18 November 2010

Freedom in Compulsory Education?

Michael Goodwin, in discussing the freedom to fail, applies the issue of entitlement to education, in that high school, degrees are given to those who have not mastered basic skills. I agree that unearned diplomas devalue the currency of education as much as a government bailout does the economy, however, there is a much deeper issue here.

Education today equates standards, or sameness, with fairness and the myth of equality. All men are created equal in the eyes of God, but they all have unique traits, abilities, interests, and ambitions. To avoid philosophical contradiction we must clearly distinguish equality of opportunity from material, intellectual, or biological equality. What if somebody wants to be rich and somebody else does not? Shouldn’t they have the right to decide that for themselves?Should people have freedom to personally excel or to refuse “progress” dictated by others?

Brilliant, ambitious, resourceful, or talented people are born into every social strata. Education will benefit America best when those people are given an equal opportunity to excel to their potential. However, in the contemporary system, children are all expected to meet a singular standard, which does not challenge the gifted, while burdening the moderately capable in subjects which are minimally relevant to the variety of student interests and potential vocations. How different would education be if students were given the opportunity to achieve their own maximum potential?

If children are taught based on their interests and abilities they will be motivated to learn and be much less likely to fail. Should they be sheltered from the consequences of their decision to reject their maximum potential? Failure for the sake of failure is no noble principle, and public educators are right to do everything they can to help a student succeed, but the right to determine one’s own destiny is the heart of American freedom. If your pursuit leads to failure, you have the right to learn from it and try again. If you do not learn from your failures, you will never be able to achieve your greatest potential. The problem with the notion of failure in contemporary education is that it is labeled as an end result, not a means to learning. We must teach children to fail early and fail often, in the pursuit of success—according to their own conscientious desires for and definitions of success.

Education, like government, should be of the people, for the people, and by the people. The less our government reflects that philosophy, the less our public education system will mirror citizen independence, and the more compulsion will be required in compulsory education. Compulsion is the opposite of freedom. When governments hinder the flow of knowledge or proscribe demanding educational goals (such as standardized tests and consuming curriculum) to the general population, they restrict natural human liberty. We only need the freedom to fail if it is part of our freedom to determine our individual destiny as parents, students, and educators.