Education: A Private Facebook Chat

You’ve probably heard it mentioned in past episodes of the We Are Libertarians podcast, that a secret Facebook thread exists for the podcast’s hosts. But what brand of villainy goes on there? I’ll never tell. However, I will share this, since it was a great conversation that happened within the thread before we could make it to the podcast. Thanks to Greg Lenz, for always asking intriguing questions, making compelling arguments, and being civil in his discourse. – Joe Ruiz


Greg Lenz: Do you think teachers and (more so) school administrators, have a responsibility to follow what skills are in demand now and will be in the future? Or is that too high of an expectation to hold them to?

Joe Ruiz: What do you mean?

Greg Lenz: Shouldn’t schools teach skills that children will need in the future? Or at least skills that will be a foundation to build upon?

Joe Ruiz: Yes, but…With the advent of Common Core, I feel like teachers don’t really have a choice in what they teach. They have to make sure their kids are prepared for the standardized tests that are forced on them, and in most cases the curriculum that is set for them is so stiff that they can’t even utilize alternative means of getting the info to the kids.

Greg Lenz: Agreed. I’m not asking them to teach it. I’m just asking them to consider what their purpose is.

Joe Ruiz: My daughter’s Kindergarten teacher believes wholeheartedly that kids their age should be moving around, staying active, getting engaged in the material and burning off energy while they learn about the world. But because of the standards she is held to (Dibels testing, sight words, etc.), having them do that means they’d spend all of their time at home doing the state’s worksheets. So she has to try to create a balance where they get some of the worksheets done in the classroom, and some of them done at home (usually averaging about 8 worksheets at home per week).

Greg Lenz: Sure, and I have no beef with that. My question is, “Is education desirable? Why?”

Joe Ruiz: Change the question. Is being uneducated desirable?

Greg Lenz: No

Chris Spangle: NO MEANS NO!

Joe Ruiz: Good. I absolutely think teachers should be teaching what kids need to know versus what they’re currently teaching. I just don’t think whether or not they do it is the teacher’s decision at this point.

Greg Lenz: Perfect

Joe Ruiz: If it were, the teachers who still find value in cursive could still teach it, if they could justify it to their peers (just using cursive as an example).

Greg Lenz: Should they have to justify that value to me as a taxpayer and parent?

Joe Ruiz: I’d say so. Isn’t that essentially how teachers would be held accountable in a libertarian utopia?

Greg Lenz: Yep

Joe Ruiz: That doesn’t necessarily mean that they’d have to change their curriculum at the whim of every parent, but they’d probably still need to have an explanation prepared.

Greg Lenz: Now, do I have a right to require my kid’s teacher to make a case in the defense of education? Many have never considered why education is valuable, or why we place such an emphasis on it.

Joe Ruiz: I’m not sure I understand? Do you mean: Do you have a right to require your kid’s teacher to be an advocate for education, in a better state than it currently exists, to the state and Department of Education?

Greg Lenz: No, fundamentally, why do we want every child to be educated? What is the purpose or end goal?

Joe Ruiz: The advancement of society. Progress.

Greg Lenz: Progress of what? Society is an aggregate measurement of individuals.

Joe Ruiz: Arts, sciences, medicine, engineering, etc.

Greg Lenz: How can we advance art? In science, engineering, and medicine there are empirical methods for measuring progress. Language is subjective, like art.

Joe Ruiz: By continuing to create it. If kids don’t understand language, grammar, etc. there will never be another Twain…or Hell, even a Rowling.

Greg Lenz: But popularity/name recognition/sales are not progress. Unless Fifty Shades is progress too.

Joe Ruiz: I might argue that it is in that it opens the door to conversations that may have otherwise been held behind closed doors (if had at all).

Greg Lenz: Ultimately education is about building the skill set of an individual, right? I include critical thinking a skill. It’s the only reason we have it. So why is a skill set desirable? To produce and live. So teaching a child cursive, unless it is an aid in the learning process for the child, is unimportant and not worth requiring. In addition, if the purpose of education is to provide skills for production, not keeping abreast of what skills will allow them to in the future is a crime.

Joe Ruiz: That makes sense. I’m not against the abolition of cursive. But I wish it was something that, should the teacher find time in the day, is allowed to be taught. We still teach Greek, Hebrew, and Latin in both college and preparatory schools. It doesn’t mean that just because they’re dead languages, that knowing them isn’t valuable to uncovering some historical secrets later on.

Greg Lenz: For sure, and you can make a living as a Greek translator, Rabbi, or Latin teacher.

Joe Ruiz: Yes, and 100 years from now if an important letter from a former President or other historical figure were uncovered and written in cursive, I would hope someone knew how to decipher it.

Greg Lenz: My original point was this: If teachers haven’t considered what their purpose is, they merely exist to follow orders.

Joe Ruiz: I agree with that.

Greg Lenz: Hence the testing trend…

Joe Ruiz: Yes. And someone should rage against it.

Greg Lenz: And ultimately educators exist to teach someone how to learn. The great ones create a passion for learning.

Joe Ruiz: Those are the Mr. Feeney’s of the world. LOL. But in all honesty though, educators are leaving the field faster than the state can train and hire new teachers because of the “orders” that they exist to follow.

Greg Lenz: Because the skills necessary today will be different than tomorrow and public teachers are actively fighting against that.

Joe Ruiz: But that’s not all. I hope not.

Greg Lenz: They are. Take the fight for cursive, for example, or the fight against allowing HTML as a foreign language credit. Over valuing English and grammar (which is art not science).

Joe Ruiz: Part of it has to be this though: If you handed Picasso a canvas that was entirely paint by number and told him, “Every painting that you do from here on out has to live within the parameters that we’ve set for you on the canvas,” he would have chosen to sculpt rather than paint. There’s never been a time where kids have needed to be met where they’re at more, and yet teachers are required to meet a bird’s eye view curriculum in an educational system that is crying for personal attention.

Greg Lenz: We can get a customized version of everything in this universe except public education. It’s an assembly line in a world of 3D printers. And the educators did it to themselves by not skating to where the puck going.

Joe Ruiz: That might be true. But “they did it to themselves” doesn’t make right what is wrong with the system.

Greg Lenz: The reason they didn’t is because they’ve never been forced to define or defend their purpose. What would make it right is if educators understood their purpose, not just to follow orders of social engineers in a bureaucracy. I don’t think any educator or DOE secretary considers why the founders wanted public education, or why being educated is preferable to being uneducated.

Step two: We’ve established its preference, but why? What do we hope to achieve?

Joe Ruiz: That might be true in the big picture. But as you’re presenting it, it sounds like you’re vilifying teachers…the individuals who are in the profession. Most of them get into the field because they like working with kids and want to help mold tomorrow’s leaders, the way it’s always been spun to us. When presenting an argument like that I don’t think we can shame anyone. We just have to empower them. “Teachers, knowing your purpose is the key to setting this thing right.”

Greg Lenz: Yes. And I don’t blame teachers. I blame myself, or parents for not making teachers defend their purpose before being hired or graduating from with a degree in education.

Joe Ruiz: That’s good. That said, I think you could, with something that basic, uplift an entirely new generation of educators, who might help to reform education in years to come. It would be good for a teacher to identify their purpose, and ardently defend it to the state. Then, they would have the courage to say, I am not a babysitter. I am not a social worker. I am not a parent. I am not a counselor. I am, in fact, an educator.”

Greg Lenz: Right. And in order to graduate, you have to define education, demonstrate its value, and defend it. They have a more important role than nearly any other person in each student’s life.

Joe Ruiz: It’s the second most important role, a parent being first.

Greg Lenz: Right.

Joe Ruiz: This should have been in an episode of the podcast.

Joe Ruiz: By the way, regarding your thoughts on English: You don’t think a consistent form of communication is important though? Regardless of profession.

Greg Lenz: No, not where we are going. If it prevents someone from understanding what you mean, then yes.

Joe Ruiz: That’s kind of assumptive. Even with coding, you’re still setting up platforms with which to communicate in a traditional language.

Greg Lenz: If it’s format is quirky, but still understandable, it’s no different than if you’re Shakespeare.

Joe Ruiz: It’s like when I read guest submissions for We Are Libertarians. Sometimes I have to read them multiple times to try to understand what the writer is trying to say, even if what was written made total sense to the writer. Sometimes their words are spelled correctly. It’s just the way certain writers speak and the words they use. It can make it really hard to find the point. Likewise, if I read Mises, the content is over my head and I get confused.

Greg Lenz: Language and grammar are not without vale. It’s a supply and demand thing. The STEM majors command higher wages because there is greater demand and fewer in possession of the skill set. English majors are lucky to find technical writing jobs for $10 an hour.

Joe Ruiz: Sure, I agree. But that’s because you don’t need a college degree to be a writer. You just need to know how to write. But to say that it’s not a vital part of a college education is different from saying it isn’t a vital part of education as a whole. For instance, a guy I knew in college was an English major because he wanted to be a writer. Now he works at Wal-Mart and spends his nights writing screenplays on First Draft while eating Taco Bell. I on the other hand, had no English education beyond high school and am now a paid writer, who writes for a world-renowned political commentary site with extraordinarily handsome podcast hosts. (j/k)

Greg Lenz: Unfortunately, that’s the norm. And Shakespeare, Rowling, Twain etc. weren’t great because of their technical proficiency. They were great because of their creativity, which isn’t taught enough.

Joe Ruiz: Can you teach creativity?

Greg Lenz: English instruction should be a tool that is used to express and develop creativity.

Joe Ruiz: I would accept that. A creative class that teaches writing among music, art, etc?

Greg Lenz: Yep. Because that’s where the value is, not in perfect grammar. Now creative abilities will vary, but you can teach frameworks. For example using metaphors to grasp a concept. This painting represents man’with meaning, use legos to build something a child struggles with in the day to day life of a child.

Joe Ruiz: Right, perfect grammar is not as important as conveying a thought in an understandable fashion. In that respect, I agree.

Greg Lenz: But schools overvalue proficiency and undervalue creativity. That hurts earning power.

Joe Ruiz: That’s probably true. But I wouldn’t endorse the idea that any form of communication is okay. There’s got to be a happy medium in what we accept.

Greg Lenz: The market determines that. English became the standard because people wanted to converse in it. Demand drives the medium. Any medium has to be okay because a medium has no value except the value that individuals attach to it. It’s a vessel for interaction, like currency. That’s why English replaced Latin.

Joe Ruiz: Right, but a more uniform “currency” of interaction helps to limit misunderstandings, at least across subsets of the culture.

Greg Lenz: Precisely, not because it’s better, because it’s easier to use due to more people understanding the messages encoded in it. It’s the Network effect. There’s more utility because of the number of users who understand it, which undermines any argument for cursive.

Joe Ruiz: I think I’m with you, but hear this first: If Doug crashes his car on vacation in Maryland and Dr. Jennifer requests his chart and health history from Dr. Rodriguez in Southern California, isn’t it necessary for them to be able to understand what’s written from peer-to-peer?

Greg Lenz: Enter the market for translation.

Joe Ruiz: ?

Greg Lenz: All professions have mutually agreed to jargon, not regulation requiring the rationalization of its value set by a governing body, which is what the cursive debate is…protectionism.

Joe Ruiz: But if they’re not entering medical school equipped with a capacity to understand it, they have to be retaught their identification of language before they can even receive training in their chosen field.

Greg Lenz: Right. You’re where I am.

Joe Ruiz: Maybe, I just haven’t figured out yet if I like that. LOL

Greg Lenz: Which is why educators training the next crop have to “predict and anticipate” where the world is going, or they’re useless. I would argue most hate it, because it’s change, which makes people uncomfortable. Like Spanish road signs. “Make them learn ENGLISH! This is Murica! It’s funny if you think about it. “In Murica we speak English. If you don’t like it, leave!”

Joe Ruiz: But that leads us right back to the beginning. If I were a hired teacher, even if I had my finger on the pulse of where things were going, I couldn’t (at this point) adjust my curriculum accordingly. Teachers are powerless, times two. Even if they could get past themselves, they have to get past the lawmakers.

Greg Lenz: Right, but if they don’t even know why education is good, and why their role in teaching skill sets to individuals to prepare them for the future, there isn’t hope, period. It would just be the continuing on of an increasingly irrelevant system. Change happens at the individual level. Show me a school system of teachers that can defend their purpose and role to a group of parents, and I’ll show you one given the freedom to teach in whatever fashion they feel helps learn best.

Joe Ruiz: So solution time. What do you, Greg Lenz, do with that?

Greg Lenz: I should ask each teacher that I encounter what education is? I should ask them why it’s preferable to ignorance. I should ask them to define education and tell me what its goal is, and hopefully that spreads. Like a liberty virus…

Joe Ruiz: Gotcha. Well, seems like a noble pursuit. Good talk, Russ!

Greg Lenz: LOL

Joe Ruiz is a writer, political aficionado, pop culture enthusiast, pro-wrestling smark, MBA graduate, former US Congressional candidate, ukulele tinkerer, Puerto Rican / American, Freemason, marketing guy, podcaster, and family man. He currently hosts The CAP (Culture & Arts Podcast) and is the Managing Editor at We Are Libertarians.