America’s education system is like an assembly line
Published: Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, October 25, 2011 00:10
The primary purpose of education in an industrial society such as ours is to prepare children for a lifetime of labor, consumption and conformity with social norms. As an instrument of socialization, the school accustoms students to the demands that society makes of citizens.
Think about your experience in high school. You woke up early enough every day to make it to school on time. When the bell rang in at the end of one of your classes, you habitually moved to your next one without delay. You ate lunch in the room you were told to eat in, at the time you were told to eat at. You only left school when you knew a certain time had arrived at which it was permissible to leave. And if you decided not to do any of these things, you did so knowing that you would be punished. Thus it is clear that there is no more powerful means of preparing young citizens for the conformity and obedience which will be demanded of them in life than to have them repeat the same mechanistic routine thousands upon thousands of times.
I do not question the necessity of compulsory attendance at school, for what would become of our society without it? But this human mass-production process is not limited to our physical behavior – what we learn in school is also prescribed and pre-ordained.
I am absolutely astounded by the fact that regardless of our abilities or curiosities, the progress of our education is basically planned out all the way from kindergarten. Connecticut's State Board of Education, for example, mandates that all first grade students within the borders of this state must "solve word problems that call for addition of three whole numbers whose sum is less than or equal to 20." Eighth graders must "use verbs in the active and passive voice and in the conditional and subjunctive mood to achieve particular effects". While I don't doubt that the people who conceived and approved of these standards had nothing in mind but the development of Connecticut's children, they may not have realized that their exhaustive and overbearing efforts will do more harm than good.
I propose that we recognize that the relationship between teacher and student is as sacred as that between doctor and patient, and as few regulators as possible should exist between the two. A government that has any semblance of respect for the personal integrity of its citizens should refrain from dictating what a child is to learn and when and should not take up months or years of that child's educational life to determine what he or she has learned. Thus I believe that the whole idea of standardized testing and standardized curricula is an abominable one. To demand that every student learn exactly the same things at exactly the same times is to interfere with and encumber each student's natural desire to learn.
To be certain, government does have a role to play in providing free public education (at the point of delivery) to all Americans. It is right for government to build schools. It is right to make transportation and sustenance available to those who need it. It is right to ensure that teachers are competent and passionate. But it is not right for a politician or a bureaucrat to assume the role of teacher.
Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered the following words in an 1837 speech: "I believe that our own experience instructs us that the secret of education lies in respecting the pupil. It is not for you to choose what he shall know, what he shall do. It is chosen and foreordained [by his nature]…by your tampering and thwarting and too much governing he may be hindered from his end and kept out of his own."
We have learned little in seventeen decades: the tampering and the thwarting proceed at a record pace today. The time has come to recognize that the best person to determine what a child shall learn, in what ways and at what pace, is his teacher, not his government. Students shouldn't be treated as replaceable parts. By mandating adherence to a fixed curriculum and countless hours of tests and test preparation, we only succeed in alienating more people from the power of learning and from the bright future which they deserve.