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Schools Are Not Education

(Part 4 of "Public Education (K-12)")

I have a confession: I am wholly "uneducated" in that I don't have a degree, or any form of post-secondary academic credentials. To paraphrase a quote about Churchill, "I didn't go 'through' high school, I went under it", and instead of moving on to college as most of my friends did, I chickened out and enlisted in the Marine Corps. Yet, despite my lack of a 'formal' post-secondary education (outside of the military), I often encounter folks with advanced degrees (e.g., a Masters, or a PhD, sometimes multiple degrees) who 'rest on their laurels' and boast about their academic credentials with all of the bravado of an entitled third grader, yet also seem to have the actual intelligence of a carrot. So far, the best quote I've seen about this specific topic is "they don't give out PhDs to the smartest people, they give them to the most stubborn."

Let me be clear: I value education very highly, but I just don't place as much value on "school". I think that the cultural value attributed to a formal education is solely based on how relatively easy it is to describe, and very little to do with any actual merit. Perhaps Carl Sagan said it best:

"My experience is, you go talk to kindergarteners or first-graders, and you find a classroom full of science enthusiasts. And they ask deep questions: 'what is a dream?', 'why do we have toes?', 'why is the moon round?', 'what is the birthday of the world?', 'why is the grass green?' These are profound, important questions, and they just bubble right out of them. You go talk to twelfth-grade students and there's none of that. They've become leaden and incurious. Something terrible has happened between kindergarten and twelfth grade, and it's not puberty." - 30-Jan-1995 [YouTube Video Clip]

Sagan doesn't offer a reason as to why our schools have been failing for so long but applying the principle of Occam's Razor that "the simplest answer tends to be the best one", I think that the simplest answer is that it stems from those ostensibly in charge of the school systems: the various levels of government.


A Libertarian Perspective

I get it. Libertarians like me are often accused of opposing public education merely as an extension of our generalized distrust of the government, but our antipathy in this area involves so much more than that. We have watched -- as educators, as parents, as former (and current) students, and as employees -- as our public schools waste resources, traumatize students, frustrate families, and generally fail us. And it only becomes worse as the years pass and as more money is poured into the system as a supposed panacea for its inadequacies. So it stands to reason that those of us who don't trust the government to manage our healthcare or our money systems might also have an issue with trusting the government to educate our children, or with political talking heads arrogantly assuring us that they know how best to meet the educational needs of every child.

In my opinion (for what it may be worth), one answer to the question of "how do we best serve our students?" is not more state control, but more innovation. As we saw during the 2020 pandemic, alternative education solutions are readily available and convenient for many students. These "outside of the box" solutions using modern technology and innovative approaches to education can save money and provide more prosperous and diverse educational opportunities to different types of students.

This is especially true for students in their final two years of primary education. My suggestion: realign the high school student curricula. All courses that are currently required at the junior- and senior-year level will remain at that level, but some of the required classes at the freshman and/or sophomore level could be spread out to the junior and senior years. This allows for more elective classes during the student's first two high school years, or the completion of junior/senior courses during those earlier years. Those students who choose the 'completion' path will then have a larger selection of elective (perhaps college prep) courses for their final two years, or may choose a trade, intern, or apprenticeship program.

Will these ideas work? I have no idea, but looking at the solutions proposed and enacted by both Democrats and Republicans over the past few decades since I attended public school, I'm willing to try something a little "outside of the box". Are you?

Committee to Elect Darren Hamilton
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