Public Education – a Look at the Battleground

Since the founding of the United States, public education always has been an orphan child amid governments and private institutions. Government budgets grudgingly admit there is a national responsibility to assure the nation is prepared for the society at hand. But budgeting falls far short of what educationists call a sustained philosophy of education. Symptoms are both conceptual and budgetary. Teachers are grossly underpaid in terms of their influence on children, on the need for sophisticated communication skills, on the required level of contemporary, continuing education, on resources, and in perspective, their role in sustaining an aggressive, competitive, and culturally mature nation. School architecture, forever looking like factories and prisons, confirms the disregard for investment, vision, invention, and genuine interest in the progress and importance of public education.

The private sector lauds its success in creating exemplary educational institutions similar to Ivy League private schools, which cater to more elite and proven achievers and tout fiscal success dependent on massive endowments and trusts – but disown the problem laden responsibilities facing the US population in general. In secondary schools, gerrymandering is as prevalent as it is in election precincts. Private and special curriculum secondary school boards work constantly to avoid being accountable for ‘public’ education by drawing school districts every bit as skewed as voting districts and, in typical fashion in an election, making application to be a student as difficult as possible.

The concept of ‘for profit’ schools, that is, a private firm contracts with the government to set curricula, set the budget, and do this with the aim of pocketing profit at the end must, by the very nature of the model, compromise student learning in deference to profit. That the ‘for profit’ model survives speaks to the indifference of legislators when setting public education budgets.

An emerging member on the education battleground is the corporation. Corporations have no choice but to have access to socially adapted and specially educated employees. In light of the indifference by government and private interest, corporations have no choice but to develop proprietary education programs. Just as with other players engaged in education, corporations feel no accountability for public education beyond corporate need.

The truth of the matter, at least in the United States, is no one wants to tackle the complexities of public education that must be resolved to elevate education to its functionally deserved station in society.

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There is another issue that will be present on the coming battleground: curriculum. Cathy Davidson, a leading voice in education, writes in “The New Education,” that the current model consisting of age-based grades, segregated subjects, trivia tests and student ranking, was created in 1853 when new accounting techniques were popular and everything suffered from intensive listing, pricing and product value – a movement related to a new economics called capitalism. Davidson complains, “That was 165 years ago. Things have changed.” Her book focuses on college education and suggests in the future four-year colleges may teach more like community colleges – especially trade instruction that puts together in a unified package “everything a student may need” to find a career.

The packaged curriculum has been utilized in singular institutions similar to Montessori and classless instruction in secondary schools, and in some community colleges. More specialized college curricula are emerging. Saint John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland has a curriculum based solely on reading a collection of classic books; Saint John students rank at the top in post graduate studies in subsequent institutions – including science and engineering.

Needless to say, the Internet stands alone as the primary cause for changing curricula. In the 1970’s mariner took a class in one of IBM’s education centers – then considered to be leading edge education for how to utilize computers in business. An instructor, whose name is long forgotten, said what’s different today (1970’s) is that information is free and fully available. Everyone has immediate access to all information. Just because you know a lot of detail isn’t the measure of worthiness – it’s how you apply the information that counts. That insight was known in the 1970’s and should have changed education methods then. But how does one rank students based on subjective application rather than process memorization? Is rank based on trivia testing passé?

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What deters anyone from wanting to solve the public education issue is its sociological quagmire. The old adage about leading a horse to water but not being able to make it drink looms large in the subject of education. Student motivation is not a constant. Further, everything from religion to job opportunity to distracting expectations to family circumstances brings rules, exceptions, disagreements, and specific mandates to the classroom. Public education does not have the advantage of discriminatory student selection; public education cannot recognize financial status; public education does not generate capital gains for public education. Yet, public education must deliver millions of children and adults to the cultural marketplace prepared for success.

Everyone knows the world lives on the cusp of the largest shift in culture in all of human history. The definition of virtually everything is unravelling on a day-to-day basis. Cultural stability will depend on being prepared to comprehend and participate in a montage of unknown values. At the moment, the education industry does not prepare the common citizen for survival. Society hangs in the balance.

The battleground lies ready for a skirmish.

Ancient Mariner

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