Thursday, November 17, 2005

Kansas State Board of Education Offers A New Education Paradigm

We all want our children to be strong, capable and independent. That’s why we practice “tough love” sometimes, being firm and harsh with our children to teach the more difficult lessons of life. Sometimes we put obstacles in the way of our children, not because we want them to fail, but because we want them to overcome these hindrances and thus become better adults. The theme is at the heart of the song “A Boy Named Sue”, depicting the young boy fighting his way through life to become a strong man. The Kansas State Board of Education is blazing a trail in realizing a remarkable application of this principle in science education. By admitting the competing points of view of evolution and Intelligent Design into the science curriculum, young minds become stronger by having to think for themselves, analyze the arguments offered on all sides, and then decide the issue for themselves.

However, the Kansas State Board of Education has fallen short of the mark by being overly narrow and selective in their application of this principle. They apply it only to science education. This principle must be applied much more broadly, not only to the educational curriculum but to the overall school environment. This will realize not only educational benefits but financial ones as well.

There are many competing perspectives which fail to achieve any sort of representation in school curricula, and focusing on the present controversy on the origins of life limits the educational benefits of offering competing points of view to a small fraction of the science curriculum. Find other issues in subject areas across the curriculum to present in this manner. For example, I humbly offer it to public consideration that we present the viewpoint of Holocaust critics in history and social studies classes. In so doing, we will make students engage the topic more intensely than if we were to offer a single point of view. The only challenge in realizing this goal is that one cannot find controversial issues in all areas of the curriculum, so it may be necessary to make up controversies in order to evenly apply this principle. However, one must keep in mind that as it is the exercise of the students’ intellects in which we are interested, so in fact, it doesn’t really matter whether the controversy is real or even if the points of view involved are true, so long as we give the students a chance to sort through the issues for themselves.

Of course, this is just the beginning. There is one arena which combines the competition of competing viewpoints with substantial expenditures of money, which is the modern business. There are many opportunities for private sector partnership that will not only offer the educational benefits of competing viewpoints, but also help ease the financial crisis of our educational system. The movement sweeping through our schools of eliminating fast food and vending machines is tragically misguided, in that it denies our children the opportunity of learning to sort through competing cultural messages. Enhance proper nutritional education by allowing it to compete with commercial marketing messages. By embracing vending machines and entering into commercial partnerships with fast food and other vendors, we will not only be helping our children become more independent thinkers, but also obtain revenue to help make our schools better places for our children.

In fact, the principle of the Kansas State Board of Education’s farsighted example can be taken further still, which provides an opportunity to make their effort at education reform a public-private partnership which includes not just the state of Kansas, but the entire world. Leverage the wave of criticism which has reached Kansas educators and legislators to full effect. Send the KSBE a strong message to educators and legislators to stay the course. The critics, of course, do not realize that they are actually doing their part in helping Kansas children become strong and capable adults, by setting up an environment of criticism, ridicule, and maybe even suspicion and discrimination for employment and advancement. In effect, what the KSBE has struck upon is a way to get the general public to help develop Kansas children to their full potential without any funding whatsoever. Capitalize on this effect by introducing educational changes with as much publicity as possible, and strategically select issues of maximal controversy to gain as much attention as possible, and thus help set of as large a wave of criticism as possible.

We realize that life can be difficult, so we want our children to be as fully prepared as they possibly can to face the challenges of modern life. The efforts of the Kansas State Board of Education stand out as a forward-thinking example of how we can use controversy to help our children become better thinkers. We need to take this example and apply it not only to science education but to the whole school environment and beyond. I propose, of course, that this be done in a modest fashion, expanding application into the curriculum strategically, issue by issue, with much public fanfare to leverage the power of public opinion, so that the tough love is felt not only in the school but in the larger world as well. However, if assiduously and uniformly applied, by offering competing points of view throughout the curriculum and in the general school environment and even to the larger world, with the help of commercial messages and partnerships, we can make our children strong and independent thinkers on all issues, and thus fully prepared for all the challenges life has to offer.

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