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Margetts: No more mandate, no more public schools
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

After reading Lynn Stoddard's "Brilliant way to transform public education" (Opinion, Aug. 10) I thought it less the thinking of a retired educator than that of the tutor Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide living in "the best of all possible worlds."

Citing a Utah law giving "primary responsibility for the education of children" to their parents, Stoddard supports state Sen. Aaron Osmond's recent proposal that we eliminate compulsory education in Utah. We call it "public education," which could not possibly sustain the chaotic vision Stoddard advances. The happy results he promises for parents, teachers, and students might be found in Cloud Cuckoo Land, but not here on Earth.

To begin, he envisions parents empowered "to ask for help." Parents can demand, instead of "standardized" education, a plan specific to the needs of their own child including number of hours per day, days per year, the age the child enrolls; the amount government "dictates" what the child learns; and even what is required to graduate.

A recipe for chaos if I ever heard one. Under Stoddard's system, a diploma will have no value, for it represents everything and nothing. Every employer would have to administer an SAT test to find out what potential employees know.

Next, the teachers, he says, will be "respected and paid what they are worth," for they will rise to the occasion, meeting with every parent before school begins to formulate a tailor-made plan for each child — 30 different lesson plans, or, in the case of secondary level teachers, 150-180! (Class size would shrink, he claims, but parents with time and money to home school are surely doing so already.)

With meetings of one hour, it would take four weeks just to discover what the parents want. Optimistically allow 10 hours to work up each separate lesson plan — that requires 40 weeks. Eight weeks now remain to cram in a year's worth of learning.

If the students attend 22½ hours seven days a week they could do it! That leaves 1½ hours daily for teachers to grade papers. Who needs sleep?

Because each plan is unique, each student would need his own teacher. Let's say one teacher could juggle three students. The state must hire 10 times more primary and 50 times more secondary teachers. Yet the Legislature begrudges every penny that goes to teachers we have already.

Finally, the students. Stoddard posits that because learning is no longer "required," pupils miraculously will desire it and, in full agreement with their parents, throw themselves into their individualized plans that promote their own "genius." In this ideal world there are no troubled children, no special needs. As in Lake Woebegone, all are above average.

Face it. A full 90 percent of students must drop out of the public system to make Stoddard's vision workable, at which point the Legislature "wisely" says, "Ten percent? Not cost effective." And, presto, no more public education.

Might we speculate this is the goal of Sen. Osmond? The scramble would be on. What's a parent to do? Aha! Private schools! How are those parents earning lower-than-the-national-average Utah wages to manage? Vouchers, mayhap?

You have to hand it to the right-wingers. They never give up till they get what they want, and they'll do anything to bamboozle us into giving it to them, even painting an impossibly, ridiculously rosy picture of the paradise that ensues if only we eliminate compulsory education.

You'd think we'd thus reach such perfection that the whole state of Utah would be assumed into heaven.

Michele Margetts is a one-time educator with a doctorate from Yale University.

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