A new school year is beginning. For many students, here in Los Angeles, it begins today. I feel terrible for them, because very few of them will be receiving the education they deserve. I also feel terrible for us, as a society, because we will not receive the benefits of the contributions these children are capable of making when they grow up, and it is our own fault.
Education is a complex undertaking under any circumstances, and public education even more so. One concept people are just going to have to get over is the idea that education can ever be apolitical. When you teach, you are not just imparting knowledge or skills, but also values. The texts you use, the behavior you require, the elements you choose to emphasize all reflect a system of priorities which is unavoidably cultural and political. We have to stop thinking that we can teach students in some culturally and politically neutral fashion, and start figuring out what values most of us can agree to support.
I say most of us, because there will always be some people who disagree. For example, I think most people in the USA would agree that girls and boys should have equal opportunities to learn. There are Americans, however, who think girls should stay away from advanced math or competitive sports, or boys shouldn’t learn to cook or sew. We will never get full consensus, but we can come close.
One value I would suggest as a pillar of a better education system would be the idea that every person is of equal intrinsic worth. Everyone has talents and strengths and ways to contribute to the community, and those things should be nurtured. I don’t mean random praise or the removal of all competition. I mean every student should have access to ways to get better at the things they are good at, whether those things are mathematical, linguistic, musical, artistic, athletic, entrepreneurial or otherwise. EVERY student, not just the rich ones or the lucky ones. Every student should also have access to the help they need with the things they are not so good at. EVERY student, not just the rich ones or the ones with the most severe problems or the most persistent parents. It is not just those students who would benefit, but all of us, when they grow up to be productive, contributing members of society.
Will that cost more money than we currently spend on education? Maybe. Maybe not if we stop wasting so much of it on unnecessary bureaucracy and detrimental high stakes testing. Done right, it will definitely cost less than we currently spend on prisons. If you don’t see the connection, just google “school to prison pipeline”. In any case, if there is anything that is a worthwhile investment for a society, it is the education of its children. I think we need to take cost off the top of the list of priorities. The first question should be, how can we provide an excellent education for all our children, so that they can all contribute their best to our society as a whole. Cost can be question number two. I’m not saying it’s not important, but it’s not the most important thing, or at least it shouldn’t be.
If we really value our children, ALL our children, as much as we say we do, if we really value the future of our society as much as we claim to, we should be much more serious about improving the quality of our education system, even if that means it will cost a bit more.
The next question, of course, is how do we measure quality of education. That is a discussion that definitely needs at least one blog post of its own. Maybe next time.
These were just a few thoughts that came to mind this morning. Thanks for taking the time to read them.