The Covid-Era of American Education – An Egregious Dearth of Public Learning

  • Children taught to read in the home, using phonics, will spend a lifetime reading to learn.
  • Parents should continuously encourage and motivate their children to learn.
  • The home is the best place to teach the rudiments of education.

At the outset of the austere Covid-era, at, or around, January 2020, after which public school attendance was summarily and suddenly cancelled in most of the States by executive orders of State governors, the time was ripe and demanded a moment of serious pause and poignant reflection by the literate reasonable people of the American electorate on the checkered history of public education, about which very few Americans under the age of 55 are fully aware.

The current philosophy governing primary, secondary public education in the American republic is that which ardently discourages direct parental involvement in the direct didactic learning of their children for the ludicrous reason that tax-paying parents, the financial substrate of the public school systems, are not properly equipped to teach the basic academic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic to their children in the home; that the public school classroom is the only place where the learning is to properly occur.  Some people are actually asserting fallaciously now that online learning is superior to what parents can teach their children in the home.  It sort-of reminds me of the onerous battles waged during the 1980s in the courts by parents in the States to gain the liberty to freely homeschool their children, which ultimately resulted in parents being authorized by nearly all of the States to educate their school-age children in the home.

Caring Parents are a child’s most impactful teachers.

The current parents of school-age children in the year 2020 are the children and grandchildren of the parents of the late-1940s and early-1950s, and those baby-boomer parents are the children and grandchildren of parents of an era when a very different educational philosophy presided over the minds of the American electorate of that age.  That philosophy embraced the theme that federal and State government are intended to serve the people and not for the people to serve the government, and state governments answered to parents about their children’s learning instead of the parents answering to the parents.  The parents of baby-boomers who were exposed to family and rural early public education (the one-room school) from around 1890 to 1920 learned in a much different fashion than did the children of baby-boomers.

Though hard to believe, these un-college educated parents were much more prepared and capable of teaching their children the rudiments of education in the home than are the, supposedly, college educated parents in the year 2020.  Why is this?  Could it be that the, supposedly, college educated parents of 2020 are less educated in the basic academic skills of reading, writing, and math than the early grammar school parents of the baby-boomers?  Could it be that in the year 1900 the average eleven-year old boy, or girl, in rural Missouri taught to read, write, and perform math by parents and older siblings in the home, and then given five years of English grammar, history, math, science, and civics in a one-room school house could have had a more complete basic education than an 18 year old 2020 graduate of an inner-urban high school in Philadelphia?

Since around the late-1950s, for around 70 years, higher-education has been regarded in the USA more as a commercial money-making endeavor by colleges and universities than an opportunity for the best young male and female secondary students to continue advanced learning beyond what they had learned in grammar schools and high schools.  Higher-education was historically geared in favor of the achieving upper-crust of American society.  Until federal government loans began for the rank-and-file high school students, universities were very selective about the caliber of student that entered college study directly after high school graduation.

From 1915 until 1930, less than 5 percent of all high school graduating classes were academically eligible, and applied for, admission at State and private colleges.  It was necessary during this timeframe for high school seniors to graduate in the upper-3 percent of their graduating classes to be considered for scholarships, for those scholarships from the outstanding colleges and universities were very few.  So, what became of all of the other graduating students who were not eligible to go to college during this time?  The majority of them entered the trades, such as plumbing, electrical, welding, ironworking, etc., or entered the military and remained as professional soldiers, or, thereafter, became successful blue-collar practicing what they had learned in the military in the civilian world

The Great Depression, which began in 1929, contributed greatly to the social filtering of young college-age men and women.  At that time in American social history, 1930-to-1950, all high school graduates were not expected to attend and graduate from colleges and universities, but only a very small percentage of them; only those students who demonstrably demonstrated their aptitude and readiness for university work according to grade-point average.  Before 1955, eligible high school students ended-up either working part-time while attending college to pay for tuition and books, or being financially supported totally by their families.  Very few scholarships were offered by reputable colleges and universities.

Suddenly, after 1958, the beginning of federal government subsidized education for those much less-qualified and considerably poorer students commenced an era of commercialized education where one out-of-every four students attending State and private universities were paying their tuition and buying their books with federal loan money, and those colleges and universities increased substantially in wealth.

Interestingly, 70 percent of those less-qualified students entering State colleges, such as Arizona State University, the California State Universities, and private universities like Stanford, Yale, and Harvard, as freshmen, either failed, did very poorly in their grades, or dropped-out after the first year.  The going rule seemed to be, at that time, that if a student graduated from high school with a low C-average he, or she, had as much right and eligibility to attend college as a student with a high-B or A-average, that goofing-off in public schools and making low-grades had its rewards.

The foregoing established pattern, however, lapsed significantly for a short decade of time, from 1960 until 1970, when math, science, and technology were strenuously pushed in high schools around the nation as a great many students were seemingly pushed by their parents to excel in math and science during the great space race with the Soviet Union to get to the moon.

During this 10-year period of time there was a startling 10 percent decrease in the attrition rate in colleges and universities in the studies leading to engineering and physical science degrees; while, still, a higher 68 percent attrition rate prevailed in colleges and universities in the behavioral and social sciences, education, and the biological sciences programs for less-qualified students entering freshman studies on government loans.  Surprisingly, many educators attributed this increase in academic achievement among, supposedly, average public-school students to the greatly increased interest among parents in their children’s classroom performance and at-home learning.

Prior to 1900, the 19th Century was a time when 95 percent of all school-age children learned to read, write, and perform arithmetic in the home from their greatest teachers, their parents. Less than three percent of all American children between the ages of four and sixteen years actually attended formal public schools before 1885.  Before 1915 most, that is 90 percent, of the States and municipalities did not create laws requiring mandatory education.  The rural American home, where most Americans resided from 1800 until 1930, was a place where one particular book, the Holy Bible, was standardly read and its contents emphasized and taught to young people.

While academic textbooks were rare in homes in farming communities before 1870, libraries were established in cities, counties, boroughs, and townships and provided a means for the reading public to acquire information from books, newspapers, and periodicals for educational purposes. While the bulk of the average 19th Century rural youngsters were taught by their parents to read from the Bible, and taught how to write with pencil and paper practice, the minds of these youths were greatly stimulated to eagerly obtain other books from libraries from which to learn greater things.  They were encouraged by their parents to independently seek higher learning through voracious reading and the application of fundamental skills learned in the home.

After the formation of the American public school systems among the various States, around the year 1925, the philosophy of personal education greatly changed from education based upon self-reliance and determination to that of Hegelian statism, such as the inexorable abandonment of the instruction of phonics, and the state-mandated public implementation of the “see-and-say” Dick and Jane methodology of reading in the newly established public schools; and the statist advice to parents from centralized public school administrators, such as John Dewey, that an American child’s learning should occur in the classroom and not in the home for the purpose of statist standardization.

Strangely, the critical basis for life-long learning, the ability to read effectively and critically, had been based upon the time-honored practice of phonics long before the time of Thomas Jefferson, in formal grammar education, but was curtly replaced, without reason, around 1925 with the “see-and-say” system, system developed in the late mid-19th Century to teach deaf-and-dumb students to read.  This standardized dumbing-down of nearly all public-school elementary students, advocated vocally and in print by John Dewey, became an experience that was hardly questioned by American parents as they sent their children off to school to receive what they thought would be a proper basic education.

As most human beings are natural hedonistic creatures of habit, most adult American men and women have become, in the last 120 years, followers of destructively popular binges and trends instead of rational independent thinkers.  Call it aberrational conformity if you will, for social conditioning leads to such mindless conformity.

The modernizations of the 20th Century have led to innovations in science, literature, technology, transportation, and communication through the writings, discoveries, inventions, and developments of ingenious self-reliant 19th Century Americans, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Eli Whitney, Elias Howe, Thomas Edison, and many others who did not have public school, or college, educations.  All of these individuals learned to read and write when very young primarily in the home and, through independent efforts, enhanced their knowledge by voraciously reading all the books that they could find and consume in public and school libraries.  These individuals were not conformists and creatures of habit, but, as Henry David Thoreau said, in 1845, they were marching out-of-step in the midst of a conformist society to the beat of a different drummer.

In summation and conclusion, the college educated parents of the millions of 21st Century public school children are egregiously unprepared academically to teach those children the rudiments of basic learning (reading, writing, and arithmetic) in the home.  Sadly, these 45+ year old men and women, parents of school-age children, did not acquire, themselves, the basic rudiments of learning, especially that of effective critical reading, while public school students during the 1980s and 1990s.

So, how, pray tell, have a phenomenal 87 percent of these former public-school students, who graduated from high school with grade point averages of C-or-lower, succeeded in obtaining bachelor’s degrees with GPAs well above a 3.0 GPA?  Statistically and historically this constitutes an illicit statistical aberration because for a very long time, over 80 years, a student’s cumulative GPA in college was much more closely related to that student’s high school GPA, than any other preparatory benchmark.

Since the year 1997, a surprising 90 percent of this 87 percent of men and women have obtained their bachelor’s and master’s degrees from online programs offered by pragmatic profit-oriented colleges and universities; and it has been established by credible educators that online computer education done by an undisciplined academically unprepared person in the home is essentially tantamount to correspondence distance learning (which was disparaged in the 1970s and 80s as hardly equivalent to classroom learning), and, therefore, cannot be compared in any way to regimented college classroom instruction.  Hence, there are quite a few men and women, tens-of-millions of them, in this country who are going around flashing their online college degree diplomas from diploma mills, for which they paid a great deal of money, and claiming to be much more smart, educated, and knowledgeable than they actually are.

As showman P.T. Barnum quipped, as a truism, in the mid-19th Century, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”  And as is quite obvious, it is quite difficult to convince a sucker that he, or she, has been suckered after that person has paid thousands of dollars for a worthless piece of paper.  This psychological fact of dysfunctional human behavior is called cognitive dissonance.  Perhaps these many online-educated men and women have increased their glib gifts of gab and street-smarts through online learning, while their disciplinary knowledge and the ability to apply that discipline practically are sorely lacking.

A parent’s time and a desire to teach are the only requirements for a successful home school.

An extremely persuasive example of this  was a young man in Seattle, Washington, in 2004, who performed very poorly in high school academics, but discovered after his graduation the need to acquire a basic education of reading, writing, and math.  This fellow tried to gain admission to a local community college, but failed to gain passing scores in the battery of tests standardly given by all community colleges in Washington State to determine preparedness for college work. He was told that he would have to remediate at his own expense the core academic subjects that he had failed to learn in the public schools. So, what did he do?  He paid $3,000 of his money to an online paper-mill school that, in six weeks, produced an associate’s degree for him in general studies.  A week later, he was trying to pass himself off as a person with an earned college degree in job interviews, in which he failed miserably not being able to find employment.

So, what does all of the foregoing rhetoric about the deficit in national education have to do with the precious time that has elapsed between January 2020 and the present day and the closing of the public schools due to the Covid virus?  Well, it all has to do with most American public-school parents not being capable of teaching their children in the home in the absence of public-school attendance.  In early 2017, I had a lengthy conversation with a Little Rock, Arkansas 10th -grade math teacher, who was in DC to attend a national teacher’s conference, on the Metro-Blue Line heading into DC.

This particular teacher, with 17 years in the classroom, voiced his opinion to me that public education in Arkansas, and in most schools around the nation, was a farce; in that, presuming that most public-school students in his particular school were actually learning from the curricula offered by the State of Arkansas was a big mistake.  He said very frankly that less than 10 percent of his classes were effectively learning the state required math content, and also averred that this was true in most of the other academic classes taught at his high school.  “We pass most of them,” he said, “on through the grades for the sake of social order, not because they deserve to be promoted.”  Offering his poignant opinion, he stated that 85 percent of the twelfth-graders throughout Arkansas public education had been graduating on ninth-grade-or lower academic levels for over a decade.  And he summed up the reason for this sad reality by saying, “parents don’t give a damn about their children’s educational achievement.  Most vocal parents in most Arkansas schools are known to sardonically quip, “educating our children is the teachers’ duty.  That’s why we pay taxes.”

As I have stated vehemently and repeatedly in previous essay articles, late 20th Century public education has produced tens of millions of sorely under-educated adults, who began their route to this sad state-of-affairs as indolent under-educated public-school students.  So, thank God for the private and parochial primary and secondary schools, and the many home schools, in the USA.  Every twelve years, approximately 9.6 million late-adolescents emerge as graduates from private and parochial K-12 schools, and home schools.  Most of the middle-class, and lower-middle class, parents of these fortunate achieving school-age children spend a great deal of money on their kids’ education, but more importantly, they spend a great deal of quality time with their kids at home, helping them with their studies, and teaching them.

In fact, approximately 70 percent of these 9.6 million kids have learned to effectively read in the home, taught by their parents, using phonics before their fifth birthday, without using electronic and computer gadgetry; and are reading printed material continuously and voraciously to learn self-reliantly the greater advanced knowledge that advanced reading will afford them. These are the adolescents who are truly prepared for, and deserve, higher classroom learning at the best universities and colleges, who are continually faring well learning at home during a government mandated stoppage in formal state public education; while the millions of public education students, away from the classroom, are spending the year 2020 playing video games and indolently goofing-off bringing on themselves parent-sanctioned intellectual stagnation.

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Norton R. Nowlin

Born in Oklahoma, raised in Texas; USMC Vietnam veteran 1971-77; B.A., M.A., 1980, 1992 U.T. Tyler; One-year of law school, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, 1981-82; Graduate of San Diego County 72nd Sheriff's Academy, 1985, Certified Texas Educator, 1992, seven-years classroom teaching experience; Certified, ABA-approved Advanced Paralegal, Edmonds Community College, Lynnwood, WA, 2004; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2006-2020 (retired); reside in Northern Virginia; owner and operator of Expert Writing & Paralegal Services in Northern Virginia; professional writer for over 30 years; published article and op-ed writer on the Internet and for "The Seattle Times;"

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