I came across this really good article about John Abbott who is the director of the 21st Century Learning Initiative. In it he talks quite a bit about how you can’t reform education because it is a reflection of the society that spawns it. I think this is right and not only because I have been saying that for years.
As Abbott sees it, the need for reflection has never been greater. Spurred by technological advances, “civilization is on the cusp of a metamorphosis,” he says, that will lead either to societal collapse and chaos, or to a resurgence of liberty, community, and ethics. Either way, schools are stuck in the past: The emphasis has been on feeding children static information and rewarding them for doing only what they’re told, instead of helping them develop the transferable, higher-order skills they need to become life-long learners and thrive in an uncertain future.
This approach — a product of the Industrial Age, which relied on compliant factory workers and mass consumption — promotes weakness rather than strength. It has become even more regimented (and thus more disempowering) in recent years due to a lack of trust. Adults who feel hard-pressed to predict or control their own destinies, and who feel confused about the “big issues of life,” Abbott notes, are less willing to give children the time and space they need to shape their own futures.
So let’s think about that. What kind of citizen does the government want? That’s important because they run the public school system. Independent minded people who question authority or people who are weak and need authority to tell them what to do? I suppose the way you answer that will be dependent on your feelings on freedom and government. On one hand if you trust government and think the people who compose it are dedicated public servants then it must be strange to you why public education is so terrible. On the other hand if you don’t trust government and think it exists for its own purposes now, then the state of public education makes a lot of sense. It is infuriating but it make sense.
It’s about time that we as a society decide what kind of country we want and then elect the kind of leaders who will make it happen.
The article is really good, so I encourage you to read the whole thing!