Illusions in America Today #5

Our schools abound with amazing people and success stories. But, the general decline of education in America continues in spite of the dedicated efforts of talented people. Thousands of research projects in recent decades have produced no universal answers to the problem, and massive bureaucracy limits the scope of our interventions to mere incrementalism.

Before identifying the causes of the problem and possible solutions, we must recongize that schools as we know them today are a very new invention of human society. And yet, there are those who want you to believe that the institution is sacrosanct; that the current structure exists for good reasons. The fact is that the American educational system remains the biggest social experiment in human history, but that this juggernaut has no captain or navigator.

I believe that the problems of the American educational system are many, but are mostly rooted in these issues:

  • Lack of equitable funding — How can we ever hope to overcome classism, racism, poverty, and other societal ills when some schools get $20,000/year to spend per student and others get $2,000/year per student?
  • A time structure that is out of sync with society — At a time when most couples must both work to survive financially, it is madness to send children to empty homes in mid-afternoon and for one-quarter of the year.
  • Lack of student focus — Our curriculum is far too rigid to allow teachers the freedom to facilitate student-centered learning and the encouragement of unique talents.
  • Isolation — Our schools have become the easy repository of too many community problems without the benefit of community support and interaction.

None of this is news to anyone familiar with our educational system. However, if we start with the assumption that every element of the school paradigm is negotiable, where would we start? For instance, imagine:

  • a daily school schedule with hours of time for recreation, socialization, and open exploration;
  • a curriculum based not on grade levels and standardized test scores, but on each student’s individual capabilities and talents;
  • full integration with family and community life so that school is more about learning and less about indoctrination and discipline; and
  • a goal of producing independent thinkers, free spirits, happy and creative young adults, who leave school knowing what they want to do with their lives.

In an intentional community, a new paradigm of school is not only possible, but essential. The organization of work must provide parents more time to integrate family and school. We must re-examine the concept of “adolescence” through a postmodern lens to determine the real purposes of formal education in society. Every child must feel safe, healthy, loved, and wanted not just in the schools, but everywhere in the community. Children can develop a sense of worth if they see a point to school and are encouraged to develop their talents to their full potential. Education can succeed if goals come from a community-based core, not a corporate core.