We Have A Right To Expect An Educational System That Adds Value To Our Lives

There were many great advances made in the USA's educational system in the 20th century on the average -- but even the favored educational systems struggled to keep up with the pace of change.  Private education costs outside of the parochial school systems drove all but the top income earners out, and parochial systems followed in their wake as religious orders belatedly recognized the costs of their responsibility to aging teachers who had worked for three or four decades; the public school system struggled to reconcile rising educational expectations, rising costs, increasingly ill-prepared students, and an arcane patchwork of federal, state, and local real estate tax financing.

And as Garrison Keillor says in describing the (fictional?) town of Lake Woebegon, everyone has pretended that "... all the children are above average," so they are marched off to college ... and the American college system started to collapse, first at the undergraduate level and rising steadily upwards. 

The cost is extraordinary.   A complete framework of laws and quasi-governmental financial institutions have been structured around churning out student loans -- who can repay them?  At the least, a house can be repossessed and put up for a sheriff's sale; not much market for unused college educations, though.  (The author hopes certain financial house that rose in the first decade of the millennium appreciates his family's contributions to their Well- Founded and government-leveraged success.)

The educational system's results might still be acceptable here in the USA as it was a century ago.   If the working world still ran as it did when current educational methods were codified, the overeducated and underqualified graduates could be tucked into corners of the economic machine to do the functional equivalents of ditch digging at minimum wages. 

The world, though, has been changing and will likely be changing even more quickly in the coming years, and geotechnical engineering is only one of many highly educated and experienced skilled professions involved.

Yet all communities in the educational establishment, parents and teachers, private and public, union and management, politicians and academics -- turn  pleas and suggestions from inside and outside into squabbles about who is most at fault.  Defense of the Bricks, Mortar, and Hallowed Halls of Ivy is seen as more important than serving the needs of their paying customers.  Too many administrators of our educational institutions are still caught up in their own equivalent of ditch digging; yes, a backhoe could do it ten times faster, and yes, they occasionally cut through a fiber optic line by accident -- but each trench is hand cut, keeping the tradition alive.

Tradition? Back at the head of the 20th century, New York City experimented for four years with a pragmatic "learning by doing" educational model called the Gary Plan.  Here's a link mostly describing how special interest group infighting took down the plan:

There have been many more attempts to improve the American educational system, but the majority seem to fall short over agreement on the actual purpose of education.  Here's an 1893 quote from John Dewey (yes, of the Dewey Decimal System familiar to pre-Google readers)

"If I were asked to name the most needed of all reforms in the spirit of education I should say: 'Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make of it the full meaning of the present life.' And to add that only in this case does it become truly a preparation for later life is not the paradox it seems. An activity which does not have worth enough to be carried on for its own sake cannot be very effective as a preparation for something else if the new spirit in education forms the habit of requiring that every act be an outlet of the whole self, and it provides the instruments of such complete functioning...." (Emphasis is mine.)

Education is an investment in the future, often said.  If it is in truth an investment, though, either it is not getting enough return to pay for the brokers' fees, the stockbroker is spending too much time on the yacht, or both.  We have a right to expect our government to exercise authority over the system that educates our children, and ensure that the system, however financed or managed,

  • educates them fully in all activities which have worth for their own sake,
  • in a manner best suited to each of them as an individual,
  • using the best pace and method that matches their unique abilities.
Those who consume the funds that We The People invest for our children's future should not be allowed to push them up through a twelve year conveyor belt and off into a pile of writhing supplicants for industry's disdainful review.  Our educational establishment should be held accountable for true teaching and candid assessment of the progress of their students, for as many years and yet absolutely no longer than it takes to make them ready to fulfill their promise.

Please save the "Obama"/"Bush"/"Clinton"/"Reagan" snarls and snarks -- this problem has been with us for over a century, I'm sure that whoever is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue when someone comes up with a workable idea or three will appreciate the advice.
windlion windlion
56-60, M
1 Response Dec 16, 2012

Well done! Very informative.