Here it comes………. ready?
Public education is consumed with treating students equally. There it is; now you know.
Time for some common sense again (even if it is my version of common sense). We have had the greatest country on Earth for many reasons since our little spat with the Brits back in 1776 (and we had to prove that again in 1812). Ok.. so maybe we weren’t a world power in those days but our concept and application of liberty, personal freedom, and free market was admired world-wide (we may not have thought up all that stuff but our forefathers did take the best those early philosophers had to offer and put it all together). The discovery of our great mineral and agricultural wealth was the envy of the then civilized world. The stories of our adventurous growth westward, fiction and non-fiction, helped to establish Americans as not being afraid to take risks in the quest for something better in life for all. Of course we’ve not been a “perfect” country in our various quests but this just confirms our steadfast belief in personal freedoms while trying to temper those efforts to assure equality for all. Since the early 1900’s through the 1940’s our country has set itself as a world power, both politically and economically. Since the 1950’s our military and technological might has reached the moon and made us become the world’s policeman.
So, I ask you… was not this all accomplished through public education in its present format? Now mind you, I am not necessarily defending public education in its current application. But I am pointing out that so far we’ve benefited as a nation quite well with whatever public school policies were in effect over the years. So rather than throw out the baby with the bath water we might want to have a measure of respect over what has been as we try and meander through the steps of what we need for the future.
Ok.. so back to education’s “one problem”. Each one of us can look back on our early school days and recall some kids were fast learners and others a bit slow; some kids could learn to read faster than others… other kids who maybe had a harder time reading were great at doing math. This is simply the traits of man and the infinate variety of the human race. To adapt to all this educational variety teachers naturally tended to favor those who demonstrated more advanced learning traits at the expense of those who were slower developmentally. After all, strange as it sounds, teachers are human too (although I recall there were a couple teachers in my past who might have fallen into another classification).
Like many people, to solve certain problems I tend to try to identify the primary elements of the basic problem.. and from there I will try and catagorize various alternatives as they relate to a possible solution, which could be more than one. With education, as I see all the current debate over the last 40+ years, there has been a struggle to strive for an equal education rather than maybe trying to make education equal. For example, making education equal might imply that the opportunity to be educated at all should be an opportunity equally available to all. Providing an equal education might imply that a student in an affluent area of the country learns the same things as a student from an impoverished area of the country. The question that remains is in an equal education system do all students learn at the same rate when being taught the same subjects, in the same format, using the same educational tools, from teachers with the same skills? Of course not… because in life not all things are equal. So why not embrace the fact that all kids are not equal… yet all kids should have equal opportunity for an education.
By now as you are reading all this you are sensing that I am just shifting words and meanings around and not attempting to solve a damn thing. Well, the fact is that all I have attempted to do is provide some alternative focus on the greater issues. I have no answers but I certainly can identify the basic problem. As a society we seem to fall into nice educational programs like “No Child Left Behind” as some sort of glorious quest or panacea that will make all kids have an equal education but ignoring the idea that not all kids can be educated equally. When some think tank decides that kids are being tested at “below” levels then there’s the inherent posturing of blame between parents (and you will never mandate change in parents) and teachers… who obviously are the ones doing the education job and the most exposed to criticism.
Here are some “givens”…
1. Students do not all learn at the same pace.
2. Students are not the same in desires, traits, and abilities as they advance in the educational process.
3. Teachers do not all teach in the same way nor do they have equal abilities.
From those elements I might suggest the following (recognizing there would be a huge revamping of the system) …
A. Make class size smaller at the middle and high school level… 10-12 students. Smaller class size allows for more intimate learning and individualized attention (the big plus in home schooling), and far less class disruption. Yes.. more teachers and maybe more classrooms, or additional school hours; it will cost more.. but maybe it should.
B. There should be no such thing as rich or poor school districts. Equal education starts with equal budgets. Perhaps the states should consolidate all taxing revenue for education, then appropriate it out to the districts with an eye toward student enrollment. State and federal education mandates can then determine tax revenue increases as needed.
C. For the most part teachers have the summers off as do the students. We don’t live in an agrarian society anymore so let’s use the summer months for an extended school year. In the least, teachers should use that time for enhanced in-service development and personal growth… not optional.
D. Smaller class size will allow teachers to shine more.. and be more responsive and responsible. There might be a natural attrition of poorer quality teachers (or teachers who are “worn out”) as a result.
E. A concerted national effort to get parents to recognize that their kids need not have 4 year degrees to achieve; that if their kids are not academically inclined for a 4 year institution that junior colleges can be just as effective for career growth in certain trades. School counselors should recommend this to parents prior to high school graduation, for students who have problems academically.
F. School boards should have at least one member for representation at the state level regarding budget and revenue coordination and special requests.
G. Teacher salaries set at the state level for the entire state (union negotiations done at the state level thus relieving the local school boards).
H. Maybe it’s time we actually create that “life file” our early teachers threatened would hold all the bad we did in school that would follow us through life. Rather a variation of it. An educational database showing final grades through college, that at any time stats can be reviewed (presumably limited to state level educators) that might include the names of individual teachers/instructors to explore patterns of teaching success.
That’s good enough for starters. But the whole point of this exercise is to stimulate creative thought in trying to determine public education alternative for the coming future. Times are indeed changing and the world is getting smaller while it is getting larger.