There’s a post going around on Facebook that shows a child sitting on a high chair in the corner with a dunce hat on his head. The caption reads “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in the High Schools to teaching remedial English in the Colleges.” So many items on the internet, and especially Facebook, are mindless drivel, but this one makes a good deal of sense, though it is a bit simplistic. Adopting the model of A.S. Neill’s abortive “Summerhill” project in England, the birth of “Progressive” education in the 1930s in this country — which took the nation by storm in the late 1950s — has resulted in a regression of a system designed to improve young minds to a system designed to cater to the young and leave them pretty much untouched. From the notion that teachers know best what their charges should learn, we have come to the point where we let the kids pretty much learn what (if anything) they want. And we make sure they have enough toys to make the process as pleasant as possible. Welcome to the age of entitlement! The notion that education is about knowledgeable elders helping young minds grow and develop has been lost in the process; for some reason we are now afraid to even suggest that anyone is smarter than anyone else.
I have blogged repeatedly about this issue and while this may allow me to let off steam, it has certainly not altered the situation one whit. Nor is it likely to do so. I know that. But it is clear that when a small country like Finland can lead all of the developed nations on earth in education and a rich, advanced nation like the United States lags far behind, there is something radically wrong with the system in place in this country. Finland pays their teachers higher salaries than the OECD average — to the point where only 10% of those who apply actually find a teaching position. Teaching is not a chore; it is a privilege. Teachers are themselves educated to the level of a Master’s Degree, and they are not required to take “methods” courses. They are given their heads and allowed to teach as they determine the situation and the children in their classes require. In a word teachers do not have a huge bureaucracy looking over their shoulders, dictating course work and watching their every move to make sure that they do their job as those in the education establishment see fit. Because teachers are not dredged from the bottom of college classes and paid a pittance, as they are in many states in this country, they are bright and deserving of the trust the parents put in them. It works. While our “progressive” education system struggles, kids in Finland, and in most other developed countries, have learned the value of a solid education and they make their parents proud. We, on the other hand, spend most of our time making excuses and apologizing for a system we refuse to acknowledge is broken.
So while the middle class slowly disappears behind a growing mountain of giant corporate interest and a few very wealthy people like the Koch brothers, and our Democracy is being swallowed up by a greedy, self-serving capitalist economy, the young people who might some day figure out a way out of this morass are being cheated by a system that puts them in crowded classrooms with underpaid and exhausted teachers and eventually dumps them out on the streets with no sense whatever which way they should turn because they cannot read the street signs.