Sunday, June 05, 2005

Compulsory Education

I’ve found a couple of education blogs. I found one debate going on over a post at OverEducation titled “What Are Schools For?” (original post here, follow up here). My post was getting too long, so I decided to open the flood gates over here.

Compulsory education is, obviously, a touchy subject. Parents who are willing to take responsibility for their child's education should certainly be allowed to do so, whether it's through homeschooling, private schooling, or encouraging the public schools to improve. Society's concern is for the child whose parents don't see the value of education. Yes, you should care if the children of the ignorant and impoverished get a decent education. If someone can't read or write or do basic math, it's incredibly difficult to find a job. They are left with few options, the most promising of which is crime.

Having an educated labor force and a citizenry capable of critical and creative thought are not mutually exclusive. Look at our economy. We are no longer a manufacturing based economy. We need engineers, lawyers, scientists, doctors, accountants, etc. and they need to be able to think to do their job. Yes, we need janitors and cashiers, too. They need to be able to read and do basic math (which today's education system does not always seem capable of, either) not only to do their jobs, but to function in society. Preparing citizens for the workforce gives them a shot at economic freedom.

My belief is that, for every child to reach their potential (not just avoid being left behind), you have to customize it to the needs and aptitudes of that child. Home-schooling, when done right, definitely does this. Private schools, with fewer students per teacher, come closer. Public schools, for lack of funding and/or imagination, try to fit every student into a single mold, particularly in the early grades. So what do we do? Have public education be like welfare – available only for those with the lowest incomes – and leave the rest to fend for themselves? Make the cost of private school tax deductible?

I think the computer revolution will reduce the cost of custom curricula by making it easier for students to go through a course on their own. The teacher would still be there to make sure everyone behaves and to help the children who have questions. You would never completely eliminate guided instruction. Early grades in particular would probably spend only an hour a day on self-guided instruction (and not necessarily all at once). In later grades, you would have to make a point of bringing students together for discussion. I am the type of person who learns better in a classroom environment (by getting other people’s perspectives), so I can’t advocate eliminating group learning entirely. However, the initial cost of implementing such a system, plus the feeling by teachers that they could lose their job to a computer, may delay if not prevent it from happening.

And we haven’t even touched on the social aspect of schools. Maybe another post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem I've found with spending more money on public education is that it rarely ends up in the classroom. It's more likely to end up either in a non teaching position or in a new swimming pool.

To give you an idea, when I started grade 1, the department of education head office was 20 full time people. 18 years later when I worked in the same building they were expanding to a second floor in the building because they had run out of room in the 150 person office space that they had. And the district staff multiplied in the same manner.

6/08/2005 9:45 PM  
Blogger SpakKadi said...

The expansion of staff would be the "fix it with management" approach to fixing the problem. Businesses as well as government organizations make this mistake. Unfortunately, it's harder for the government to undo it.

As for pet projects like a swimming pool, this would be a misguided public relations problem. Swimming pools are a much more tangible demonstration of a school's commitment to children ("See how we're expanding opportunities for our students? We even built them a pool!") than statistics. Some school administrators may be more eager to spend money on something that improves the school's "image", hoping that somehow actually improving the school will follow.

One of the biggest problems that schools have right now is politics. Any organization that is even remotely linked to or effected by government has problems caused by politics. I would imagine that schools are a hundred times worse because they effect more people more directly than any other government service (though IRS and DMV certainly compete) and are therefore subject to strong political motivations. Pulling decisions about schools away from the local level adds more layers of politics. Power is taken from the teacher and given to the principal, who is subject to the decisions of the school board, which must also put programs in place to meet state demands, which must meet federal guidelines if they want federal education money. Not to mention teachers unions and parent organizations lobbying at every level to get what they want.

If a camel is a horse by committee, then a humpback whale is a horse by government. Not surprising, then, that schools have problems.

6/09/2005 12:27 AM  
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