I’ve learned more about history in the four years after I graduated high school than I learned in all my twelve years of public education. I have no formal education outside of high school except for independent research that I’ve done out of curiosity and skepticism. The result is that I am better informed and more knowledgeable about a wider range of subjects than most college graduates. Not to sound my own horn, but toot, toot.
Anyway, my schooling experience was one of repressed curiosity and compulsory indoctrination—a constant struggle of trying to discover an identity and a creative voice in an environment that encouraged neither. I’m sure most people remember the angst and the awkwardness.
Well, I graduated in 2007. High school is four years behind me, and it’s probably a considerable amount of years behind all of you. It’s difficult to even maintain any sort of concern for the conditions we managed to escape, much less try to do anything about them. Except, right now as you read this there are millions of American teenagers putting up with the same system.
Standing up for the pledge…make sure to put your hand over your heart. Remain standing for the national anthem… Now for the morning announcements…for lunch we’ll be having flavorless slop…blah, blah, blah.
The toes tapping on linoleum floors. Pencils sliding across paper. The smell of dry-erase markers. The ringing of the bell at the beginning and end of every period. The same methodical march to-and-fro, day in, day out.
Oh, yes, and don’t forget to do your homework. It would be a shame if you didn’t do your homework.
The system we have now is archaic. It was designed for a different time. We keep trying to patch it up, to push it one more mile, to standardize just a little more. But it is unworkable. We are trying to give a tune up to a vehicle with blown head-gaskets. The approach modern progressives are taking toward education is one founded not upon reason, but insanity. The conservative approach isn’t much different. George W. Bush was responsible for the No Child Left Behind Act, which expanded standardized education on a national basis.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. If someone is overdosing, you don’t give him more drugs, because that’s insane. Correct this problem, and the rest of America’s problems will be solved consequentially. By creating freedom and more choices in the realm of education, we can improve the economy, the environment, and our own individual lives. The answer is to get rid of standard-based, pass-fail regulations. The answer is to not look to the state for your education. The answer is self-education. It’s done wonders for me.
Look: here is some history that I learned all by myself.
Until the middle of the 19th Century, education was mostly localized and available only to the wealthy. However, rapid westward expansion, hoards of immigrants, and the Industrial Revolution began to make it apparent that the nation needed some sort of model for educating the children being born into this brave new world.
Horace Mann, in the 1840’s, began a campaign for what were called “common schools”. These schools would teach children basic skills such as reading, writing and math. Our grade schools today still carry similarities to the common schools of which Mann was so fond.
By 1851, Massachusetts passed legislation including compulsory attendance and standardize teacher certification tests. Within twenty years, 7.6 million kids were enrolled in common schools and the number of teachers in the nation had risen to 125,000. Less than a decade later, the number was up to 340,000.
The first Department of Education was established in 1867 after the National Teacher’s Association lobbied congress to establish a presidential cabinet office dedicated to national education concerns. The very next year the department was demoted to an office, becoming just a small bureau in the Department of the Interior.
With this kind of expansion going on, public schools turned into education factories, taking on the same functionality of the newly industrialized nation. To sum it up, kids were being taught in a merely intellectual manner based on the principles of the Enlightenment, but under a model that resembled the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. The principles of the Enlightenment, which tout liberty, reason and individual responsibility, would be in direct contrast with the pragmatic, collectivist, rank-in-file attitude of industrialization.
This is how America’s schools, nearly overnight, became authoritarian institutes requiring the standardized, compulsory education of all citizens. In other words, you don’t have a choice in the matter, because the federal government knows what is best for you. Since the beginning of the 20th Century, our federal government has expanded public education to the point of crisis. And even though we’ve made advancements in the classroom as far as technology and curriculum, we still use the same sort of classroom model as we did over a century ago. All education reform that has had any major effect on the nation has always been in the direction of more standardized testing and more centralized political control of our schools. Yet, the system is still failing.
One reason I believe the system is failing is because the people who design the legislation aren’t the people in the classrooms. But the biggest reason it is failing is because we are using an out-dated model that doesn’t mix well with our fast-paced, information based culture.
Those are the problems. Here are the solutions.
Abolish the Department of Education. This is not a radical idea. It was a Republican Party policy for many years.
This can be done by local community activism, and hounding our representatives to actually put this issue on the table again. In Florida, a campaign for the federal deregulation of public schools, repeal of the No Child Left Behind Act, and an exemption from the Sunshine State Standards should be embarked upon. With those shackles released, I propose school vouchers in order to create competition between schools.
Check this: instead of what district you live in determining where you go to school and who gets the funding, parents will be given vouchers for the net-cost-per-year it takes to put a student through school. The parents can then choose their children’s school. If a school could operate under the cost of the voucher, the balance would roll over into the next year for that family. With the roll over money from the vouchers, parents could create a college fund for their children.
If adopted by the entire State of Florida, this model could eventually decentralize education for the entire nation. It would simultaneously create competition among the states for everything from colleges to pre-schools. The states with flawed models would ultimately fail, and through common sense they would adopt the models that succeed.
There is one thing that must be understood. My model doesn’t say anything about what standards schools should teach, nor do I mean to suggest any. For me, a teacher is merely someone who bestows knowledge upon others. I am a teacher. You probably are, too. We educate, and are educated every day. The truth, though, is that everyone is responsible for his own education at some point. If we want to change the way we educate the country, we have to change our attitudes. As individuals, we must take hold of our own minds and make our own decisions based on our own judgment. That is the capacity of an educated mind.
We must teach our children to do the same.