Some Random Thoughts On American Education

What you read influences your thoughts at least to the extent that it takes them in certain directions. Some of that will be reflected in today’s piece. Some of what I will say will border on redundant for my regular readers. In any event I’d like to briefly discuss today’s American education system and where I think it needs to go. Let’s explore.

I am ever increasingly a supporter of America’s traditional public educational system. With Trump taking office and installing Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education it is facing its greatest threat in decades. Greed and the promotion of ignorance in an effort to control the masses are led by the efforts (in most cases) of charter and private schools. Instead of funding what in most cases are no more successful charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools we should be strengthening the existing public schools. Charters avoid all the constraints, serve a more selective “clientele” and demand more parent participation. Too often charters are managed by third parties who are simply in the game for profit. As in anything else there are some outstanding charter schools and some abysmal failures. Especially when graded on the curve, overall they produce no better outcomes than traditional public schools, but they drain away a lot of education dollars.

Privates are even worse. Too often they reinforce prejudices, (often scientifically incorrect ones), in the hope of indoctrinating not educating our youth. They are the antithesis of centers for developing critical thinking skills. State level Republican legislators have been very generous in creating and expanding “opportunity scholarship” programs where state dollars are effectively transferred to these private institutions. They get state money but are independent of state requirements. This is another case of the right wing privatizing the profits while socializing the costs.

One of America’s core strengths has been its public education system where all are guaranteed a (theoretically) equal opportunity at a grade and high school education. Abandoning that is folly! That is not to say I think the model can’t stand a few tweaks and some modernization. I’d like to extend a few of my ideas and observations on that front below.

I’d actually like to see free education, with a few restrictions and requirement, through a bachelor’s degree. That is not going to happen in the foreseeable future. Therefore I submit three other proposals for your consideration.  I support universal pre-K. Simply getting children into school a year earlier would better prepare them for the real learning experiences that start in first grade. It would also help the slow starters socialize to the school scene and help schools better identify those in need of special services. With the additional investment of pre-K society would reap a higher return on its current K-12 investment.

Next I’d like to see free community college. It would allow less affluent students destined for a four year program or beyond a start on that journey without pilling up a lot of student debt. In many cases community college would provide all the additional training the student needed to earn more and in the process pay more taxes and utilize the social safety net less during their working years. Sounds like an investment that would provide a positive return to me.

With the demise of unions apprentice programs are almost non-existent. We need skilled craftsmen and women in our society. Concurrent with the demise of unions we have deemphasized (at best) the vocational programs from our public education systems. Not every child is cut out for or wants to become a physician, lawyer or engineer, etc. We need plumbers and masons.

Now I come to the other end of the spectrum; after school and out in the workforce. Other than in a Dark Ages scenario there is constant change it just seems to be happening a lot faster these days and I think the velocity will only increase in the future. I use myself as an example. I was the first in my family to graduate from college. I was fortunate to have attended what was then one of the top 25 management schools in the world. I did nothing of consequence post-graduation to continue my education. By the time I retired my education was to a great degree obsolete. When I was in school a laptop was something a young mother placed her child on. You get the picture. Continuing education must become part of our educational system and corporate culture. Businesses must allow and encourage their employees to continue their education and the government must aid small businesspersons in a similar quest.

With innovation jobs driving the healthiest local economies we must either enhance our public education system or we will lose to countries that do.

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