Why Public Education Must Die

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Let me introduce myself. I was a public education classroom teacher for almost 25 years. I’m not anymore and that’s why public education must die.

Public education began as a way to train children for the Industrial Age.  It was created by a group of men who saw regulated and compulsory schooling as a way to build up a workforce. It worked. Most of us lived in a time when you basically went to school every day, sat mostly in silence, and did your job. Did your job. Did your job. Get it? Factory workers. Somewhat informed factory workers. Widgets. Big businesses make a lot of widgets.

Schools were created to help us do our job. Not a lot of room for free thinkers. Did you make that same discovery while in school? Quiet and compliant served some very well. Or so they thought.

Over time, our jobs, our professions, and our lifestyles have become more individualized, more flexible, and more abundant in choice. You can be a factory worker; but you can also be a commercial artist, a physician who decides that every Friday is his day off,  a dog walker (who makes $70,000 a year- true story),  or someone who sells shaved ice at events. Your choice. Your flexibility. You suddenly have more choices in how you spend your time and make your money -because you’ve finished school. They’ve lost control of you.

Public education’s intention hasn’t changed. Sure, now they have computers in schools and iPads (as do factories). They act like they’re progressive and looking toward the future; but ask any teacher or any student how much freedom is involved in education these days. Little. And it’s tightening up more every day. Technology is bursting at the seams in education- but it’s all tightly tied to standardized testing (or there’s no time for it). Yes, it’s fun. It’s different. But it’s the same. Punch the clock, move on, finish the job, and move on. Clock out and collapse. You’re done until tomorrow.

Public education has flexibility in some areas. For example, in testing for kids who need it, they make changes; they’re flexible. Sure, you can complete your scripted work in a cubicle instead of a large room with 20 other workers. Sure, we’ll even give you extra time to finish the job. Of course, first we must hold several large meetings with principals, psychologists, counselors, and parents (rarely is the child included) and examine the data (although we may need more data) to make sure those 30 extra minutes are really warranted.

Try taking a class on a field trip. How many standards does it match? Do we really have time for this? You know, testing is coming up and I’m not sure how we can afford a day away. I actually bought into it to for awhile. I mean, my job is on the line and do you think going to the zoo is really going to cover that many standards? How much of what they see will really be on the test?

Public education hasn’t changed much in the last 20 years, but it has changed immensely in one way- freedom.

I have watched education morph. Years ago when I first began teaching, a textbook was your curriculum. It was there to give you guidance. No one checked to see if you taught chapter 3 and sometimes we skipped it or blended it or combined it later. There were no benchmark tests that included chapter 3 before November.

Over time, teachers who learned their craft gradually moved away from the textbook approach integrating real life into the classroom. They measured how much water evaporation came from a test tube (just like real scientists), they took field trips to the zoo to discover information about animals, and they prepared food in the classroom to learn about measuring tools. That kind of learning takes time. These days, if it’s not on the test, there’s no time. If it IS on the test- there’s still no time.

The dawn of the Internet gave us lots of freedom. Some would say too much freedom. Suddenly, access to new ideas freed teachers to take chances, to learn alternative methods, to show videos instead of reading from textbooks. Textbooks are dead. Everyone wants more choices.

Wait, textbook companies make big money. They also make and support standardized testing. So, back to tightening up. Of course using technology is a great idea! We’ll change textbooks into technology and education will think its more freedom. We’ll tell them what to think. We’ll script lessons so teachers aren’t overwhelmed by all of these changes. So helpful. So plentiful. So controlling.

Education is running through the seasons. They take a lot longer since changes in education crawl along, but education is suffering through the winter.

The winter is blustery, chaotic with ice, and it keeps you compliant. You must bow to the winter.  Wintery days show you who is boss. You thought you were going out? No; winter is in control. You want to go does something fun? Uh, not today. Yes, it’s beautiful when a snowfall comes; but it’s cold. Just cold. Public education is too. We just want a little sun. A little freedom.

Once the winter is over, a rebirth comes. We call it spring. I wonder what the rebirth of public education will be called. Many of us will be happy to help with the rebirth; but for now, public education must die.

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