Educational History for a Radical Future
Education from the bottom up is the only way to effectively address the core needs of all parties involved, the most important being the student and the parent. Those needs can be thoroughly addressed by taking the best of generations of educational theory to create increased motivation of the whole child to learn in accelerated stages through a functional approach to behaviorism, transforming the swinging pendulum of reform into a rolling snowball of genuine progress.
What is Education?
Any environment which increases knowledge and understanding, physical ability and stamina, or spiritual enlightenment and improvement can be deemed a learning environment. How anyone's senses and sensibilities are attuned can make any environment a learning environment. Education would be the sum of experiences and environments which have altered the intellectual, physical or spiritual capacities of a human being. To improve in any or all of these capacities is a primary goal of human existence and necessary to the happiness of all.
What is the purpose of education?
The purpose of education as defined above is to improve human life. What is the purpose of public education, more specifically, and what are its limits? If its purpose is to prepare young people to be productive members of society, then education should include topics which are relevant to modern society. However, American society is composed of many distinct cultures with varying and even competing values. Therefore, the constraints of a national education culture must be very broad and encompassing to leave subcultures room to develop and maintain their identity. National standards must only be bare essentials of education. Details must be independently and locally controlled.
Whom should education serve?
Who should decide what is learned and how it is taught? The answer is: those who are intended to benefit from it. A student will receive no benefit for something he does not want and refuses to use. Therefore compulsory curriculum does not serve the average student for whom education is administered. Is it ethical for the national government to attempt social engineering through compulsion in education? The notion seems to go against all of the principles of individual freedom upon which the United Sates was founded. Like the government itself, government mandated and supported education must be of the people, for the people and by the people.
National Standards, Local Input
The intent of public education in the eyes of the Founding Fathers is to create an informed citizenry to sustain a strong nation. For that purpose, knowing how to read is important for citizens to become informed of current issues and political leaders. Understanding political and legal processes as well as laws and the foundational values of those laws is vital to sustain rights, freedom, and citizen participation within the nation. These are the only requirements for education which the government has any right to specifically mandate. All other issues are of local or individual concern.
Finding a practical implementation for reform which includes national interests and allows for local development is the challenge. Larry Cuban was summarized thus, "Reform movements give too little credence to the fact that schools are situated in communities and those communities have tremendous impact on both what happens in a given school and what happens when schooling is finished for individual students." Essentially, we are talking about a learning culture. The assessment continues, "Because schools perform multiple roles in society, they cannot be reduced to simple fixes or recipe-mode solutions" (p.178).
Because having skilled workers, technicians, and a variety of businesses is vital to the national economy and welfare, it is in the government's best interest to support local and individual initiatives to develop skills and knowledge which contribute to professional fields. Therefore the government should support programs which develop and support local/community education goals and programs.
Of all the rights protected by the U.S. Constitution the most vital is the right to exercise individual conscience. Extreme progressive education as a social agenda inhibits parental control over children's moral, spiritual, and intellectual education. The home school movement is a response to that infringement of parental right and an assertion that state education is a power that needs to be kept in check.
Since parents are the primary educator, whether by proactive choice or negligent default, their contribution to educational values and curriculum must be invited and respected on a local basis. Children will learn more thoroughly when ideas and information are reinforced in the home environment. When parents are a part of the process of selecting curriculum, they and the children are empowered to maximize and reinforce learning. The objective, more accurately then, is for schools to reinforce parental values and learning goals in the courses selected by the community of parents in which the child resides. A plan for integrating a technology program outlined in this paper will make that sort of educational niche-ing practical and functional.
Student Choice and Accountability
As Herbart determined (Pulliam 2007), learning is most effective when associative (p. 65). When a student chooses subjects for which she has an interest, she is far more likely to relate learning to actual experience. This then gives the child a broader and more lasting base of knowledge to build further knowledge upon. Therefore, after basic reading and mathematical concepts are understood (by about second grade) children should have more freedom to move independently through subject matter at their own pace. How this can be achieved will be addressed later.
Allowing the student to be an active participant in the nature of his own education requires teachers who are empowered to exercise creativity and have well developed problem solving skills. Teachers are, therefore, the most crucial element of successful public education. They are the mediator between the parent-student dynamic and the local-national government constraints. The success of public education hinges on the teacher's ability to balance those demands. The teacher must recognize a student's ability, or lack thereof, and adjust situations and methods for optimal educational benefits to the student's specific needs.
As James Bryant said,
If we want our students to learn, then we must move away from this need for a theory or method that will reach the masses and understand that all education is an individualistic exercise and must be geared toward the individual. We cannot answer the demand of pedagogy and transform our students unless we know their needs as people and do not assume their needs as a race or a class or a gender (p.163).
The teacher must, therefore, be able to assess the student's abilities through testing, observation and record the results. Teachers must be given freedom to develop those methods in order to apply their minds most effectively to meet the needs of their students. Peer review and collaboration with other teachers will increase the professionalism of assessment methodology.