(ThyBlackMan.com) Any major political program in the new century should be evaluated by its ability to state the need for a new educational paradigm; one which establishes a constitutional guarantee to education, that de-institutionalizes knowledge and learning, and one which provides all who want to learn with access to learning opportunities and resources at any time in their life.
It is unfortunate that our whole notion of school is inextricably bound to the present model: a brick-and-mortar place that children from seven to (it varies) eighteen are obliged to attend nine months a year to be taught, by a self-certifying elite, a presumptive set of courses approved and prescribed by the State. Schools have accordingly become, at best, institutions for the confinement of the innocent between the ages of 7 and 18, at worst, dangerous and irrelevant.
This is the 21st century and our children, indeed our society, need a change. The present, presumably well intentioned, system of schooling which groups students by age and curriculum practically guarantees classroom will be filled with the disruptive, the bored, the disinterested, and more recently—sociopaths. The notion that students enter schools alike and eagerly awaiting what government believes should be taught is nonsense. Indeed, an alchemist would have a better chance of transforming lead into gold than our age specific, curricular based, and compulsory schooling has in melding the diversity of students into a wholesome citizenry, never mind changing present educational outcomes—especially for the poor. Compulsory, aged-based, curricular learning presumes the student is ready and interested in the choices offered in government schools at the time of year, time of day or the time in life they are presented. The environment in which a child or an adult is confined in our present model has a destructive influence on the human desire for knowledge and blunts natural curiosity. A 12-year-old with a collection of 1,000 beetles at home is being miseducated and wasting time in a compulsory class on “American” history.
Learning is a lifelong experience best achieved when adapted to individual needs and not limited to the young, the rich, or to those certified by an institutional monopoly to be ready for the next “level”. Any new model of education should allow the student the right to choose the medium, the subject, the teacher, the place, and the time for learning. In my mind, so called educators, and administrators, should be limited to identifying aptitude and interest, preferably, when the learner is young, and then provide and manage their access to willing and relevant skill models, guides, and instructors as they learn and mature.
It’s ironic that the basic tools by which people currently gain access to knowledge–reading, writing and arithmetic–are the very subjects schools seem to have the most difficulty in teaching, and amazingly, the very subjects’ schools were created to teach—and to the poor no less.
A society of free people is not a society of equals and will almost always have its share of inequalities–some of which will appear to those on the short end as unjust and unmerited. But schools should not be used to teach any child that their future station in life is solely, or even largely, dependent upon their ability to succeed in a coercive environment that is government “school”. But hope springs eternal, and so the poor, year after year, generation after generation, continue to be poor, and continue to submit to a system of compulsory education that preaches a message that they are poor because they did poorly in school. In fact, far too many are simply the victims of school and the empty promises of compulsory education. Too many students, during and after school, give up on learning because of their experience in government schools and accept the subliminal message that their future choices in life are the direct result of how well, or poorly, they may have done in government schools.
Teaching to improve scores on standardized tests does not improve learning any more than the use of grades to assess students improves teaching, or for that matter the ability to predict future performance. Educators should use tests and papers to discover student needs, interests, and to improve learning opportunities, not to assign rank. The use of grades in government schools is a tool for ranking our children, and thereby stratifying our society into those who did well in school and those who didn’t. No one likes to be graded or evaluated by another and too many students have become demoralized by the constant emphasis on grades and scores. Grades have become the definitive prize or the ultimate humiliation and no doubt the reason many simply become in and out of school dropouts. Instead of grading people on how well they perform in government schools, taxpayers should figure out a way to put the willing learning with the willing teacher and seek learning opportunities for all citizens that capitalize on the talent and interest of those seeking knowledge and those with knowledge to share.
It’s easy for some that have achieved a degree of success to pontificate about how others should do and act and remind others of how they have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps. Even to point out the difficulties they have had with parents, or drugs, or poverty or how they have overcome obstacles in their own personal lives. I would congratulate them, but what is clear today in our society is that the notion of the nuclear family is a fading reality. And the idea that mother and father are about the business of establishing high expectations for their children, while noble, is not what we see happening, and especially not happening among the poor. Too many parents, especially among the “poor”, don’t like themselves and, frankly, some don’t like their children.
Cultural Change Management
The process of change begins with a general acceptance in our society that competency, not grades, not degrees, nor should diplomas, decide the outcome in the competition for society’s rewards, access to opportunities, the right to teach, or opportunities for additional learning. A world in which citizens can gain access to learning opportunities, and income security based on a fair and competitive demonstration of their ability is a world in which the poor and disadvantaged can compete. It would also be a world that appreciates the self-educated; and that values what citizens either teach themselves or learn in a new marketplace full of opportunities for learning. We ignore the fact that what people consider knowledge is nothing more than experience and not what is presumably implied by a diploma or degree. Indeed, a competency test would serve a prospective student, teacher, employer, and the employee as a far better measure of qualification for a position or promotion than grades, a degree, or a diploma. I would assert that poverty is not an overwhelming impediment to achievement, there are too many examples of those who have risen from dire circumstances despite compulsory government schools. However, the security and self-confidence one experiences in becoming competent in a skill or profession would be more useful and meaningful to the individual, the poor (and to society) than a grade or degrees. Right now, our system of ‘edumication’ promotes grades and degrees, less so competence. The proof is in the number of “accept anybody on-line schools, satellite colleges and fly-by-night institutions” and some 4-year colleges that encourage debt to the tune of thousands of dollars on the promise of a degree, certificate or diploma—forget the knowledge. Basketball is no a college course. I’ve even heard that some of these schools have even granted “medical” degrees. And woe be to those that attend these schools and colleges and don’t get a “degree” or “diploma” because they are left only with the debt.
Opposition to self-directed learning is one largely held by those that have a vested interest in maintaining the present social, educational, racial, and economic stratification within our society. In a free and democratic republic, one presumes that merit and ability will weigh heaviest in the distribution of its fruits. Yet increasingly ours now recognizes only wealth and degrees. So much so that those unable to afford school, or too hobbled by it, are doomed to repeat a familiar cycle of poverty.
Today the internet offers a wealth of possibilities for citizens to free themselves of the brick-and-mortar model of schools and to be educated at home, or in a public or private space in front of their computer screens by the best teachers in America. Indeed, there is growing evidence that the future of education for millions is on the internet.
To take advantage of an alternate model of education with new choices and new opportunities for learning, we must put an end to compulsory schooling. Compulsory attendance laws simply add insult to injury. Coercive attendance laws are the antipode to the 1st amendment right to free assembly, a bane to the poor, and blight on an enlightened society. If being responsible for oneself and one’s actions is tantamount to freedom, then restoring real choice in learning is an essential component. Without mercy, our children are being held to account for educational outcomes by a society hell bent on preserving and maintaining a system of public education that does not work. The do good and the do right in some of us makes us also believe that we must do something to save people from themselves. Even compelling them to attend schools that society believes is best for them—despite mounting evidence to the contrary. The sad fact is that far too many don’t have, and have never been taught, the skills to manage themselves well in our present society because society has taught them that self-management is risky. Thomas Jefferson once said, “…sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he then be trusted with the government of others?” Most of us, rich and poor, contribute remarkably little to society beyond what we do for our family and friends–which is fine. But what I also propose is that we put in place a government that can do little to us. Ending compulsory attendance at government schools is a starting point.
The use of educational credits, or vouchers, offers some hope for the poor by expanding opportunities for learning–particularly if their distribution is linked to income and age or disability not location or lotteries. Educational credits should be available to every citizen to be sure, regardless of age or income, but the poor, the young, and the disabled should receive credits in proportion to their need. Moreover, credits should be cumulative and bankable, so they can be used whenever and wherever needed at any time in a citizen’s life. The 10-year-old child in a badly managed home should not be penalized for life because of conditions they cannot control. Nor should an adult, because of changing economic conditions, or the poor business management of an employer, be left without the means, short of indebtedness, to afford learning opportunities that could expand their knowledge and increase their income security. All citizens should have access to their bank account of educational credits that can be withdrawn and used at any learning center, with any learning resource, skill model, or instructor who accepts them, and to do so at any time in their life. Moreover, those that choose to make themselves available as a skill model, instructor, or role model, should be rewarded with money or education credits proportional to their value to students, their community, and to society at large.
“What happens if people use their credits unwisely or are taken advantage of by charlatans?” Probably little or nothing. In a free society, citizens will succeed and fail based on the choices they make. People that raise this issue are never talking about themselves, but others– presumably those less capable than themselves. The idea that free people will fall victim to their own decisions ignores the possibility that most won’t, and that most people, most parents, and most families, will make choices in their own best interest. How can the possibilities resulting from free choice be any more harmful to the poor and “less capable” than what is currently happening in compulsory government schools today where, by the way, there is no choice? After all, free choice is synonymous with real freedom and real freedom includes the possibility of failure. In the current system education failure is a near certainty for the poor.
Reward and Celebrate Knowledge
As cash, educational credits or vouchers could serve as an incentive for all to share what they know with those interested in learning. Moreover, the right to teach should not be limited just to those approved to do so by self-certifying unions, degree requirements, or laws, but should be open to any competent citizens willing to share what they know with the willing learner. That includes anything from cooking, writing a book, maintaining a home or car, to medicine, law, nuclear physics, artificial intelligence, and all interests imaginable in between. Poverty is not synonymous with ignorance. A peasant rug weaver in Iran has more dexterity with a needle and thread than most “highly” trained surgeons. Moreover, medical care costs could be reduced dramatically with an end to the monopoly of the tools and the demystification of health care by the current cult of medical “professionals”.
The number of students and the learning opportunities offered should rise and fall in a marketplace driven by supply and demand. It should be competence and excellence, not tenure, not degrees nor certificates or diplomas that drives the test of who can teach, and what is taught. Provided incentives, every company, every office, shop or laboratory, every internet portal, library, government facility, and every competent professional can offer the willing learner an educational opportunity. Anyone with a skill, a profession, an ability, or whatever they want to share can be rewarded based on consumer (learner) or marketplace demand. The greater the skill, the more seasoned the knowledge, the greater should be their compensation. And, as in any free market, if other interested parties see you as successful because of your competency and attendant rewards, the more people will gravitate to that field, that profession, that teacher, and that skill or role model. I envision a situation in which the willing learner can insert him or herself, at any time in their life, into an association with a coach, a skill model, a guide, a professional, or a teacher willing to share what they know. In my view, as in the view of Booker T. Washington, a free citizen with a skill (trade) is more confident, resourceful, and valuable to the family and to community development than a degree waving liberal arts graduate looking for someone to hire them and “give” them a job.
Our nation, generous to a fault, seemingly does more for the poor than any other nation in the world. Yet the weary poor stay poor. They have a seemingly endless tolerance for the pernicious benevolence of pedagogues, social scientists, bureaucrats, and politicians to end poverty and their problems with schools. But the resultant, as far as the eye can see, is no more than a pile of doctoral dissertations, new programs, scholarly books, magazine articles, news report, political speeches, and an ever-rising dissatisfaction with government schools, and, of course, the perpetuation of poverty.
The framers of the American Constitution decreed that the best protection of democracy is an “educated” citizenry. So, look around sport fans. The common denominator shared by much of the American population that underwrites our current social, political, and economic division and unrest is compulsory government schools. Not long ago the Education Trust (https://edtrust.org/) released a report that proudly proclaimed that poor and minority students can learn and achieve–and even included an extensive list of schools that have demonstrated that they can. The important question however, is not whether the poor can learn or achieve, rather, it’s whether our current model of schools is the right tool to affirm learning as a refreshing, exciting and lifelong adventure and to end the cycle of poverty for millions of Americans? Evidently not.
“Do not stand then idly waiting for some greater work to do, fortune is a lazy goddess, she will never come to you. Go and toil in any vineyard, do not fear to do or dare, if you want a field to labor, you can find it anywhere” – Author Unknown
Staff Writer; Fred E. White