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« Time for the trash | Main | Honey Bees and Government »

The Laggard - K-12 education

This country’s K-12 public education system is a mess.  The testing company ACT reports that 75% of incoming college freshmen are not prepared for college, 96% of African-Americans aren’t.  40 to 50% of all incoming college freshmen must take remedial classes; it’s 90% for the California Community College system.  The SATs report that reading scores are at a 40 year low.  Most U.S. 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in reading or math.  How can it be that an institution solely devoted to education can’t teach children of average intelligence to read or understand basic math in an 8 year time frame?! 

The US Chamber of Commerce reports 80 to 90 million adults today - about half the workforce - do not have the skills required to get or advance in jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage. 

How long will we sit back and allow this multi-generational carnage to continue?   How long will we accept this educational Armageddon?  How many more millions of children will see their futures ripped from their hands due in large part to the quality of the education they received?

Want to know a significant contributor to the racial problems in the country?  The incredibly lousy K-12 schools poor kids must attend.  And far too many of these poor kids have black or brown skin.  The damage flows from one generation to the next. 

Yet the country is filled with dedicated and hardworking teachers.  We spend more money per student than all but one country in the world yet our results aren’t even laggard, they are retrograde.  The problem isn’t the people or the funding, it’s the system and its design.

What is needed is a profound change.  What is needed is a paradigm shift.  Thomas Kuhn, in his transforming The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argues that science is not a steady, cumulative acquisition of knowledge.  Instead, science is a series of peaceful interludes punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions.  After such revolutions, “one conceptual world view is replaced by another.”

That is what the K-12 public education system needs, a simple paradigm shift from a static, top-down structure to a dynamic bottom-up structure.  The structure where a group of experts determines what is best for others has been shown to generate poor results the world over.  That’s undeniably the case with our K-12 system. The structure of free people freely interacting with other free people, i.e. a marketplace and its self-organizing nature, has transformed every area it has touched.

The evidence is overwhelming yet far too many intelligent people fight this paradigm shift.  Some of this is simply the human trait of fighting change.  But a more fundamental reason for the resistance is described by Kuhn.  Paradigms are the way we structure and order our worlds.  They are the way we describe and explain our beliefs.  Paradigms don’t exist in some solitary vacuum; they touch every area of our lives.

Kuhn accurately described the process of change as an intellectually violent revolution.  People, whether consciously or not, resist mountains of evidence since to do otherwise would open up their entire world view to this intellectual revolution.

But when one’s beliefs do not correspond to reality, one needs to change beliefs.  Reality has been shown to be rather resistant to the whims of individual belief.

The facts are clear; the K-12 public education system is failing this country’s children.  And the poorer one is, the worst it is.  How long do we allow this multi-generational carnage to continue?  The solution is right in front of us, freedom and choice.  Freedom and choice has transformed the world.  Freedom and choice has transformed every product and service throughout the world. 

For some will this require a paradigm shift?  Most certainly.  Will this new paradigm impact other areas of their lives?  Again, most certainly.  Will this new paradigm force individuals to reexamine many of their cherished beliefs?  Absolutely.  I’m sorry if that causes you distress, but the sooner one accepts the facts the better for all.

Or do we instead continue to chain children to a failing educational system?  A system whose failures rob far too many children of their life opportunities.  A system whose failures set the stage for multi-generational carnage, damaging young lives whose impact is felt for generations.  Will we consign millions of young Americans to a life of fewer opportunities simply because we find it uncomfortable to make the required paradigm shift?  This is the moral question of our day.  How you respond will determine the future of millions of young lives, and the very future of this country.

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