Education Experts

        Who are the experts in the field of education?  School is an experience common to nearly 100% of us.  How many years, even decades, of our lives has each of us spent in a classroom?  Why, then, don't we think of ourselves as experts?

    Where school is concerned, every one of us is a been-there-done-that expert.  So, what do we know about public education? 

    For one thing, we know it's not "free," neither in terms of money nor personal freedom.  Only our prison populations have less freedom than our children.

    We also know that school can be insidiously stressful and abusive for both students and staff.  We rationalize this abuse by saying to ourselves that we're preparing our young for the "real" world, presumably the exemplary world built for them by adults.

    We know that school is a place for sorting out goats and sheep and miscellaneous misfits.  We approve of this practice as long as our own child is among the Pride of Lions and not cast with the Gaggle of Geese.

    We know that rules, restrictions, punishment, coercion, and bribery are primary methods used to achieve control and conformity.  Security is the password that makes this palatable.     

    We know that the typical school system considers students as products to sculpt instead of customers to serve.  In fact, the making of "productive" citizens is often included in mission statements.  Goals focus on creating a viable, pliable and obedient future workforce.  Who will be served?  The vast majority of us are not employers, but nation-wide, the overwhelming majority of state and local school board members are employers--mostly male, mostly white.  This does not imply impropriety, but it does suggest an unbalanced perspective.

    We know that public education is a bureaucracy and that who-you-know politics play a crucial role in the quality of a student's academic and extra-curricular opportunities.

    We know that schools do not vigorously encourage critical thinking.  Critical thinking can happen only when there is no predetermined answer, expected outcome, or ego motivation.  Remembering information in order to perform in a measurable way is important, but it isn't critical thinking.  We know that controversy, a frequent by-product of critical thinking, is not welcome in inflexible learning environments.

    We know that qualifying credentials and an actual ability to teach are not necessarily related.  Likewise, there's no automatic connection between a high SAT score and personal integrity.

    The schools we have are the schools we've chosen, sometimes deliberately but more often by default.  We have the kinds of schools we've been willing to settle for.  We can continue to make superficial changes, or we can over-haul our core beliefs about education's purpose and make changes that really matter.  Figuring out how to accomplish that will require critical thinking skills.

    And courage.

    We can't pass our responsibilities on to the experts.  We are the experts.

                                                M. J.      July 1999




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