This article pointing out many of the failures of Public Education inspired me to this response:
We have seen an abundance of explanations for the failure of public education to provide its graduates with even the most modest ability to engage in critical analysis, solutions to problems to which they have not been previously exposed, or the capability to evaluate the ideas of others.
We have been told that the cause is lack of parental responsibility, mediocre teachers, classroom overcrowding, the impact of non-English speaking students, grade inflation, cheating, school violence, the prevalence of drugs, ad infinitum.
I’d like to suggest a more basic answer. Schools don’t exist to foster well prepared, intellectually powerful graduates. To the contrary, such individuals are a threat to the real purpose of Public Education. The real purpose of schools is to develop acceptance of authority, and conformity to the social norms which the schools make massive efforts to insure.
Consider your own education during the period when you were exposed to this process. Research has shown that almost universally, expectations for student knowledges and skills, consists almost entirely of rote memorization, simple description and matching, and the using of rules given by teachers. (The rules for solving Algebra problems is an example of Rule Using – Students simply apply rules they have been given, but do not derive any new rules for themselves.)
Students who evidence curiosity, who want to take side trips from the prescribed curriculum, or worst of all challenge pronouncements of the teacher are subject to responses ranging from insult and sarcasm to failing grades, to suspension or institutional expulsion. (Can you think of anything more ridiculous than a “zero tolerance policy expelling a child for having lemon drops (a “drug”) or a keychain mounted miniature pistol?
We see this phenomenon to an even greater degree in colleges and universities, where students are expected to be docile receptacles of the political and personal agenda of their professors.
As an employee, how many times have you been told by supervisor or manager that your questioning of procedure, process, or company rules is reduced to “My way or the highway?” What about your periodic performance evaluations, when such items as being a “team player,” or “fosters company values,” rather than contribution to productivity become primary factors by which your value as an employee is judged?
The power differential between child and adult teacher is even greater since the child has little choice but to ultimately bow to the demands of the teacher, guidance counselor, or school administrator, while as an adult, you have the opportunity to extricate yourself from a hostile work environment.
Fortunately, technology can provide a potential escape hatch from such an intellectually confining situation. Free or low cost audio/video/whiteboard conferencing software facilitates home based learning, with expert online tutors, or student selected conference group leaders having great freedom to meet the needs of students to exercise creativity, problem solving, and most of all, satisfy curiosity. Structured computer assisted instruction can insure that specific skills are mastered before the student continues to the next problem. Such factors as ethnicity, age, cultural background, and teacher bias are completely eliminated from the factors determining student success.
These tools can either substitute for formal education (e.g., home schooling) or supplement attendance at the local school. Were such a process to be formalized, with the bulk of intellectual skills being acquired through flexible, ever patient technology, schools could focus on those activities which are best served through social interaction. Physical education, social interest clubs, music performance, etc. , are all instances in which putting classmates together are essential to the development of the complete person.