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Old Patriot's Pen

Personal pontifications of an old geezer born 200 years too late.

NOTE The views I express on this site are mine and mine alone. Nothing I say should be construed as being "official" or the views of any group, whether I've been a member of that group or not. The advertisings on this page are from Google, and do not constitute an endorsement on my part.

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I've been everywhere That was the title of a hit country-and-western song from the late 1950's, originally sung by Hank Snow, and made famous by Johnny Cash. I resemble that! My 26-year career in the Air Force took me to more than sixty nations on five continents - sometimes only for a few minutes, other times for as long as four years at a time. In all that travel, I also managed to find the perfect partner, help rear three children, earn more than 200 hours of college credit, write more than 3000 reports, papers, documents, pamphlets, and even a handful of novels, take about 10,000 photographs, and met a huge crowd of interesting people. I use this weblog and my personal website here to document my life, and discuss my views on subjects I find interesting.

Friday, May 06, 2005

A Challenge

Everybody talks about education reform, but every mention so far has been an attempt to 'force competition on public education' by doing just about the same things the regular school system does, but 'better'. All that is expensive: buildings, teachers, administrators, furnishings, books, and program costs are pretty much the same for public, private, and charter schools. Yet there are simple, fast, effective programs that could be developed and implemented for under $250,000 that could help half or more of the children of this nation, and could be in place in less than six months. I hereby challenge all the non-profit organizations that want higher education achievement to read this, and study ways of implementing it.

Here's how it can be done:

About one home in four has Internet access. Public libraries provide free Internet access. Many churches have their own websites, and computers are there most of the time. There are literally tens of thousands of social, cultural, political and other non-religious organizations in this nation, in virtually every city - from Shriners, Lions, and Rotary to Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus and Boy Scouts. Get these people on board to help, both to develop the program and to administer and support it. Appeal to all, and accept ANY help offered.

Create a new non-profit organization to oversee the program. Request donations and grants from government, business, and individuals. Establish and maintain an online curriculum on the Internet. Make it as highly interactive as possible. DO NOT establish 'grade levels', but create a program that can be used by children of any age to explore a given subject at a minimum level, or to go on and study it as intensely as they choose. Have lots of links to supplementary information that can expand a child's knowledge as far as they choose to go (E.D. Hirsh's books, "What every Xth Grader Should Know" provide a pretty good starting place for WHAT to include). Make sure ALL the information needed is available. Ask writers, teachers, professionals, businesses, government, and others to donate the use of proprietary information, but use non-proprietary information whenever possible. There's an enormous amount of material in the public domain that can be used. Make sure that ALL of the information you're using is available online for all students. Allow password-controlled access to the material from any computer, including at home for those students that have them.

Have volunteers available in group settings to help answer questions, or to help a student find the information they need, and to ensure discipline is maintained. These volunteers should be at least moderately proficient with computers, and have a fair understanding of the Internet. They would also be there to ensure children don't wander into areas that are inappropriate for them.

Run the program as an after-school program that will "supplement" what a child learns in the public school environment. Give it a catchy name like "Explorers" or "Adventurers", and operate it as a program to allow children to learn about what interests them, or to help them with problems they're having in school with their current classwork. Provide incentives and rewards. Children work better when there's a goal, just as adults do. Insist upon good manners and appropriate behavior. Establish proper levels of non-physical punishment (restrictions, time-out, sequestering) as necessary to enforce good behavior.

Allow access to information about everything not unlawful or immoral, including religion. Allow the CHILD to choose what they study, but build the incentive system around an all-inclusive curriculum that covers math, science, reading, writing, history, civics, geography, and the arts. Allow the student to determine how long they'll work each day, but set a minimum level - a half-hour of diligent scholarship - as being necessary to earn points toward the incentive system. Make sure that everyone that actively participates gets some kind of reward, but do NOT make every reward equal. Force children to strive toward higher goals, not the minimum. Several different types of rewards may be necessary in order to reward children of different intellectual abilities. Do NOT say that a particular child cannot strive toward a particular goal, even if it's below their potential. Allow bonuses and special prizes for exceptional performance, at all levels. Create the reward system online, so that a child's performance and achievement is available for them to access, to see how much credit they've earned. Password-protect the information so others can't snoop, and use the information against another student.

Most of all, as much as possible, make learning fun and enjoyable, as well as educational. Also, make sure everyone knows about the program through local, state, and national publicity. Allow limited access from outside the United States, especially for children of Americans living outside the country.

The biggest problems are educating minorities and the poor. The rich have access to better schools, better teachers, and a more varied curriculum. The best place to start such a program as I've described for Blacks, Hispanics, and others is in the places where these children go anyway: churches, libraries, and clubs. It would be even better to also allow a non-profit group to have access to a small amount of space in shopping malls for this program, as well. Go where the kids are going to be anyway, and get them hooked on learning. Inside a mall, allow them to earn points toward a purchase of their choice at a business within the mall. Provide a place for public recognition of successful achievement. Build pride in learning.

Once the program gets rolling, begin developing alternative curriculums that can augment (but not replace!) the basics needed for successful achievement in this country. Add history and culture courses on Latin American, Asian, European, and African countries. Add technical training courses, especially in computers, science, and modern technology. Gradually expand the curriculum to cover the basic courses required during the Freshman year of college, and encourage colleges to award credit for successful completion of the program outside their institutions.

Children respond to challenges, just as adults do. One of the major problems with today's educationan environment is that the challenges, the competition, and the rewards don't exist, or are so pathetic that most students ignore them. Getting them involved in learning, rewarding them for excellence, and challenging them to think, and rewarding them for achievement, will ensure they learn far better than forcing them to spend several hours a day in a dead environment. It will also keep them off the streets, gainfully employed doing something constructive instead of something (self) destructive.

Who is willing to accept this challenge? I'm willing to work with any group that steps forward.

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