Saturday, December 18, 2004

Education 2005 :Retool or Replace

Earlier this year, I began blogging, partly as a way to educate people about the numbers and messages from this year's election. I was appalled in 2000 by the sheer ignorance of basic political and civic truths by many voters, especially in urban areas. This, many Republican strategists believe, is not only the reason why Democrats remain in power in urban regions, but also why reason and evidence have no effect in changing those minds. Democrats, naturally, claim the opposite; that it is Republican myths and distortions which have tricked rural and suburban voters. The lesson is twofold - that education and logic should be able to clear up the confusion, even if planned, but also that the people affected by the political games are unwilling to be educated.

Thinking this through, I recalled how many of my high school and college acquaintances held no interest in retaining their education. They wanted to know enough to pass the class, get the degree, get the job, but they held no desire to expand on that knowledge, to develop a first-class mind or exercise a healthy curiosity. A startlingly high number of people simply have no desire to learn. I have a strong suspicion that the majority of directors in charge of the Old Media networks fall into this category. That class of people, however, has found their nemesis; an unnamed class of thinkers, now resolved to action and empowered by the coalescence of their numbers into discrete groups and identities. Bloggers are just a spin-off of that new demographic, the deliberate thinker.

Education also comes into question when I think about careers. In an earlier post, I noted that companies are beginning to rethink the intellectual requirements of their positions, especially supervisory posts. After all, it should occur to any competent businessman, that an experienced and accomplished employee with years of solid work and the respect of his peers, even without a college degree, may a better choice for a responsible position than someone straight out of school, no matter the degree or grades. Of course, should companies continue to insist on that piece of paper, the rise of online education plans and business-centered universities is making it possible for the degree to be had later, if not sooner. This also opens the possibility that when someone discovers their original education is not going to advance their career, they can keep working and claim the credentials they need.

This brings us around to the need for defining the strategy for this century's educational system. There are reasonable debates about how to teach kids to read and write, but there can be no serious doubt that the system in place is inadequate to direct young citizens towards excellence. Maybe we can demand a disclaimer be posted on the walls of schools, especially high schools:

Warning - The education presented by this school and district may not be sufficient to prepare the individual for the Real World, and is unlikely to prepare the individual for satisfactory employment, advancement, or successive endeavors.

Now, I'm not trashing the whole system. But I sure want to find a way to encourage that sense of curiosity so common in children, yet so dead among many adults. I want teachers to share a sense of responsibility to police their own ranks, to screen out political correctness and theoretical speculation that misleads students to count revisionism as superior to established success. In other words, teachers need to be conscious of their students' futures when they leave school, a factor too long ignored in many districts.

In my title, I suggested that the educational system needs to be retooled or replaced. That dire-sounding recommendation is actually in progress right now. The fight over school vouchers may become a minor front in the war. That's because of the increasing enrollments in private schools, the families who move to school districts with higher standards ... and home schooling. Home schooling is a real phenomenon. While it's true that computers and online associations make the task easier and more of a group effort, it's amazing to see the explosion in home schooling programs, with impressive results overall. I'd say the NEA is on notice. I can't help wondering if they have bothered to read it.


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