Radically rethinking education
Stumbled on this video at James Joyner’s digs, and both the lecture and the animation are quite extraordinary. I was nodding along throughout. We do need to go in the exact opposite direction than we’re headed – away from the industrialized model of public education, away from standardized tests, away from unthinking conformity and mind-numbing medication. ADHD is a fictitious epidemic (Peter Gray has a lot of good stuff on this topic, as well here, here, and here). And so on and so forth.
Now on to the main attraction:
That being said, I still find myself in a tricky place when it comes to the school choice movement, because on the one hand, some charter schools really do offer a brilliant alternative to stagnated traditional public schools. On the other hand charters/vouchers/etc. could also very easily lead to more class divisions, more inequity, less of a commitment to the very concept of public education. For instance, my wife went to a charter school here and it was a great school but there was much less access to transportation than at a traditional public school. Many charters don’t have any access to public transportation outside of city transportation (as opposed to yellow school buses). My wife spent nearly two hours getting to and from school because she wasn’t able to get a ride from her parents. Many lower-income families or families with working parents are going to run into these problems with charters, making it even more likely that charters are populated by upper-middle class students. Similar problems with special-needs students are also quite common.
Then again, when I look at schools for my children, I find the charters very appealing. I like having the choice at least. So it’s tricky. Either way, I think a radical rethinking of what we want to gain from public education is necessary. DougJ has described my prescription for public education as ‘hippie-solutions’ and I think that’s about right. I wonder if we could bring the wisdom of the unschooling movement to public schools? Or the sensibility of the one-room-schoolhouse, where children of all ages mingled in the classroom, to schools of 1400 students? I’m really not sure.
On a somewhat related note we watched Frontline’s College Inc. last night (also available on Netflix to watch instantly) and it was pretty disturbing stuff. The numbers on loan default (which are often rated at 7% but that leaves out any loans older than 2 years old, so you’re looking at more like 40% for many of these schools), on how much these for-profit colleges depend on federal loans, on the uselessness of their degrees – it’s pretty horrifying. You basically have a bunch of working class people going into a hundred thousand dollars in debt who graduate with degrees employers won’t touch.
It’s a massive, coordinated transfer of wealth from the working poor to the investor class, and that’s just the simple truth. It’s a travesty and a fraud, and it’s time to put an end to it, though I can’t honestly say how. Then again, the existence and popularity of these expensive sham colleges points to an underlying demand for educational opportunity for working people, people who need convenience, who are poorer or have less education to begin with – and traditional public or non-profit institutions aren’t meeting that demand. If they were, why would people pay an arm and a leg to go to The University of Phoenix?