Save America, save the schools

Public education drives me nuts, but it is the best possible solution for teaching people in a free society.

I am feeling brainless, sapped of energy and intellect. I've been dealing with the public schools for a couple days.

My son has been bullied by several kids in his class. What the experience has reinforced for me is the utter hopelessness of the educationalSchools have become bureaucratic machines, where everyone is treated the same, receiving the same limited resources to meet the requirements of standardized tests.. system we hauled into the 21st century. It is all about equal performance, not equal opportunity. The rise of standardized testing and the introduction of "mainstreaming," a movement born in the 1980s that calls for the placement all students of similar ages into the same classroom regardless of very real differences in needs, has produced an educational system that stands in stark contrast to the way work is actually done in a networked society.

Moreover, the schools are oblivious to the difference between their processes and those of the economy, because they've taken the positive notion of including students with disabilities in regular classes and applied it to all students who might have real disdain for learning and other kids. As any adult knows, anyone can make extraordinary contributions to a team. But they also know that active destroyers of value are better given their own rooms, where they don't drag down the team doing real work.

John Dewey, whose ideas about public education ignited the knowledge explosion that created the historic lower- and middle-class social mobility in the 1900s, said that bringing all different kinds of students together was valuable because it produced "continuous  readjustment through meeting the new situations produced by varied intercourse." Today, the schools have become a fixed bureaucratic machine, where everyone, regardless of performance, is treated the same, receiving the same limited resources to meet the requirements of standardized tests. It's the antithesis of Dewey's vision of a democratic society that creates opportunity for all. It's a lid slammed on the bin where we keep students until they are old enough to be held to adult standards, particularly, in the case of troubled kids, adult legal standards.

In business, great people get more resources. That's why Google's policy of giving engineers a significant portion of their time to work on what inspires them is so attractive—it's a democratic opportunity to get access to corporate resources that might propel an individual business idea. It's a little slice of the American dream you don't find many places anymore, and certainly not in the schools.

The schools today, even those lucky enough to get additional funding for technology and non-traditional teaching, are unaware that there is transformation of power, with control flowing from the center to the edges of the network. The idea that the school itself is an edge is missing the essential lesson of our time, that everyone should be empowered to do the craziest things they can think of, because out of that rampant experimentation comes extraordinary reservoirs of new value. Dewey continuous readjustment should have obliterated the school building as the locus of learning about 30 years ago, but Ronald Reagan got in the way.

Many of the problems with schools today are the result of determined conservative efforts to strangle the schools by limiting funding and demanding simplistic standards of students rather than treating the schools as the place where children grow into the rich minds that make society a better place.

Mainstreaming was supported by conservatives as part of their "starve the beast" strategy to alienate people from their government by reducing what government can do through lack of funding. Putting everyone together, including the psychopaths who will hurt others for fun was a ticket to create dissatisfaction with public education, even if it was thought of by liberals. The repeated calls for "competition" in education, through school vouchers, is an attempt to make education elite, as it was in earlier centuries—that is, where the wealthy get their kids onto a separate inaccessible and incredibly well-funded track that is unavailable to anyone else. We need better schools, which means we need more teachers—all of us need to be contributing, instead of treating schools as daycares or places for which people with children should pay—because the result would be the kind of flowering the United States enjoyed following the rise of public education.

I don't want the bullies picking on my kid to be tossed out, I want them in programs that awaken what make them thrive. I want kids who love music to have unlimited opportunities. Literature, science, history, art, all of it: Open our kids minds to enusre they are able to thrive in the world and continue the dream that is America. Instead, this week, across my state, kids are taking almost 40 hours of tests to measure only their ability to read, write and do math. The whole year comes down to this test, and it is, thanks to our president, the measure that determines whether they schools will get less money or a lot less money next year.

If you want your company to live on. If you want your kids to have happy successful lives. If you want to see the United States remain the competitive giant it has been. If you want a future full of choices for everyone fortunate enough to live in this country, in this world at this time... Let's change the schools. 

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