If you listen to the news in or around New York City then you probably have heard a lot about the new mayor, Bill De Blasio. A day hardly passes without hearing about what De Blasio did or said about something. One of the stranger policies that he is pushing is universal Pre-K for the city. De Blasio sees a problem with the city’s educational system and wants to fix it. Here is a quote from his website: “Currently, only 23 percent of New York City high school students are prepared for college or a career. The percentage of black and Latino students prepared for college or a career is abysmal, at only 13 percent.” To me those numbers are appalling. After a student puts in 13 years worth of training they ought to be qualified to do something.
Unfortunately, I don’t think that another year in that system will fix anything. In fact, I think that if the school system is left the way that it is you’ll see those numbers get worse.
Public education exists for the purpose of preparing the next generation of Americans to think efficiently and drive our nation onwards. In many ways I think the system was a success. In 1854 a British industrialist named Thernstrom visited Boston and had this to say, “ There is not a working boy of average ability in the New England States, at least, who has not an idea of some mechanical invention or improvement in manufactures, by which, in good time he hopes to better his position, or rise to fortune and social distinction.” What he is saying is that our educational system helped to promote critical thinking which promoted the industrial boom that the north was experiencing at the time. What kept America moving forward was independent thought.
“Excelsior”- ever upwards. It’s our State’s motto. We are all for progress. I think it’s achieved by independent thought.
That being said, I think that individualism ought to be one of, if not the, preeminent doctrine that our public schools teach. I’m concerned that what De Blasio is advocating will not do that at all. I think the best way to promote individualism is to give the students individual attention. I am boldly suggesting that the state encourage private tutors; called parents. When you are three or four years old you really don’t need to be institutionalized, that can wait until you’re like five. I’m saying this as someone who never attended pre-school. Even with the cards stacked against me, I somehow pulled myself up by my own bootstraps and made it through the rigors of kindergarten. Lord knows it was difficult… but somehow I overcame.
Quite frankly, I think that this idea of universal Pre-K is a political ploy. I don’t like politicians very much. What they want and desperately need to do in order to keep their jobs is look like they are accomplishing more than we ever could have hoped for. Every politician will want to say; “I did more to expand education in this city than anyone for 150 years!” That’s why you’ll hear them saying, “We need more computers, more technology, more smart boards, in fact let’s just get the kids iPads!” Politicians all want to seem progressive when it comes to education. That’s why I think De Blasio is pushing universal day care… I mean pre-K. He doesn’t want to do the dirty work of fixing the system but he wants to sound like he is.
Take a minute and appreciate how politically ingenious this move by De Blasio is. He will be able to say, “I have added an entire grade level to NYC schools.” And we won’t even know if it did anything to those awful stats he showed us until over a decade from now. Meanwhile, he’ll be providing free day-care to his constituents. The program is basically a bribe for voters. Next election he will definitely make this a talking point.
I believe that there is another way to fix those stats De Blasio has on his website. As emphasized earlier, I believe individual attention is the best way to educate someone. But New York can’t afford this while it’s buying smartboards and paying for pre-k. So, don’t buy smartboards and don’t pay for pre-k. Instead, hire more teachers. It might cost more than a smart board but it will do a better job of preparing students for the future. Large class sizes make learning and teaching much harder. If you’ve ever been to a large lecture class then you are probably familiar with this. While some teachers and professors are able to engage a class with the material in that setting it’s not always the case. Also, if you’ve ever had the same instructor in a smaller setting, more often than not you’ll probably notice that you learned better. I could go off on communication theory here but I won’t.
Instead, let me bring up homeschooling. On average, homeschoolers score between the 65th and 89th percentile on standardized assessment exams. That’s compared to public schools, which average around the 50th percentile. The best part of that stat is it doesn’t change based on ethnicity or socio-economic status. The message is loud and clear, home schooling works. New York should encourage homeschooling. There could be many reasons for homeschoolers’ academic success but I suspect that the individual attention they receive is a big part of it.
I think we can agree that this was positive propaganda. Why not try to use it to fight the current epidemic of failing families?
If you want to affect those stats you need to do something radical to not only the educational system but also to the culture. Aside from lowering class sizes, I think the State should try some propaganda. Propaganda has a bad reputation for being a little manipulative. But I think that almost all, if not all, media is manipulative (especially this blog post). If the State wants to positively affect the culture than it should launch a series of ads focusing on the positive effects parents can have on their kids. The ads should promote bland “family values.” It doesn’t need to be religious or polarizing but it should try to foster a culture with a strong home life. It should show loving families and paint an ideal. Putting a positive role model in the public eye would not be a bad idea.
I hope that this entry challenges the way you look at education and the way you perceive politics. Public education can work, but we shouldn’t be naïve enough to think that the politicians who control the schools are without ulterior motives. Fixing this problem of underachievement in New York will not be easy and may cost some elections but I still believe that there are public servants out there.
At this point, if you are a New Yorker who has been interested enough to read this blog through than I encourage you to take the time to write to Governor Cuomo. Governor Cuomo is considering implementing universal pre-k for the entire state but is letting De Blasio take the initiative in the city first. I suspect that he is waiting to see how popular this program is with voters before he pushes it too hard. If you agree with me than please tell him that you do not support the idea of universal pre-k and instead would like to see smaller class sizes in our schools. If you disagree with me than please abstain from communicating with any elected officials or voters. Politicians have to answer to the public, make yourself heard.
http://www.governor.ny.gov/contact/GovernorContactForm.php – Here is a link to the Governor’s office, it will only take 5 minutes of your time.
 James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 29.