The assumption, in regards to all the talk on privatizing education, is that education is necessary for a healthy, functioning society. After all, the strength of any democracy rests on the wisdom of the average voter, yes? Thus, the best way to improve society is to increase the average intelligence of its citizens.
I disagree. The notion that a democracy relies on how smart its constituents are is, generally, bunk. The vast majority of things taught in the classroom, from multiplication tables to basketweaving, has little application to a representative democracy.
In such a democracy, we must rely on broad generalizations about elected officials, such as:
- Are they trustworthy?
- Do they have foreign policy experience?
- Do they support the values that I do?
- Have they been successful in the past?
All of these questions are answered through journalism, largely, not formal education. Certainly critical thinking comes into play, but the classroom is not the only (and frequently not the best) venue for developing quality critical thinking.
Okay, so it is not necessary for people to make informed voting decisions. But it is important for making productive citizens…after all how will we learn the skills necessary to get a job, like writing composition, like mathematics, like…pottery?
I contend, in the tradition of Dewey, Holt and others, that mandatory classroom education is potentially the worst and most inefficient medium to communicate knowledge.
A critical issue in the psychology of learning is motivation. We have elected to motivate our student in modern times with grades. Learn the material, take the tests, get the grade, forget the material.
I challenge you to tell me how much you can recall that you learned from high school that you ACTUALLY remember. You’ll probably retort that it gave you a foundation that you could refresh quickly, but I suspect you could learn it from ground zero almost as quickly.
Consider your actual job skills–you were motivated to learn them because they impacted your ability to succeed and advance in your career. Did you ever go back to school? How much more motivated were you when you returned?
Probably much more so, because the material you were learning had significance and purpose, they were not abstract concepts floating in the ether, but concrete ideas that could be applied to real life.
With rare exception, jobs don’t even care much about your education. Experience plays a far greater role in your hiring and advancement. Why? Because they know that most kids don’t know shit after graduating and will remember even less in a few years.
But if you have designed an award winning website, or build a successful small business, or built a very useful invention, they know you possess desirable skills.
Of course there is the occasional student who goes through school with a love of learning and absorbs everything he can, but these are the exceptions and I suspect that the strictures of the mandatory formal education system probably suppresses such an urge rather than promotes it.
Thus, I advocate not for the elimination of public education, but for the change of its structure:
Do not require children to attend any sort of education. Parents, of course, should encourage it, but there should be no requirements. If parents allow their children to be bums, that is the fault of the family.
Encourage programs in which children are exposed to a variety of situations. Maybe they work in a doctors office for a short while, maybe they spend some time in an auto shop, maybe they help in a research lab, maybe they try to paint.
Much like a rotating medical internship, kids will get an idea of what they are interested in and good at.
Also force them into some situations. Send them on guided outdoor expeditions where they learn how to build a fire or they eat cold food, where they learn how to build a shelter or spend a night out in the cold.
This is just one example, but there are a variety of things that could force a child to learn certain skills or suffer the consequences.
- Deformalize education. Instead of forcing children to sit in a class for six hours per day, money used for schools could instead be put toward making modular classes and seminars that anyone can attend, child or adult. Some things can be taught in a a weekend for eight hours per day–say, learning “Active Release Techniques” or even a day, like learning “How to Change Breakpads”.
Others could be in depth, 12 week, formal courses like “Concepts of Developmental Psychology”. All of these would be offered and the benefits would be the knowledge itself not a GPA to put on your resume.
This lack of formality would preserve the classroom as it has show itself to be supremely useful throughout the ages, but it would allow a greater variety of ways to learn. Those who learned better through reading could simply get a library card, which could also be bolstered with funds saved from a rigid public education system. Online classes would undoubtedly flourish.
Autodidacts could take advantage of the already existing plethora of free resources, such as those indexed by http://selfmadescholar.com/ (not my site so don’t worry, I’m not trying to pimp it). Clubs could also benefit from a greater amount of free time from children.
Students could tailor learning to their learning styles and they way they could learn the best. If they need to study a lot of things at the same time, they do so.
If they prefer to focus on one thing at a time, they do that. If they have to make games out of everything, fine. If they want to take tests to review their knowledge, that fine too.
And with all this, I am not necessarily saying that I would do away with all mandatory education. I think there could be a case made for a basic education consisting of basic math, reading, writing, critical thinking, and research skills.
But I would streamline it enormously toward only those things that were indispensable and foundational and needed to move forward into any endeavor one might wish to enter.