Why the US public education system needs an overhaul

What is the purpose of a public education? Is it:

  • To give people the skills and knowledge they need to create value (and therefore make money)?
  • To babysit children so the parents can go to work, and the kids stay out of trouble?
  • To give everyone a common experience?
  • To teach kids guiding principles and values which can act as a compass throughout life?
  • To teach us how to be happy?

I’ve been reading an education manifesto which argues that not only is our system broken, but mass education was created in the early 20th century to make people obedient. It does that very well, which is really good for a society that needs obedient factory workers. I’m using this post to think publicly about a lot of the issues that were raised in that manifesto.

It’s currently pretty rubbish at giving people the skills and knowledge to create value in today’s market, as most things which are taught in school don’t apply to the jobs that can’t be outsourced to the cheapest labor market out there, or to a computer, or robot.

It’s pretty good at taking care of kids during the day.

It’s decent at giving people a common experience, although there’s a huge gap between those educated in the ghetto’s public schools and those educated in a wealthy neighborhood.

It teaches the value of obedience pretty well, and competition.

Um, the happiness one is just ridiculous.

So, if we don’t know the purpose, or if it’s not living up to it’s most important purposes, what should we do about it? Try to change the institutions? Make sure that we, as parents, teachers, administrators, and community members are making up for the weaknesses? Withdraw from the system? Create a new one?

I don’t have all the answers, but I think these are good questions. A wise professor once told me that the question is often more important than the answer. Once we have the answer, we stop learning. The questions are the beginning of learning.

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