It would seem that underpinning today’s education philosophy is the concept embraced by the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal. From this it has been assumed to flow that since all children are equal, one size should fit all. And this being a high tech world, all children should be required to be proficient in math and science. And finally, since to get a decent job requires a college education, all preliminary years should be pointed to admission to college.
Not one of these basic assumptions stands up to reason.
Going beyond interpreting our founding fathers’ concept of equality (as relating to equality under the law) is not warranted. And there are three distinct ways which make it impossible to say that, aside from equality under the law, all children are created equal.
1) There is a vast gap in the IQ of people: between the lowest IQ, being 50, and the highest IQ, 160, IQ being the measure of a person’s capacity to deal with abstract thought.
2) Home environment is, according to the seminal Coleman report of the 60’s, the determining factor in the education of the young, with peer relationships coming in second and the school, third.
From this it should become obvious that concentration on the individual should be the focus for educating the young through high school-----with the ideal being for each graduate to be self reliant and to have the makings of becoming a good citizen. Serious efforts should be focused on striving toward reaching this ideal.
Self-reliance depends on self-awareness. This can be fostered in school by having provided every graduating high school senior with enough experiences, accumulated in and out of the classroom over the years as to make it possible for him to plan for his future intelligently. To achieve this result students should be exposed to as broad a variety of subject matter as practicable, from humanities to sciences, from crafts to sports. The senior should have a pretty good notion of her preferences and potential capabilities. (As the speaker at a South Lakes High School graduation a few years ago I commented on the oft repeated admonition: "You can achieve whatever you set your mind to if you work hard enough" by drawing attention to my slender physique while asking "How would I make out if I decided to become a tight end on the Redskins?"). Schools can lead graduates to realistic planning if there is sufficient variety of educational opportunities.
Reading and writing (the composing of thoughtful sentences and paragraphs) are absolute essentials. Elementary math and science should be offered to all. Advanced math and science should only be offered to those students who have demonstrated a predilection for these subjects. It is not useful to cram these subjects into unreceptive students while depriving them of experiencing exposure to other areas to which they could become engaged. Drop out rates would drop if each student’s curriculum were designed to be responsive to that student’s predilections and capacities.
Accordingly, I believe our present emphasis on math and science is a mistake. Let those who are good at them pursue them. The humanities, not math and science, are the key to good citizenship. A good citizen not only has a knowledge of our country’s history but also has familiarity with world history and world religions. Beyond that, all students, including math and science students, should be exposed to great literature, art and music; these could enrich all the years that follow school. And physical ed should be mandatory as an important way to challenge obesity. Obesity has risen to be a major challenge in our country. Rounding out the offerings in our schools would be woodworking, pottery and shop as options for interested students.
For post high school years:
With self-awareness, and with sound advice from concerned parents and teachers, the high school graduate can make sound decisions about how to make her next steps. "College" is not the panacea for everyone that it is reputed to be. The term, "college" as used in expositions of national policy on education is not meaningful. It doesn’t define any institution. The term must be accompanied by an indication of the kind of college being discussed. I would suggest that there are three distinct types of colleges:
1) Community colleges,
2) Four year colleges where the degree represents passing grades on a set number of courses and
3) Four year colleges granting BA degrees to students who have orally and in writing demonstrated a grasp of scholarship in a preferred field.
Aside from the confusion caused by grouping these three distinct types of institutions under the heading of "college" there is the unfortunate assertion that "You need a college degree to get a decent job." What do we mean when we say "a decent job?" Statistics on the percentage of jobs filled in the US vary considerably, but nowhere has an analysis shown that as many as 50 percent of US jobs require a college education. Are we truly ready to demean most job holders in the service industry, the transportation industry and the construction industry, as well as most of the men and women in uniform who are supporting themselves and their families through jobs that we declare are not decent?
Today, there is an imbalance between our education programs and the employment situation. Many of today’s college graduates have been unable to crack the job market; some live at home, some have gone on to graduate school and some have joined the military. On the other hand, we have been told that there is such a shortage of people willing to take on strenuous labor jobs that farmers and builders are looking to immigrants to fill these jobs.
Common sense dictates the directions we should be taking.
1) Congress, pushed by the White House, should mandate that all states adhere to newly reorganized immigration laws based on realism and on humanitarian grounds of which we can all be proud.
2) Progress of each student should be the measure of successful teaching with the ultimate goal of graduating seniors from high school who are prepared to be responsible citizens, heading into their own futures with a pretty good idea of what direction they should best be going in.
3) College should be reserved for students who can benefit by the personal gain to be obtained from absorbing the offerings of a specific institution.