What the doctor means is…

The title of this article comes from an old skit made popular during the Viet Nam War. The audio skit was recorded in 1966. It involved an F-4 Phantom pilot the “Captain,” and a public affairs officer. After each question, the Captain would answer it from his point of view complete with the vernacular of his compatriots and the public affairs officer would translate the language for the war correspondent. For example, when the Captain was asked about his fighter jet, the F-4 Phantom, he answered, “It’s so f—ing maneuverable, you can fly up your own a—with it.” The public affairs officer then translates, “What the Captain means is that he has found the F-4C highly maneuverable at all altitudes and he considers it an excellent aircraft for all missions assigned.” In this case, the two messages are similar. In other words, the pilot (Captain) likes the maneuverability of the plane.

In a May 20th opinion piece in the Arizona Daily Star, Dr. Gil Shapiro received close to 60 comments—none of them were complementary. I completely understand the response. Perhaps, the good Doctor needed a public affairs guy. The FreeThought Arizona board often helps Dr. Shapiro by proof reading for grammar but not for content. Many of the commenters seemed to think that everyone in FreeThought Arizona agrees with the spirit of the op-ed. This is demonstratively NOT TRUE. Some of our members have been homeschooled and are homeschoolers themselves. So with that said…

What the doctor means is that there are subjects that most parents are not qualified to teach and those subjects should be left up to college educated people with a teacher’s certification. Schools can help children transition from depending on their parents to independent members of society but only if they are allowed to teach science, communications, mathematics, and history correctly.

I’m not certain we should double down on this issue. Many, not all, parents are simply unqualified to teach science and mathematics. Perhaps the op-ed piece would have been better received if it listed the requirements that must be achieved in order to become a public school teacher. In addition, children are being educated every hour that they’re awake and public school represents only a small part of that time. Thankfully, schools are specifically restricted from performing religious training; FreeThought Arizona and other active secular groups believe it’s our highest priority to ensure that it stays that way. Parents will always be able to educate on a wide variety of subjects that they are best qualified to teach including religion and cultural traditions. It will never be the government’s responsibility to fully educate everyone’s kids but the public schools currently represent a baseline education in science, communication, and logical thinking (mainly through mathematic principles). Public schools also provide us with a common experience and include uniquely American cultural traditions through teachings in history, civics, and social studies.

Gil’s article was a response to an earlier op-ed piece. The original piece was a criticism of the Arizona Legislature for not expanding the state’s ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) which is a voucher program that makes tax money available to parents directly so that they can then enroll their children in private schools. The authors of that opinion piece happen to members of the Diocese of Tucson School Board and represent private Catholic schools. Expanded ESA would increase the amount of tax money that can then flow into the Catholic schools of the region. It’s obvious that there was potential for bias in their point of view.

Opt out of public school if you feel that’s best but it’s not right to expect a voucher from the taxpayers to help you. Tax money collected for education is best used to improve the public schools in every neighborhood throughout the city, county, state, and country. However, please know that private schools’ requirements vary from state to state (click here for the requirements in AZ).

In Arizona under Accreditation, Registration, Licensing, and Approval private schools have:

  • No requirements for Accreditation.
  • No requirements for Registration.
  • No requirements for Licensing.
  • No requirements for Approval.
  • “Private school” is defined as “a nonpublic institution, other than the child’s home, where academic instruction is provided for at least the same number of days and hours each year as a public school.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §15-802F.2.
  • “Nothing in this title shall be construed to provide the state board of education or the governing boards of school districts control or supervision over private schools.” Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §15-161.

Teacher certification is not required to teach in a private school in Arizona. The subjects that must be taught are: reading, grammar, mathematics, social studies, and science but there is no state policy on testing. Therefore there is no guarantee that the education in these key subjects will meet any standard.

Compare these (non)requirements with certification requirements for teachers of public schools in Arizona.

Dr. Shapiro’s op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star garnered a lot of attention and received quite an emotional response. His intention was allow the next generation of citizens to obtain the best education possible but he came across as someone that favored the idea of taking control away from the parents. Arizona law states that all students in the state must receive education in certain subjects. What’s left is for us to do is set standards and decide together how best to ensure that those subjects are taught properly.

About AZAtheist

Retired--Researcher, Developer, Program Manager, Arizona Regional Director--American Atheists, Organizer--Tucson Atheists, Organizer--Skeptics of Tucson
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2 Responses to What the doctor means is…

  1. Jason says:

    Generally well said Don. The main issue I’d take is that the view of learning you and Gil take is somewhat out of date, and colors your view of what the problem actually is.

    When I was going to middle school, personal computers were brand new. My parents had never seen one, and when our school library got their first four Commodore PET computers, the teachers and librarians had no clue how to use them. Within, literally, days, a few of us students knew more about them than the teachers did, and were teaching the teachers. We learned what we knew by reading the books/manuals that came with the computers, and playing around with them. That experience was, to say the least, formative in both my future career path and my life / philosophy. I taught myself at a young age that (1) I could learn whatever I wanted and (2) the teacher doesn’t always have to know more than the students. Both of these lessons were critical to me later becoming an atheist.

    My sons are homeschooled and have never once gone to any school because they don’t want to – if they wanted to go to one we’d help them go. Each of them knows more about some subjects than my wife and I do combined (Japanese, quantum physics, and orbital mechanics being three examples).

    How can this be? How do our homeschooled sons know more than we do? How could we have “taught” them things that we didn’t, ourselves, first know? Because learning is an active, individual process of discovery. It is not a case of one person (the teacher) having more knowledge and pouring out that knowledge into the head of someone else who knows less (the student).

    Learning has always been an active individual process, and hundreds of years ago people could learn things from books or physical experiments or thought experiments that their teachers didn’t know. But it’s even more true now with the wide availability of this medium – the internet – and its vast array of resources and formats. So (a lack of) qualifications for homeschooling parents isn’t really the issue.

    The issue – where there is one – is of parents who homeschool in order to “protect” their kids and control what their kids learn. They home school explicitly to give their kids *less* education. They don’t just fail to “teach”, and they don’t just lack knowledge. They actively work to prevent their kids from learning about evolution, and sex, and pop culture, and science in general. That’s a tragedy.

    The right way to deal with that problem is a complex issue, but understanding its nature is the first step.

  2. Pretty! This was a really wonderful article.
    Thank you for supplying this info.

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