By Jordan Jardine
In anarcho-capitalist and libertarian-leaning conservative circles, one is bound to hear the point being made that schools should be privatized in order to give students and parents a choice in the matter of what type of education is right for them. Another reason that is often given for wanting to privatize education is that it would allow for a voucher system to pay for education instead of schooling being funded through tax dollars. These are both compelling and attractive ideas. The problem with these proposals isn’t that they go too far; the problem is they don’t go far enough.
According to data from Pew Research Center, out of 71 countries surveyed on academics the United States ranks 24th in science and reading, and 38th in mathematics. These statistics come from a 2015 study by the OECD and its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). No matter if you are on the left, right or center, Americans should all agree that education is failing in this country despite it being a keystone of success and the best pathway to achieving the American Dream. While some of the blame can be put on students and parents, much of the blame should also be shared by teachers. It is obvious that teachers are not inspiring their students or taking enough time and effort to facilitate students’ interests in basic areas of academics like math, science and reading. It’s hard to put all the blame on students. The structure of school as it is today is fundamentally rigid, banal and overly authoritarian. There was a great George Carlin bit about this issue, he says that teachers simply aren’t interested in inspiring their students, but are merely conditioning them to be little more than “obedient workers.” He stresses in the same bit that people with exceptional critical thinking skills are of no interest to the government and corporations because they don’t want to deal with questioning and dissent. He’s 100% right. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing that there indeed is a problem. So what is the solution?
The solution is radically reshaping our school system to better reflect the individual needs of each student, rather than having a system in place which is monotonous system that emphasizes conformity like the ones in place now. To clarify, here’s an example of how classes may be structured and improved upon: there should be more teachers with more areas of expertise outside of the realm of the typical school curriculum. In other words, let middle and high school students manage and build their own schedules like colleges do to a large extent. Also, in continuation of the point made above, allow students to take advantage of a teaching staff that is more diverse in their areas of teaching expertise. For instance, students primarily interested in music should benefit from more than just one or two music teachers and have students focus on music and art and don’t force them to take classes in subjects they aren’t interested in. Of course, they can if they so desire, but that decision should be left up to students and parents, not education departments and government bureaucrats. To use another example of a student-managed curriculum, let’s say Student A excels in math and science, but doesn’t do so well in areas like music or art. If that’s the case, encourage the student to take math, science and engineering classes that are more tailored to that student’s personal interests and talents. This structure could also help students with disabilities. If a person has a learning disorder such as dyslexia, where complex mathematics can be daunting to master, the student should not be forced by the government or the school to take, for example, algebra or calculus.
Another issue at play is homework. While homework can be a useful tool for students to retain certain key concepts, too much homework will end up doing the opposite, especially if, again, students are forced to do a considerable amount of homework for classes they aren’t interested in. A student who wants to be a police officer should not have to worry about passing chemistry and having an F in that class jeopardize their academic and professional future.
To return to the political aspect of this issue, there should be no Department of Education at a federal level. A bloated bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. should not make decisions for a school in Des Moines, Iowa. State-level education departments are still a good thing as long as they don’t meddle too much in the affairs of schools in their state. There should also be no standardized testing from the federal government whatsoever, and no standardized testing for middle or high school students from the state governments. Decisions on testing should me made solely by education administrators and boards in conjunction with teachers. These ideas should only apply to middle and high school students, especially the latter, to be clear. It is very important that children have a solid foundation on which to further guide and build their education, but past a certain point (in this case, around middle school ages) students should have a lot more say and control over their learning. These ideas may be considered by some to be revolutionary, and they are, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Oftentimes, the word “revolutionary” has a negative connotation attached to it. Some of that could be a result of schools teaching students to obey authority at all times and avoid association with revolutionaries and revolutionary ideas or actions. Not all revolutions are violent or chaotic. Grassroots structural revolution is what this article is talking about. There needs to be an education revolution now more than ever to ensure America’s viability and prosperity for future generations.