Saturday, September 6, 2008

DeRamos '08: Education Platform

My fellow Americans (and others), we must ensure that all possible sources of our children's education - public schools, private schools, and homeschooling - are subject to high minimum requirements.

Reading. The ideal is to have all our children become literate in the English language as early as possible. In doing so, we must also teach them to recognize that the English language has been localized. Our textbooks will introduce American English as the lingua franca for all our students, but they must also appreciate the variations and origins: British English, regional English (and the fact that we all have accents*), pidgin, slang (which they probably already do), archaic, etc.

We could talk about students learning a foreign language, reading Latin, and becoming etymologists, but the important thing is to get our students reading and wanting more.

Writing. Yes, reading and writing typically go hand in hand. A friend of mine, a college professor, has lamented on several occasions that some of her students were using texting conventions in their term papers. We must instill in our students proper grammatical mechanics, as well as pleasant ways to bend the rules of writing: I'm just sayin'. Y'all are nuts. 'Sup wit' that? Exactly. Of course, our students will find strategies for conventional writing, as well as how to write slang and regional dialogue, by reading.

Arithmetic ('rithmetic). Adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing are givens. Basic algebra is essential after the basics are covered, even if its practicality is debatable. Algebra (from the Arabic word al-jabr) forms a bridge to geometry. The proofs of geometry introduce strategies in logic and rational thought. Our students can apply these methods to other branches of study and in making sense of controversial issues.

The above "three Rs" are essential in building a strong foundation to greater education.

Science. I wrote about this previously, but let me add/modify my stance: Public schools should teach facts. Yes, evolution might be controversial by region, but photosynthesis (biology), Newton's laws (physics), the states of water (chemistry), and the distance between the Earth and the Sun (astronomy) are not controversial in this society. At least, I would hope not. Private schools of various types and homeschooling will likely mix theology with science, and that is a tricky situation. Our standardized tests and academic standards should include the non-controversial facts of biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, geology, anatomy, etc., as well as the scientific method itself.

Social studies. Apparently, history, political science, geography, and the study of societies are controversial topics. Is this textbook too Eurocentric and male-dominated? Is it too revisionist? Is it racist? Are certain teachers partisan hacks? Are some of them just hacks, in general? We can go on and on about this.

Here's the bottom line: Our students - citizens, permanent residents, and I-20 non-immigrants - must know enough about American civics to pass our current naturalization test. They must know enough about world affairs, world history, and geography to realize that the United States is a part of a big world, and its place in history currently spans a couple of centuries in the scope of several thousand years of civilization (without getting into the controversial age of humanity itself). If our students know how to read and have a grasp of critical thinking (see "arithmetic" above), then they'll do just fine when it comes to sorting out partisan issues in books, broadcast media, and blogs.

Arts. This is more of a public funding for public schools type of thing. Private schools and home-schools have their own budget (or non-budget) for this, and I'll try to address funding in the future. In any case, we must give our students the opportunity to create, whether it is in music, painting, sculpture, acting, culinary arts, graphic design, or good old 'shop - let them express themselves. They don't have to be all of the above. We need to give them the opportunity to at least dabble in the human hallmarks of storytelling, art, and culture.

Physical education. "Gym" should be science in action, yet still retain its ideal of play. It should also be part of a comprehensive heath care system for our children. Yes, bringing in health care for our children is tricky, and I hope to address this in the near future. However, we must overturn the stereotype of "those who can't teach, teach gym" into something important to our students. We should consider "gym" as an opportunity to add more science (health) and critical thinking (strategies in team sports) to the curriculum.

Food. This is probably the most off-the-wall part of my platform, but it does deserve mentioning. Like gym-as-science, food should also be education in practice. We should integrate the topic of food in various subjects, as well as possibly making the subject of food its own thing. Our students probably know that in our society, it takes money to buy food. We can use this opportunity to teach our children about other ways to feed ourselves: How to gather edible food, how to grow and cultivate food (more science in action!), how to cook food (see "arts" above), etc.

If it sounds a bit survivalist, it is. It is also a very human trait (and a very animal trait) to require food to survive. I'm not advocating that all students become hunters or foragers or farmers or whatever. If they end up as regular consumers, that's cool, too. However, we should teach all the options when it comes to food, no matter how contradictory or scary. It's about creating opportunities and giving options for our children. Not only should we teach our children to become productive, educated, and forward-driven citizens, we need to allow them to become timeless humans, as well.

I'm Ryan DeRamos, and I support this message.

*I remember that widespread fallacy during my childhood that some American regions are devoid of any accent.

P.S. Still vetting: In addition to Will, Bill, Blanca, and Rama, I want you to go to the Gold Box forum and watch for a poster named DEEZUS. He rocks. DEEZUS is a school psychologist, and he has a strong presence when it comes to taking down Internet trolls. We're adding DEEZUS to the short list, which is quickly becoming a long list.

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