, who hold the reins of power, who seek political support and a fast buck, have usurped the hallowed halls of academia and wrested education away from educators.

It is axiomatic to state that structures, whether psychological, sociological or material, not built on a solid foundation, are mere castles in the air. If, again, in a game of soccer, the goal posts are constantly being shifted to favor one side for a time, and then the other side at a different time, it gets confusing not merely to the players but also to the audience.

A ready case that springs to the mind is the appointment of the present Chancellor of Schools, Harold Levy. When he was appointed during the former Mayor Rudy Guilani’s term of office, “He was an outstanding Manager in the corporate world”, and expected to turn education around and use his colossal knowledge to organize a chaotic field. His term is expiring and he will not be re-elected because he has now become “…a mere lawyer”. (Daily News. Fri., 4.26.02)
When education is left to the whims and caprices of politicians and to a system that is forever changing its policies and priorities because of political expedience, then in the long run the consumers suffer. In this case, our most precious resources, our children, who are expected to transmit, not only our genes, but also our culture and traditions, the ones expected to pay our national debt.

This state of affairs persists in any system where it is perceived that money and the power that it brings is the acme of achievement. The role models created in such a society are those that are successful in the moneyed field and can flaunt their wealth in unnecessary conspicuous consumption. Our whole society is geared towards the achievement of wealth by any means possible in the endless circle of, “Those who do not have, want, and those who have want more.” This pattern of behavior has blinkered us to the other finer things in life, education among them.

It is time that education be wrested from the chaotic situation it has found itself. It must be admitted that it is more chaotic at the middle and lower strata, but at the higher it is better. Universities still find their doctoral students and research scientists, but these are from mostly predictable schools noted for their structured academic programs. The system as it is, creates a hierarchy of students, with a hierarchy of schools and a hierarchy of teachers. Thus, the huge underclass of mis- and mal- or even none-educated are left to the soul-destroying, repetitive, sweatshop and screw driver industries which fuel the economy of over- consumption.

In the greatest city on earth, does it need boards and committees and research groups to diagnose what is wrong with a system that produces most illiterates? Maybe it does, if only to initiate change. But a leaf can easier be taken from a book of successful schools, and one by one initiate the changes that can modify the others. Neglecting this simple facet and targeting non-performing schools is hardly a way forward.

Let us start with a little fact finding. Go into a failing school and ask for a curriculum on any subject. Where you are lucky to find one, it was prepared by a set of people qualified in philosophy. The aims and objectives, which are the first guidelines to inform teaching or testing, are so philosophical as to be virtually immeasurable. How can we measure the appreciation of the cumulative law among first graders? Is it not better to ask the students after concrete examples: “Does 2 plus 3 give the same answer as 3 plus 2?” To ask how to add rather what law applies is coming down to the development of the basic, which is the foundation for philosophical “justification”.

Make the teacher know to teach through a curriculum which spells out in behavioral terms rather than philosophical ones. A recent finding in failing schools done by Richard Elnore, a Harvard Professor of Education, states: “Low performing schools, and the people who work in them do not know what to do. If they did, they would be doing it already.” (New York Times Magazine, April 7 2002, page 50.)

If even these philosophical curricula are understood, they tend to benefit a miniscule (probably one or maybe two in a class of thirty) percent of the students, the future PhD’s, at the expense of the majority of the class.

A school with a well-structured curriculum, sequentially layered, where standards are high, and where expectancy of what should be taught and learned clear at every level is the first recipe for success. Is there a City norm? Is there a State norm of what must be taught and learned at each level? If there is, then there ought to be stringent monitoring and supervision of what is taught and also to some extent, how it is taught.

In successful schools this is done by the Headmaster through his Deputy and those lower down in the chain of supervision. Periodical visits from District Superintendents ensure conformity within the district. Constant monitoring to ensure adherence to curricula does not have to wait on a State Exam to pinpoint areas of weakness.

This brings us to the area of the tests themselves. When one examines a test (most anyone), apart from being constructed outside the state of administration, (“The United States has never had an ‘educational system, what it has had is 15,000 or school districts, which decides more or less for themselves how and what to teach and what students need to learn in order to move from grade to grade, or graduate”.) Given this situation the tests are more constructed to test IQ’s rather than what is taught or learned. If the setter of these tests are really serious and are not in the business for the pork, then, they are the fittest persons to set a curriculum in unequivocal terms of what are the expectations at the various levels.

The setting of tests is an entire discipline in itself which should not be divorced from the classroom as it is.

It is only fair to test what is taught. At the expense of being repetitive, it cannot be over emphasized that there is need for clearcut curricula at each level. Its implementation and stringent supervision are the first tiny steps towards education. At present, who ensures that this is so? As is the practice now, philosophically slated curricula coupled with expensive and in many cases unsuitable textbooks, are not only waste of resources, but also leads to the relegation of such materials to the garbage heap.

Education in our context is an age-specific institutionalized undertaking. The number of mitigating factors that impinge on this institution is legion, each one claiming the attention of our most impressionable and gullible children.

Let us start with the press. When a prestigious newspaper like the Daily News will carry in its Rubic section a mathematical problem that defies the conventions of mathematics, then it is mis-educating. A problem reads, 5 + 5 x 5 - 5 = 45.

Instructions: work from left to right. If this was an exercise in following instructions, it is still invalid. A basic rule is: “Multiplication and division must be done before addition and subtraction.” Even when working from left to right and one encounters the multiplication sign one must apply the rule. To do otherwise gives the wrong answer.

Language is one of the sorest points. Both the written and the spoken word are misused with impunity. Speeches and discussions invariably entertain incorrect English apart from spelling which is really excellent only in the New York Times, but the other papers blatantly and routinely use incorrect grammar, confusing the basic rules in comparison and the sequence of tenses, and misusing prepositions and the verb “to be” all the time.

In many homes English is a second language and hence the parents and/or guardians are unable to correct this dilemma, especially in the finer intricacies of the language. Many take the printed word as Standard English and so adopt language in the press as a barometer of speech and writing.

In the same vein, street slang is a powerful tool in the mis-educating the young and impressionable. It is regarded in certain cases as not being “mod” or “cool” if you do not refer to your children as “kids”, and food as “shit”. One is left to wonder what has become of the theory of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Neither is correct, but the former has so inveigled its way into American slang that it is used even by many highly educated persons.

It can, and has been argued that language is a means of communication, and once you have communicated, you have made your point. This might be acceptable at the level of the hoi polli; however, there are levels and different qualities of communication which cannot be expressed by mere “ad hocracy”. It is this higher level of communication that is examinable and being examined by schools and colleges. Not having mastered the knowledge and subtlety of communication with some degree of ease and sophistry is a sure sign of failure.

Again, many expensive textbooks are discovered with right-out errors. These obviously are written in haste to line the pockets of the unscrupulous with lucre. Textbook production must be exposed to rigid screening and must be devoid of errors. There are cases of calling the article a part of speech, or listing pistil for stamens among others. When such mistakes are subsequently discovered, the books are suddenly and subtly removed from the system to be replaced by gaudier versions with a different twist which are no better than those they replaced. The millions of dollars on the former books have already been made.

It must be realized that an old text in Euclidean geometry, written in plain English, contains the same facts as most of their gaudy cousins. How different is a book on the four rules of numbers different from any other except in the examples they portray? In this same breath, we must realize that the sale of textbooks is the single largest earner of educational dollars than any other form of material. This is big business, and to point out that the old books are just as good is to commit economic suicide.

Next, good writing has gone the way of the do-do and great auk. It is argued that you do not need to learn to write properly since typewriters and computers do it so much better. Is it any wonder that the IRS of New York has millions in its coffers which it is unable to return because the names and addresses are indecipherable. It maybe moot to posit that technology of the future will utilize hand-held gadgets to transact most personal business, and will depend on decipherable writing if communication will be possible much less successful. These triple prongs of education which pedagogues call the 3 R’s of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic form the basal foundation of our modern education. It is the knowledge of these and their acquisition that ensure the ultimate success of all education endeavors.

President G.W. Bush has appointed Rod Page as his Secretary of Education. He alleges that Page is a “back to basics” person. If this is so, his influence is yet to be felt in the City of New York which needs such services most.

The so-called multicultural teaching created by educational entrepreneurs to milk the system of cash and create enclaves of so-called specialists has taken a lot of good teachers from the teaching process. A far better method of teaching is the multi-disciplinary approach which utilizes all the senses in a complimentary manner to facilitate a specific aim. The sooner it is realized that teaching in or for a culture does not ensure educational benefit, a step in the right direction will be taken. Cultural tolerance and appreciation is better caught than taught.

Since none normative behavior in the classroom seems to be one of the chief drawbacks to learning, the earlier all those concerned with education policies and its delivery can acknowledge this, the better it will be. Educational researchers and strategists ought to do intensive research and come up with workable solutions enlisting and involving all the parties concerned.

As a start, children must be made responsible for their actions. In the long run, the law does not blame or sentence a gang when a crime is committed but only the individuals directly responsible for committing the crime. Too often adults unconsciously accept excuses for causes and blame the other person. This type of behavior has become endemic in our society, from the lowest level, and even penetrating the legal system. Imagine being at the wrong place at the wrong time even on legitimate business being construed as your fault. Where everyone has a right to do as he pleases without being responsible for the consequences, is the law of the jungle. When a person acts instinctively without thinking of the consequences, then that person is throwing to the wind millennia of civilization and the influence it is supposed to have inculcated in the human being.

When it is realized that every right carries a concomitant responsibility, then the behavior will approach that of thinking man or Homo sapiens, the genus to which man belongs. Man ought to be actors of benign change, never reactors to perpetuate wrong.

When our children are made to realize that their actions carry consequences both individual and societal, then this will be a good start in self-realization, one of the bases of education. This very basic societal catalyst ought to be initiated at home and reinforced as many times as needed. The earlier this is done, the better it will be, and the more long-term effect it will have.

In our society, most parents neglect responsibility to their offsprings at a very early age, even before bonding. They abandon their responsibility to a babysitter who may be paid over half of the take home salary. Often as not, the babysitter is from a different cultural background. It is left to the imagination what psycho-trauma the child will suffer during the impressionable years. Some children may even be handed from baby-sitter to baby-sitter, thereby compounding the trauma.

All parents must realize that anytime spent with a child is quality time. This is most important from the first to the fifth years, and during puberty. Time can never be telescoped or compressed for quality. The concepts and practice of tolerance, sharing, giving way to others, prudence, fair play and the other behaviors that weld a society must be introduced and taught at home. Parents who abrogate these basic responsibilities are consciously nullifying time-honored traditions built among all societies for millennia.

It must be realized that unlike finishing schools there is no section in the curriculum that makes allowance to teach qualities like honesty much less the social graces. That these be inculcated in the home is a non-negotiable. All the methods and resources of society ought to be brought to bear to ensure that children internalize these behaviors. Even fear and consequence are viewed as valid tools.

For the sake of clarification let us cite an example that teachers face on a daily basis. A child is discovered having a concealed weapon or has displayed behavior that merit parental intervention. The parent/parents have been summoned to the Principal’s office. The issue is resolved. The parent/parents embrace the child without a word of reprimand. “I love you,” the parents intoned almost automatically, and is gone. Let us examine what signals were communicated to the child. Is it, “My parents love me because I take a weapon to school? Or do I have to do something wrong to be embraced or noticed? Am I right or wrong? These are mixed and confusing signals being implanted in the id to inform future behavior. The fact remains that to foster and nurture socially acceptable behavior is a function of the home and parents. This must be a deliberate process albeit time consuming, which psychologist agree starts even before birth, even at conception.

It is a fact that an appreciable number of children from a very early age spend a lot of time viewing television programs. While a few are monitored, the majority is left unsupervised. Apart from that which permeates children’s cartoons, it is violence that popularize programs and raise the adrenaline. Regardless of what the paid researchers find, exposing children to perpetual violence results in a lowered appreciation of other types of behavior. Television can be an invaluable teaching tool if appropriate programs are used. Viewing such programs as a whole, however, is the exception rather than the rule.

Perhaps the greatest drawback to learning in the classroom is the inability to concentrate or being focused. Every single one of the hundreds of teachers that I have asked to rank problems hierarchically in the classroom has identified the lack of ability to stay focused during a lesson as the leading problem.

Psychologists and behavioral scientists have identified this phenomenon as ADD (Attention Deficiency Disorder) or the more severe ADHD (Attention Deficiency Hyperactive Disorder). These diseases have been hastily diagnosed as organic diseases, and drugs invented and manufactured to ‘cure’ these disorders. I shall posit quite unscientifically at this point that I have a theory that though a minute proportion may be organic, the huge majority can be cured with proper training at home, and in a very few cases psychiatric intervention.

Let me state here categorically that the majority of cases of these two aforementioned maladies are environmentally induced. Three scenarios will suffice to validate this assumption.

First of all, let us take the case where a parent asks a child to do a favor or perform the simplest of task. Invariably the child has to be told or asked repeated times. If someone knows that immediate obedience is not required, that person is apt to indulge in delayed action. Also, if a person expects to be told again and again, that person ‘will not hear’ the first time, because it is always the expectation to be told again. A sort of ‘expectation lag’ develops. This is also found among many adults. If, however, a person is taught from an early age that immediate obedience is a desirable trait, and is made always to practice this behavior, this becomes normative whether the person is at work, or play, or even asleep.

Secondly, when adults want to focus on a subject, they plan seminars; but only if the knowledge to be gained therefrom is an academic or job requirement. If no examination or feedback is required, some may even sleep through such seminars. However, with modern technology, especially the information super highway, such knowledge can be gained at home, albeit, an onerous task.

The habit of not sticking to a subject among adults can easily be validated with a very simple survey. Eavesdrop on any two adults in a casual conversation. It will be discovered that within three minutes at most the topic will be changed. Imagine if there are four or five persons each wanting to get in a topic. Further, imagine having casual drinks around the table of four or five when there is already a degree of imbibition.

Thirdly, let us move from individuals to radio and television. Hour after hour or even half and quarter hour, without a change, the same news, without fail, bombard the ears with the exact words and intonation. This reinforces that you do not need to listen, because if you do not get it now you will get it again. The transference of such behavior is unconsciously carried over to other arenas like listening and focusing. No wonder there are listening examinations up to and including the Regents.

The first time that parents and adults stop repeating orders or requests, the sooner will this behavior be remedied.

I have pointed out in previous articles that some teachers are not qualified to teach although they are in possession of academic certification. This is a sad state of affairs, but nevertheless it exists. While methodology is of paramount importance, a thorough knowledge of the subject matter and other related subjects are absolute necessities. The knowledge of the subsidiary subjects is necessary since when teaching any subject there needs to be linkage for better understanding. The fact that all knowledge is interdisciplinary has a direct relationship to teaching methodology.

I was horrified to learn one Sunday not so long ago that at a certain High School where there is regular and continuous professional development, there were teachers who found difficulty in manipulating vulgar fractions. Any College that requires their students to do quantitative methods, or even the curriculum of a fifth grade class must cater for this.

In the teaching world, although specialists are needed, there must be knowledge of other subjects. In the real world, organisms that specialize are the first to be annihilated. Let us just look at the world of viruses and note that they are the most successful organisms because of their ability to mutate. In the work place when specialists lose their jobs they have to spend many hours of retraining if they are to succeed in even obtaining a different job. Oftentimes when this occurs beyond the summer of their years they encounter great difficulty in the absorption of new knowledge.

The State has recently released the results of the fourth and eight grade examinations using ethnic parameters to show success and failure. What usefulness this can or may serve is indeed vague, which leaves the door wide open to the suspicion of the criminalizing not merely of ethnic enclaves but also of entire ethnic groups. Categorizing results by ethnic origin is prejorative and morally wrong, producing stereotypes, and ought to be dispensed with. A far more useful tool for categorizing ought to be by economic ability. According to Jean McGurie, Chairwoman of CARE, NACS, [State Tests] are “…a device for sorting and labeling.” (New York Times Magazine April 07, 2002.) It must be noted that there are many researches showing the relationship between economic ability and educational achievement.

It is a fact that teachers face a host of difficulties of inadequate salaries, promotion and seniority issues and Union Veto among others, but when New York City has to recruit teachers from the back waters of the Third World countries, this bears ample testimony to the fact that the delivery of education has reached an all time low. Why have so many people who have changed jobs to become teachers bolting the system? The reasons are varied with salaries being the least. The whole atmosphere which provides education from the light in which it is viewed as an agent of change ought to be drastically overhauled for the inner city.

Whether our brand new Mayor can make good on his recent pronouncement that, “…increasing parental access to schools and instituting management structures where you have policies that are explicitly stated and follow through”, will be reform enough within his three odd years in office is left to be seen.

Some Things That May Be Done To Improve The System

Perhaps in the history of Mankind there has never been, and never will be, an institution that has affected civilization like the education of the young, an institution known as Pedagogy. Educators and scientists contend that this process starts at conception. However, it becomes more overt after birth when conscious efforts are made to nurture the young into the behavioral patterns and cultural norms that will successfully ensure its survival, both as an individual and as a useful member of a social unit.

This is a fact. Some posit that this maybe true when studying the lower animals and hardly holds good for humans. This is never the case; and while at the onset it appears to be simplistic, it is nevertheless at the very core of human behavior. It is the most profound philosophical directive that informs the very survival of the species as a unified entity. This might also appear somber, specific, and a drudgery on the surface, but it nevertheless caters for all phases of life from the amusement of the individual as an individual to its welfare as a useful member of its society. It builds character, cohesiveness and ensures conformity to standards. In essence, it caters for the whole being. Does this not then, by its very nature, devolve upon society that it must be its best planned and executed of its social institutions? Must not education then be the central magnet and polestar of human society? Must it not be the central focus to inform all others? To even regard education as anything less is to neglect the future.

How are we to turn around a system that has deteriorated to its present poor level? I shall posit some humble and modest suggestions that, if adopted, will serve in no little measure to effect an improvement in the system.

The first and foremost thing is to stop playing the “blame-game” and look internally to see what contribution each has made to the deterioration of education. In this arena there are three principal actors.

The first and central to the discussion is the child. The next player is the parent. This can be extended to mean society as a whole, the social unit of the family, or the village, surrogate parents, or any set of people or individuals that make a direct impact or may influence the child. Next comes the school. This is extended to mean the school as an institution, from its curriculum to the planned and unplanned and all those other activities that control and impinge directly or otherwise on the learning process.

With the exception of a minuscule percentage of the population every other child is born endowed with the capacity of the entire gene pool of the human race for learning. What happens from birth afterwards is the result of the two aforementioned actors in the game. It is agreed among educators and other social scientists that these two other factors constitute the environment. What happens from birth afterwards is purely the result of the influence of this environment on the individual.

By far the most important factor in the child’s life and the initial one is that of the parent. The parent consciously and unconsciously fashions all the behaviors of the child in the most impressionable years of its life. Behaviors inculcated in the years, one to five, generally last a lifetime. However, certain behaviors may be more easily modified during the adolescence years with careful and astute behavioral modification techniques.

Let it be made known at this point that every child has the same capacity for learning as the other. Now, what cause the various differences among individuals? The answers are as different as there are individuals. In our society, institutions are set up to cater for children even before they are properly bonded with their parents. Especially in the inner city where, for economic reasons, both parents must work, and the mother, as soon after birth as she is able, the child is left to the care of others. There are many things that can go wrong even in a so-called normal home with two parents and even siblings. If the child is weaned at an early age, wrong or bad nutrition can be an important factor on the natural development of the child. Proper nutrition is absolutely necessary, and is a non-negotiable. A badly or mal-nourished child may have his/her capacity for leaning severely damaged at this early stage when most of its behavioral patterns and linguistic style and capacity are being patterned. It must be noted that almost everything that occurs at this crucial stage of the child’s life is vital to the learning process and capacity.

At home, the basic socializing process takes place. What is and what is not acceptable is inculcated and fostered. The basic tenets of right and wrong, approval and disapproval, directions, names, what facial and bodily language means, and other behavioral subtleties are learned and stored for subsequent use.

The child enters pre-school and uses the acquired behaviors to inform and modify his/her behavior to suit new and changing circumstances. How successfully this is developed depends now on the nature of the teaching activities indulged in. Everything being equal, the child passes to kindergarten and then to higher stages of learning.

Now what is the educational role of the parent? Much more than providing the basics and seeing that the child attends school is the supportive role the parents have to play – supportive in the active sense of constantly showing active interest in every facet and phase of the child’s learning. Constantly finding out what the child has learned, what are the difficulties, what things the child enjoyed, assuring that home assignments are done in a proper and timely manner, constantly reading and maintaining a high interest in all the school activities, are only a small part where parents can be helpful to the child.

What do we find generally? Many of the families are one-parent families. Where there are both parents, they are seldom at home together, and even if they are there, they seldom equally evince the same interest in the child’s education, as is desirable. And many times than not they are too tired or otherwise engaged to ensure that the basic is done.

What of the school and its program of work? Is there a well laid out one where it can be measured at every step of its implementation? If there is, is it directional and progressive? If there is, is it set out in a sequential manner with progressive degrees of difficulties, both in knowledge and methodology of operations? This is the first prerequisite in all institutions of learning from kindergarten to university. I have been assured that in many schools that this is not so. And some are not in the Chancellor’s District either.

This program, with suitably trained and knowledgeable teachers, forms the institution of school. Mention must be made at this point that the outside environment in this narrow definition of ‘school’ is not included in the equation. The outside environment is a very important factor at certain stages of a child’s school life, and can only be neglected to the detriment of all concerned.

Having these three components in place then, it is expected that if each component contributes as it should, the results should at least measure up to the normal curve. What we find in practice in New York leaves much at this modest level to be desired. In previous papers, I have dealt with a number of contributory factors resulting in the chaotic state in which we have found ourselves, suffice it to say that one and all are remediable.

Now having cooperated and worked with the above situation for a year, the time comes for accountability or the time of testing. Do we test the curriculum taught? Are the tests set to the curriculum? Do we ourselves set the tests using the very best professional techniques? No, we depend on an agency thousands of miles away that sets tests suitable for a broad spectrum of clientele. Are we not, with the best combination of brains in the world, capable of setting our own tests more in keeping with the curriculum taught? If, “The United States never had an ‘educational system’, what it has had is 15,000 or so school districts, which decide more or less for themselves how and what to teach and what students need to learn in order to move from grade to grade, or to graduate,” then why should other people set our tests? (Quote from New York Times Magazine April 7th 2002.) Our tests then, must be relevant and set to a core of knowledge that demands high standards of its recipients. Are we doing that, or are we enhancing the coffers of a company that cannot release results because such results are ‘normally’ flawed? To date (07.07.02) results of certain examinations have not reached schools that need to select students for remediation and further teaching during the summer.

According to the same New York Times of April 7th, “Advocates of standards-based reform insist that the best test preparation is a rich curriculum. But that’s not the reality.”

It is a fact that any school – charter, private, parochial or public – without a well-planned and executed curriculum is doomed to failure. There is a new federal law that is now designed to compel each state to develop its own system of standard-based reform. These states are given five years to devise their own standards and tests. So in New York when the mayor has taken over the Board of Education and people feel that will effect drastic changes in the education system, then this is a mere pipe-dream. Although effective management is a must, there should be well-planned program to be managed. Reform then must start at this level. Since all states are required to raise students to proficiency level over the next twelve years, they will have to administer the N.A.E.P. test every other year to see how they are measuring up to countrywide norms.

While some schools prepare students for the specific tests administered by the state, many disagree that such preparation defeats the whole aim of education while the proponents argue that the end justifies the means.

Many feel that blaming the whole system is a fallacy. There are still existing schools that set and meet demanding standards. Such schools can be used as models to bring others up to standard. One that readily comes to mind is the Kipp Academy in the Bronx. There are also others that can be studied to see why they work. For reform to work, it must be instituted at the teaching-learning level. That is where the action ought to be. Imposition from the top is hardly a prudent way to effect benign change.

The Board of Education is now seeking to hire teachers of science and mathematics. Examine most of the examination questions and it will be discovered that most correct answers are got by a thorough knowledge of the English language.

The Schools Management Authorities should take a very close look at their teacher training system. Psychology and Methodology of teaching should occupy the highest rung of the training ladder. While a university degree is required to join the teaching profession, this is hardly necessary at the lower levels. There is also need to keep up with new and innovative methods of teaching. This can utilize part of the extended summer holidays. Although this may not find favor with the Union, they can ultimately be convinced of its utility.

At this time, an in-depth study must be made of the entire system to ascertain its strengths and weaknesses. Action can then be taken to remedy the faults, and strengthen the positive areas. The teachers themselves can be used to enumerate the areas of weakness and make suggestions towards the remediation. The teachers are the people who face the problems and thus know them best. When we take all the factors that mitigate against the system as it now is, then we can start to institute measures for a better system

The sore point of students’ behavior must be tackled at the very onset. Many of the problems can be minimized if the students know one another well. The system of having big schools needs looking into. The wearing of uniforms needs to be studied and given attention. Having students from many districts in one school hardly makes for conducive social behavior. The rights and the concomitant responsibilities of each player in the game of education must be clearly defined and known so that each part can carry out its responsibilities without fear.

In conclusion, let it be noted that the Banking Concept of Education brought a bright future for our society. So let each sector unreservedly play its role, and as Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser told Wolf Blitzer on CNN, “We do have to pull together and not point fingers.”