I often debate with myself (and others) about the place of education in this country. I include myself on both sides of this debate because I see myself as being horribly inconsistent, if not terminally conflicted. Here are a few of the more confusing things I have expressed in the past on this subject:
- In High School you try to get anything out of a student, no matter how appalling it is.
- Until a student graduates High School, his (or her) mind is mush.
- College is where you learn to think for yourself no matter what the subject.
- Liberal Arts majors have an advantage in life.
- Dedicated majors such as computer science, accounting, and oceanography, may lead to a satisfying occupations or they my lead to limited opportunities for employment.
- Not everyone needs a general education and more emphasis should be placed on Vocational and Trade Schools.
- The American school system was developed to assure adequate numbers of workers capable of working hard, taking direction, adapting to change, and making lots and lots of money for the owners of the companies (corporations).
- Public school is designed to control the education of young people and assure that they only know enough about approved subjects that they can survive without having to think for themselves.
- The primary reason for American education is to assure the continuance of the American myth.
- American Exceptionalism is wide-spread because that is what is emphasized in our education system.
- College tuition is too damn high!
- The school or college should not be a profit center.
- Ronald Reagan destroyed the excellence of the University of California.
In my mind formal education is both a scam to furnish corporations with acceptable workers who will not cause problems and at the same time a garden of knowledge and thought where new ideas can develop and young people can learn to think and expand their understanding of humanity. With the current movement towards for-profit education I expect that the corporations are winning and we are headed for our own version of 1984.
Although I view Home-Schooling as more often an ideological screen against the realities of the world, I am becoming more and more concerned that the current model of education is outmoded. With the expansion of the internet and the future promise of almost universal access, I look towards communications technology to revise the education system in the country. But with one proviso: the public schools are valuable for providing social interaction and human developmental skills. You can’t have the society of the classroom sitting at a computer or listening to Mom all day long. For this reason I see the early grammar school years as having value, even though I understand that this is an especially fecund period for indoctrination.
However, once basic skills like reading, writing, and test taking, are developed, much of education can be ported onto the internet to use more up-to-date tools than a book, a lecture, and a pop-quiz. With advances in video communications I can see periodic video-seminars with teachers and experts to further the discussion and to give the student a forum to express himself. Examinations, even essays, can be executed on the net and presumably can be designed so that cheating is difficult or unimportant. I remember taking a final exam (John Milton) where we were allowed to use our books and notes to complete the essay questions: the problem was that if you took the time to use these resources, you didn’t have time to complete the essays (and in this case the quality of your writing was a part of the grade).
Unfortunately, I really don’t expect to see an enlightened view of education unless it comes with the promise of high profits. I also do not expect liberal arts education to survive (why worry about a Milton exam when they won’t be teaching Milton anymore). I believe it was Mitt Romney that suggested the cure for our education crisis would be to drop the unprofitable majors and courses and concentrate on those majors that would create wealth. There was Star Trek episode about a planet that Mitt might feel at home on. In this case I will pervert Alexander Pope and suggest that the greater evil of a liberal arts education is best for the greater good of humanity.
One final thought: Why does there always seem to be enough money for military expansion … but not enough for education?