L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 227, June 8, 2003


"Why Johnny Is A Bored Ignoramus"
by William Stone, III
wrs@0ap.org

Exclusive to TLE

It's late May. The kids are out of school, the last spring soccer games have been played, and it's time for the highly-anticipated (and simultaneously dreaded) event of the season: the annual dance recital.

As long as my seven-year-old daughter can remember, she's wanted to be a dancer. The first time my family attended a Sioux City Explorers game, one of the between-inning entertainers was a tap-dancer from Sandy Keene's School of Dance. Having visited Disney World, my daughter (three at the time) was conditioned to believe that a performer in a costume was a celebrity. Following the performance, she nearly tackled the hapless teenager, smothered her in a hug, and left the bemused dancer to wonder what in the world she'd done to deserve it. A year later, my daughter was attending dance school, and the teenager was one of Sandy's assistants.

My daughter's gone from a single class (pre-ballet), to four classes next year: ballet, tap, drill team, and baton. She attends dance competitions and wins awards with her drill team.

Last Saturday night, Sandy Keene celebrated her thirtieth year as a dance teacher. Sandy has a large number of students around the Sioux City, Iowa metro area. Consequently, the venue is a large auditorium at a local college, the dress rehearsal lasts all day, and the recital itself is around four hours long.

Nor does she make it easy on parents: most dancers are in more than one class, and the numbers are staggered to make it virtually impossible to leave early. If they weren't, there'd be no audience by the end of the show. Parents are a selfish lot: we'll gush at our own children as they stumble around the stage, but watching others do it is stultifyingly boring.

My daughter has some innate talent for dance. You can spot the talented kids pretty easily: they're the ones who don't have to be looking at the other dancers out of the corners of their eyes in order to get the steps right. If you put them onstage alone, they could perform unassisted.

In all of Sandy's student body, there's one child you can point to and say, "There's a born performer." He's around ten and reminds you of a young (white) Michael Jackson: very talented, obviously enjoying himself, and has a natural rapport with the audience. He's clearly the next Fred Astaire or Mikhail Baryshnikov, depending on which direction he happens to want to go.

By comparison, my daughter's goals are simple: she wants to take over Sandy's studio when Sandy retires. She plans to remain with Sandy indefinitely, get hired as one of the assistant teachers (something she can do as early as 12 or 13), go to college to major in Dance (and at my insistence minor in Business so she doesn't go broke her first year), and then return to take over Sandy's school.

For my part, I think this is a wonderful idea. One of the fascinating things I've noticed is that the kids who stay with Sandy the entirety of their pre-college years are achievers. They are without exception the Valedictorians, 4.0 GPA-earners, and scholarship-winners. The girl my daughter hugged at Lewis and Clarke Park went on the be her Class Valedictorian, ice skated competitively, and win a scholarship to a reputable university. To top it all off, the summer after she graduated, she was teaching my daughters to swim at Morningside College.

Nothing succeeds like success. Even if my daughter ultimately changes her career plans, being exposed to individuals with such high standards can only be good for her.

I've known for years that the current educational paradigm in America is hideously flawed. If you take even a brief look at the achievement of America's children in modern, age-segregated schools and compare it with the general education of the average one-room schoolhouse of a century ago, it's clear that the one-room schoolhouse was more successful.

My grandparents are retired cattle ranchers who never went farther than high school. The largest school they ever attended was the High School in Wasta, South Dakota with a student body of less than a hundred.

My grandparents' general education—earned almost seventy years ago—far exceeds that of the average post-millennial high school graduate.

My grandparents' five children also attended school in a one-room building prior to government forcing them to make the long trip to town for high school. I've seen the school: it now resides on my grandmother's property near Pedro, South Dakota. The building is essentially a small, one-room trailer house (vintage 1940). If you've seen the movie The Long, Long Trailer [VHS or DVD] and then gutted the trailer of most of its living arrangements, you'd have the schoolhouse. The interior is divided by a bookshelf about fifteen feet from the front of the trailer: this demarcates the teacher's living quarters from the classroom. There is no indoor plumbing, air conditioning, or other amenities.

The walls of the schoolhouse are still lined with books. There are mathematics texts dating from the 1950s that would be appropriate to teach anything through beginning Calculus. The history and political science books are complete through the same time period. The literature is extremely eclectic: during one particularly successful "archaeological expedition" to the schoolhouse, I obtained a first-print hardback edition of Tarzan The Untamed in reasonably good condition. I suspect that if one were to spend a week cataloging the items in the schoolhouse, there would be a small fortune to be made on E-Bay.

My father and his siblings, along with the children of one or two other families, obtained an extraordinary education in this room. Anyone with whom I've spoken says that it was so good that when they went to Wall for high school, they were well ahead of town-educated students. They essentially spent their Freshman and Junior years goofing off while the other students caught up to them.

So what does this have to do with Sandy Keene's annual recital?

As I watched the dress rehearsal, I was struck that the reason so many children do so well at Sandy Keene's is that she employs the "one-room schoolhouse" paradigm of education.

Children at Sandy Keene's are only roughly grouped by age: the pre- ballet class can be populated by girls anywhere from three to six years of age. More important than age is maturity and experience: if a three- year-old took pre-ballet, then she can be five when she attends second- year ballet, tap, jazz, drill team, or baton. She might be alongside a seven- or eight-year-old who took pre-ballet at an older age.

At about age twelve or thirteen, girls with a particular aptitude or interest may be hired by Sandy to assist teaching the younger children. "Assist" is probably a misnomer: I've spent enough time in Sandy's lobby to know that the older girls often teach the class: Sandy pops in every ten or fifteen minutes to offer words of advice or criticism.

Furthermore, Sandy's hiring practices are entirely merit-based: age and particularly physique is not an issue. I've seen a skinny thirteen-year- old and an overweight sixteen-year-old teaching side-by-side.

The "one-room schoolhouse" teaching paradigm is extremely apparent at the recital's dress rehearsal. The older girls are instrumental: not only do they dance their own numbers, they're scurrying around the classes they teach, directing the younger children where to go—in some cases literally carrying a stage-frightened child on and offstage. Their own experience makes them perfect for this job, as they can empathize with the perspective of children only a few years younger than they are.

The advantage of the one-room schoolhouse is easy to understand when you see it in action at Sandy Keene's recital. Both the academically-gifted and -challenged are given a first-class education. The gifted children finish their schoolwork well before everyone else and then—like Sandy Keene's 13-year-old dance staff—are assigned to the younger or less- gifted children. This is advantageous for the child being tutored because he or she has a near-peer who can empathize with the child's difficulties and embarrassment. For the gifted child, their mind is being stretched: if they teach three younger children long division, they'll have to be senile before they forget how to do it themselves.

I'm lucky: my own children are very bright (probably owing to the genetics of their grandparents). They consistently come home complaining that school is boring. I estimate that they're intellectually challenged perhaps three hours a week. Were they in a one-room schoolhouse, assisting the teacher with younger classmates, they'd be challenged constantly. Struggling children would similarly be more likely to succeed.

If American education is to survive, it must completely abandon its current paradigm of enormous, age-segregated schools controlled by Federal monies and the NEA. A return to the one-room school house—even in large metropolitan areas—would be a massive improvement.

The barriers to this are simple: the FedGov will never willingly give up its centralized control of education. Nor, for that matter, are the State and LocalGovs. As long as we allow any government body to control education through funding, our children will continue to be either ignorami or bored stiff all day long.

The only way to cause the current paradigm to disappear is via collapse. Every individual must be made aware that no matter how good they think their local government school is, their child will be only one of two things on Graduation Day: an ignoramus or bored out of their mind.

Maybe both.

To hasten the collapse, it's imperative that individuals not participate in government schools. Home-school your children. Send them to non- government schools. Do whatever you must to keep them out of the doors of a government school. When the Local, State, and FedGov whine to you about how it's all about money, don't listen. I could take my children to the schoolhouse at Pedro today, and using the books still on its shelves impart all the knowledge they could glean through a modern High School.

The current system doesn't work. It can't be tweaked, tuned, or better- funded. The entire CONCEPT of regimented super-schools is flawed. The best American education is to be had from one-room schoolhouses. The sooner we cause the current system to collapse, the sooner your child will cease to be a bored ignoramus.



William Stone, III is a computer nerd (RHCE, CCNP, CISSP) and Executive Director of the Zero Aggression Institute. He seeks the Libertarian Party's nomination for the 2004 Senate race in South Dakota.


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