UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

July 14, 2009

WHY WE'RE NOT CHANGING EDUCATION

Ira David Socol, Change - If education in the United States of the 21st Century is failing, that failure has been built over a very long time. And I do not think that it can be "fixed" in any meaningful way unless people understand that the failures we see today are our system working exactly as it was intended to. . .

Our American public education system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. It is separating "winners" from "losers" and it is reinforcing our economic gap. The system was designed in the 1840s and at the turn of the 20th Century to separate society into a vast majority of minimally trained industrial workers and a small, educated elite. It was designed to enforce White, Protestant, middle-class, "typically-abled" standards on an increasingly diverse American population. A few blessed children in each generation who met those standards might move up in society. The rest would be consigned to low wage manual labor. It was designed to ensure that the children of the elites had the opportunities they needed to remain the elite. Everything about the system - from the way schools are funded, to the way standards are created, to the system of tests, to our peculiar form of college admissions, to our notions of disability - was created to meet the employment goals of the United States from the mid 19th Century to the mid 20th Century.

Unfortunately we are 50 years past that historic moment, and we are no longer happy with the results.

But if you want different results you will not get there through changing teachers, or changing managers, or expecting more from students. You can only change the results by changing the system itself.

That means changing everything, from the buildings to the timetable, from the calendar to the notion of age-based grades, from the idea of classroom competition to the furniture, from the accepted sense of "paying attention" to the purpose of teachers. All of that contributes to the "failures" we see today because all of that was designed from the start to create those failures. . .

If we want a different result, it is the system - not the students, not the teachers - not even really the management – which must change. These groups, after all, are just humans, humans responding to the system they are forced to survive in.

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