Education and the Precipice of Hope

New Yorkers are broadly dissatisfied with the quality of their public schools, and most say the city’s school system has stagnated or declined since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took control of it nine years ago, according to a New York Times poll.

Mr. Bloomberg has made improving the schools a focus of his mayoralty, seizing authority over the bureaucracy, doubling the budget and opening hundreds of additional, small schools. Still, even as his overall approval rating, 45 percent, is at a six-year low, considerably fewer residents — 34 percent — approve of how the mayor is handling education. —Sept 7, New York Times

You can tell that school has started. Not by the rosy cheeked little innocents who parade down your street with optimism on a superb sunny morning. Not by the Back-to-School sale signs all over your neighborhood. No, it is the barrage of holier than thou articles that ooze forth from every publication or news forum. It has become the issue of the day. How to fix it. The mayor can’t fix it. The president can’t fix it. Super nerd Bill Gates can’t throw enough money at the system to fix it. Charter schools don’t seem to help much. So what can be done?

In the old days, when a horse broke a leg, the farmer took him out to the fields and shot it. When your automobile reaches that stage where repairs are costing more than it would to drive a replacement, you get rid of it. I am proposing that the “system” be taken out to the woods and given several well aimed shotgun blasts at whatever is still keeping it breathing.

Unlike the mayor, the president, Bill Gates and hundreds of other smug captains of industry, I do not believe in fixing something that has been a blatant disaster for the past 50 years. The system itself is believed to be about 93 years old. A system, as previously written about, which was created to feed the industrial age. I suspect that folks like the Gates and the Waltons, still have the same agenda, although with a bit of a twist. Workers for Walmart and Verizon is a scary thought.

When you read about the problems with American education, you usually read statistics about literacy and dropout rates. But those statistics don’t do the subject justice because the problem with American education is a human story. Every dropout is a human being, every illiterate teenager is an individual, every teen that commits suicide was somebody’s baby, and every kid that’s doing 20 to life is a real breathing person – full of potential.

People are too quick to criticize parents, teachers, administrators, and students. The failure of government education isn’t theirs alone. It’s every American’s fault because we continue to allow the unrestrained growth of government schooling. Haven’t we learned anything from our own experiences in government schools? —from Steve Olsen.com

Our future problem solvers

The above quote is from an article I came about by accident while researching facts for this rant. It seems I am not alone in recognizing the overwhelming failure of a public system. The truth is, it has failed everyone. Even those who think they were helped by it. When we speak about prisons, poverty and crime, we have to recognize that these millions were educated by the “system.” We must also recognize that environmental disaster, war, the crises of health, political panderers, criminal bankers, Ponzi schemers and out of control lobbyists were also educated in “the system”  as well. The whole package that we call education is one big vomitous mess.

So I say scrap it. Kill it. Throw it away. Burn it.

But when I say this, I do not mean to destroy the structures, the teachers, or turn the students out into the streets. I have a utopian answer. Bring the students back together with the teachers. Bring the parents in, if they can. Get rid of those desks lined up in a row. Get rid of the tests and the grading (no child should be labeled with a grade) and gather in a big circle. Everyone together. And then, ask the children what they want to learn. You will be surprised. After you remove all the unnatural expectations, you might find that children do have a point-of-view. It will take time. Because freedom has become a strange thing for us. We are not used to it.

Yeah, I know Americans believe they are free. They believe they have a democracy. They believe that school offers education. What I am saying is that none of that is true. Freedom is about as far from us as Mars. Democracy is a process that was stifled the moment the founding fathers wrote about it. And education is a condition, so subtle, and yet pervasive, we do not perceive its existence. We have replaced that spiritual notion with the imposing of useless facts, tests, grading, tracking and the complete stifling of genuine creativity. What I am saying is that throughout our entire waking existence, we have never known true education. Education is something that passes through our skin. Emanates from our minds. Pierces our soul. It is not jaded history text, or the requirement to read by a certain age. It is not over emphasis on math skills at the expense of all else.

It may be more like looking at a cloud, or the stars, and perceiving a pattern that has not been seen before. The support of this facility would be in the direction of what true education could be.

To label, and analyze children in the way that the mayor does, is sickening. Whenever he is challenged he runs for his numbers and statistics. He will tell you that the stats say otherwise. But children are not stats. They are not numbers. And they are not all the same. They are unique, evolving individuals, facing a failed world. A world they will need a great deal of creative facility to solve. And we need to remove the chains from them in order for them to solve it. We need to remove the barriers of class, so that they can broaden the interactive nature of humanity. And the funny thing is, they do not see the world as failed. They see it it with hope.

I know that I will not be getting a phone call from the president, or the mayor anytime soon. What I propose is a very hard pill to swallow. But if you want something different, you will have to do things differently. And “the system” has been idling with disasterous effects for a long long time.

Today was the first day of school for my son. He has the unique opportunity to operate in a non-coercive community. He was exuberant about going to school this morning. What I saw was not a child who had regressed over the summer, but one who had absorbed the world in his own unique style. And he could not wait to get to school and share it with his friends. They were all excited to be at Brooklyn Free School. Hell, I was excited. It is this enthusiasm that I wish for our greater society. It can be done, but what will it take to get more of the world on board with something that makes total sense?

The Dolphin group enjoy community breakfast

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2 Comments on “Education and the Precipice of Hope”

  1. Diane Zeines says:

    When you said that the entire educational system should be taken out to the woods and shot, it reminded me of a conversation I had with an old friend, Joanne Levy. We were both student teachers in the early 70s and I couldn’t believe what …I was getting myself into (and what I eventually decided not to do). She also thought it was a horrible place to be, both for teachers and students. I wondered how the education system could be fixed and Joanne said, “It can’t be fixed. It needs to be burnt to the ground.” And this was almost 40 years ago that she said this.

  2. […] Education and the Precipice of Hope […]


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