Given the many counterproductive ideas that sweep through education,
the endless, murky debates conducted in our media,
it is helpful for the American people to focus on what, at a minimum,
young people are entitled to in our schools:
1) THE RIGHT TO LEARN TO READ. All progress
in education depends on literacy. It is imperative that children learn the alphabet and the sounds early, and that they are
reading in the first grade. Children have a right to be reading age-appropriate books by the second or third grade.
2) THE RIGHT TO MASTER BASIC ARITHMETIC. Again, as fads have undermined effective teaching for many decades, millions of children never learn how
to add, subtract, multiply and divide. These are such basic skills--easy enough to teach, easy to test. If administrators
can’t ensure that all children can do these essential things, find other administrators.
3) THE RIGHT TO WRITE, IN BOTH SENSES. One essential goal in the first years of schooling is to be able to write a small essay or a letter to grandmother,
signed with a real signature. Cursive handwriting, according to many experts, is an indispensable assist in learning to read,
write, and spell.
4) THE RIGHT TO KNOW CORRECT SPELLING. Very quickly children need to know that
there is a right and wrong way to spell words, just as there are right and wrong ways to compose and punctuate sentences.
Correctness and precision are birthrights that children are entitled to. Fuzziness and guessing are detrimental.
5) THE RIGHT TO GEOGRAPHY. Children
have a right to know the names of their city, state, and neighboring states. During the first eight years of school, one reasonable
project is to learn the names of the 50 states. A parallel project is to learn the names of the 25 countries most often mentioned
in the news. Without basic geography, children cannot understand history, literature, environmental science, current events,
etc. Geography was once called the Queen of the Sciences--it’s that important.
6) THE RIGHT TO LITERATURE.
Children need to experience the rich legacy of their own language--nursery rhymes, poetry, fairy tales, scenes from Shakespeare,
popular songs, limericks, novels, anything that shows children what the cleverest people have done with English through the
centuries. (Ideally, children study a second language, which will sharpen their skills in English, and make them more appreciative
of language in general.)
7) THE RIGHT TO HISTORY. Children need a sense of history and time. They understand
when people talk about Colonial Times, the Middle Ages, Greco-Roman Civilization, the Judeo-Christian tradition, and Ancient
History. They should learn first abut their own culture, and then the world. When a teacher says, “Vasco da Gama sailed
around the Cape of Good Hope looking for China,” children should be able to go to a map and explain what that sentence
THE RIGHT TO SCIENCE. Children need to know how the world works. What, for example, is snow?
What is a moon? Kids should start learning General Science in the first grade. This leads by easy steps to biology, chemistry,
physics, math, etc. Studying the physical reality around us is an obvious introduction to scientific thinking, cause and effect,
and a systematic approach to solving problems.
9) THE RIGHT TO MEMORIZATION. Children have a right to know things in a permanent, and intimate way, as they know the memories of their
own life. Children learn facts, names, and dates, because all of these together make history and all other subjects more meaningful
and three-dimensional. Students should be encouraged to learn knowledge now so they won’t have to look it up later.
10) THE RIGHT TO REAL CRITICAL THINKING. First, children learn the facts of history, science, etc, and then they learn to sift and analyze those
facts. Additionally, they study Aesop’s fables, famous quotes, and maxims. Things we sometimes call clichés are,
in fact, the collected wisdom of the human race. Why is it true to say we can lead a horse to water but can’t make it
drink? Creative thinking, independent thinking--these are possible only when children have knowledge and are free to reach
new answers about it.
THIS BILL OF RIGHTS states the need for a knowledge-based education.
For most of human history, and in good schools everywhere today, this sort of education is the goal and the essence of what
real educators are trying to do.
UNFORTUNATELY, SINCE THE TIME OF JOHN DEWEY, many schools have been obsessed with social engineering, and
indifferent to what might be called intellectual engineering. This mistake in emphasis needs to be corrected. The goal of
education is not indoctrination but to take each child as far as each child can go.
GENUINE EDUCATION is the cement that holds
the people in a society together, and connects past, present and future.
ONLY WHEN CHILDREN acquire knowledge and master essential skills can
we speak of education that will make children college- and career-ready.
Deitrick Price is an author, artist, poet, and education reformer. He founded Improve-Education.org in 2005. This site provides
analysis of education’s main theories and methods.