NBC has been engaged in an ongoing boosterism project called, "Education Nation," premised on America's dedication to enhancing its educational performance levels. You'll see MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and crew crop up from time to time in some city where great things are supposedly happening in a given school or school district. Recently Morning Joe focused on New Orleans, where former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps has been soliciting funding to make one high school into a culinary institute. (Phelps had previously gotten a donation of a state-of the-art basketball floor for the school.)
I have been dubious about Education Nation, for several reasons. For one thing, how about bringing in knowledgeable researchers and specialists to implement empirically-validated teaching methods and school organizations, rather than flashy projects sponsored by famous athletic figures? Digger Phelps cadging a nice basketball court is good TV -- but what, really, does it have to do with improving education?
Recent news about American education has not been good, to wit:
The New York Times wrote:
As Budgets Are Trimmed, Time in Class Is Shortened
After several years of state and local budget cuts, thousands of school districts across the nation are gutting summer-school programs, cramming classes into four-day weeks or lopping days off the school year, even though virtually everyone involved in education agrees that American students need more instruction time.
Morning Joe frequently has U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on to discuss expansive federal funding for special educational projects. But these projects are fingers in the dikes of a largely receding supply of money for education.
One such program, called "Race to the Top," has singled out educational leaders for recognition for the outstanding achievements of their students, particularly in inner-city districts. One of these cases has been the remarkable jump in test scores in the Atlanta school system, for which Superintendent Beverly L. Hall was named the 2009 National Superintendent of the Year. According to the Times, however:
Systematic Cheating Is Found in Atlanta's School System.
A state investigation released Tuesday showed rampant, systematic cheating on test scores in this city's long-troubled public schools, ending two years of increasing skepticism over remarkable improvements touted by school leaders.
The results of the investigation, made public by Gov. Nathan Deal, showed that the cheating occurred at 44 schools and involved at least 178 teachers and principals, almost half of whom have confessed, the governor said. A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in the district, which led to a conspiracy of silence, he said in a prepared statement.
One is tempted to ask whether earmarked federal funds were used to pay teachers to come in Saturdays, when they erased wrong answers on test sheets.
I guess the Morning Joe show won't be visiting Atlanta any time soon.
As for shining examples of the value placed on education and knowledge by our nation's leaders, Michele Bachmann has been surging in the polls to join the leader, Mitt Romney, in the race to become the Republican nominee for president. Aside from her well-documented historical gaffes in misplacing Concord and Lexington and misstating the anti-slavery activism of America's founding fathers, there is Bachmann's antipathy towards evolution. Listen to her defend her belief in intelligent design, citing "hundreds and hundreds" of scientists who agree with her. (Of course, to disbelieve evolution, you must disbelieve ALL of the science that supports it and disproves biblical creation -- geology, zoology, genetics, archeology, molecular biology, anthropology, astronomy -- everything.)
Combine this with the Republicans' almost party-wide rejection of global climate change, and we're sure to be competitive in the increasingly technical and science-based world marketplace. Although I'm not aware that Bachmann has spent time on Morning Joe, a previous Republican candidate with the same views, Mike Huckabee, was a great favorite of the show.
The Education Nation 2011 webpage, itself revealed bad news for the July 4th holiday: "Happy Independence Day! Now that the fireworks have faded, we think it's a good time to ask ourselves just how well we know American history. The answer, according to the most recent set of scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is not very well ... Most fourth graders could not identify why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure in the nation's past. And only 17 percent of eighth graders and 12 percent of high school seniors were proficient on the test."
Education Nation can power on, cheer-leading and citing our commitment to improving American youths' scientific and historical knowledge. But it is eyewash, incapable of addressing the real factors that allow for better inner-city educational environments -- like safe neighborhood and family support programs. These, however, are receding, as is America's educational attainments.
And how can NBC hope to remedy the deepening irrationality and anti-intellectualism that pervade the United States?