WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE GOVERNMENT SCHOOL SYSTEM?
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© July 2016, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.
All information in this article is for educational purposes only. It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.
Table Of Contents
1. Structural – a government monopoly
2. Moral – anti-biblical
3. Technical – outdated teaching methods
Two prominent economists were recently asked what is the greatest challenge facing America. Both agreed it is not terrorism, energy or health care, but the decline of the American system of education. In summary, the problems in our education system are:
1. Declining test scores and knowledge learned. Test scores and knowledge is worse than most industrialized nations. This is especially a problem if America wishes to stay competitive in science and technology, an area she has done well in.
2. Skyrocketing costs. This is well-known. Most is due to high pensions, and administrative costs.
3. High dropout rates in some areas, up to 20-30% or more. In other words, too many children are very unhappy in school and just decide to leave, regardless of the laws.
4. Serious safety problems, especially for girls.
1. STRUCTURAL - A UNIONIZED, GOVERNMENT MONOPOLY
A critical problem in education is its structure. The government school system is an economic monopoly. This is the least flexible and most difficult type of system to change!
A monopoly in business terms means there is no meaningful competition. This means there is little real incentive to change or modernize.
Voucher programs and charter schools in a few states are helping to change this, but government schools still receive many perks, tax breaks and other advantages that are not given to charter schools, voucher programs and similar attempts to break the government school monopoly.
A government monopoly is the worst kind of monopoly imaginable. Unlike private monopolies such as the former telephone industry monopoly and others, the school monopoly is paid for by everyone without a choice. Money for it comes from your taxes. If you donŐt pay, you are jailed or can lose your home. This makes this monopoly even harder to break.
A unionized monopoly is even worse. Unions support:
A. Tenure. Once a teacher has taught for a few years without being fired, the teacher cannot be fired except for horrible crimes, even if they are not good teachers. The ones who are hurt by this rule are the children, and they are the ones that are supposed to be the beneficiaries, not the ones hurt.
B. Generous pensions and other benefits. Teachers, we often hear, make little money. It is true they do not make as much as some jobs. However, they work only 9-10 months a year and have excellent health care, and retirement benefits. Some earn every penny them make, and deserve more. However, many do not deserve to earn more, yet the unions are always pressing for more benefits, whether or not the teacherŐs performance is up to any standards.
C. Blocking change and innovation. The teacherŐs unions do a lot to maintain the status quo and opposing any program that would affect their members. In other words, they work for themselves, not for the children, no matter what they say. They support mainly Democrat party candidates who will stop education choice and change in education, since that is anti-union.
D. Liberal political slant. The unions tend to support liberal causes. This harms the students and the education.
Ever greater national government intervention and control. Government schools in America used to be locally controlled. This is less and less true. Now, the national government controls more money and dictates to the states more and more how the schools will be run, and what will be taught.
2. MORAL – ANTI-BIBLICAL
Government education has been divorced from the Biblical concepts that founded the nation of America, and that are responsible for much of the success of Western civilization. This is nothing short of ridiculous.
It is due to sustained efforts of some groups to destroy the religious and moral fabric of the nation. Common core is the latest insult to our moral values. For more on this topic, please read Common Core – Must Be Stopped on this website.
3. TECHNICAL - OUTDATED TEACHING METHODS AND PHILOSOPHY
Teaching methods and educational philosophy in schools have changed little hundred years. Among the outdated methods are:
A. A highly authoritarian system that forces all the children to learn at a pace, a place, a time, and in an order determined by a teacher's convenience or by administrative decree. This may have been necessary 100 years ago. However, modern technology and communication have changed the situation.
Even without modern technology, Maria Montessori found that children could have a different type of relationship with a properly trained teacher - not an adversarial relationship. Children can be trusted to learn at their own pace, in their own order, in a properly designed environment. However, her innovations have not filtered into the government schools much at all.
B. The Holy Classroom. Classrooms may be good for some children, but not for others. At one time it was the only way to do things. But this is no longer true. For some, learning should be more active. Apprenticeships would be much better at times, for example, rather than sit all day surrounded by 25 others who donŐt share your interest in the subject.
Home Learning Centers. Perhaps some children should have a 'home learning center' consisting of a computer and certain hook-ups. Children could learn at home any time, and get help by dialing up a central 'teacher' any time they need it, or asking another adult such as a parent. School tends to insulate and divide homes. Parents with great experience are locked out of their childŐs intellectual and emotional development.
Home Schooling. This movement is growing fast, because it works. Even without using advanced technology, it is far more efficient than classrooms. This article is not about home schooling, but much more could be said in praise of home-schooling or groups of home schooled children learning together.
A few misinformed parents believe their child needs the Ňsocialization skillsÓ learned in classrooms. This is totally untrue, if you ever been around home-schooled children. They are as socially advanced or more so than government-schooled children, or better.
Many other arrangements are possible as well. Some small schools group children of all ages together with excellent results. The point is, we are stuck with a one-size-fits-all approach that is no better than expecting everyone to wear the same size shoes. It is terrible for a majority of the children and contributes to ADHD and hundreds of other learning problems. For more, read Home Schooling on this site.
C. Rewarding uncreative behavior. The child who gets the best grade is generally the one who can repeat like a parrot what the teacher says. Those who think independently and creatively are often punished for their independence. Yet creative, independent thinking is critical to modern society.
D. Grading - A negative reinforcement system. Present grading systems label children as "C" students, or even failures when they just learn a little slower than others. This is pure insanity. They are not failures. Some children learn faster than others. Some learn differently than others. Negative reinforcement through grading may be fine for some, but is harmful for many.
It also sets up a reward system for learning that does not help students to be self-motivated. In fact, quite the opposite. The children become motivated by grades and pleasing teachers, so when they are not ŇforcedÓ to learn they donŐt want to bother. This is a terrible situation that is a direct result of the present government school system.
I once taught a health class to high-school dropouts, using a positive reinforcement grading system. The students were told they would all receive an A in the course. If they did not obtain a perfect score on each daily quiz, they would repeat each test until they did obtain a perfect score. Students were skeptical. But the following year ten of the twelve students decided to go back to school. Their self-esteem improved by receiving good grades and not because my standards were lower. This might be called "success-oriented education".
1. Do away with the current system. Recognize the depth of the structural, moral and technical problems above and that they are impossible to solve within the present system. The best solution would be to do away with the government schools entirely.
In its place, parents would be given a voucher, perhaps, and would be free to choose which privately run school to send their children. I believe the private sector of the economy would do a far better job, and indeed there are private education companies doing this today.
Home schooling would also be encouraged in this scenario. It is a thriving and growing movement that also works well, and is much safer for the children.
2. Partial solutions or reforms of the government system. These would need to include:
A. No unions. They do not serve the children, and they are not needed.
B. Restore biblical values to the government schools. This would be a great improvement, but is unlikely at this time.
C. Bring in much more innovation. The trouble is that there is little incentive to do this, no matter how much anyone believes in it and desires it.
1. Does school choice violate the US Constitution? Absolutely not. In fact, choice in education is a founding principle of America. Imposing one school system is not in alignment with the principles of the American founders or the American Constitution at all.
Some say that school choice mean the government is 'establishing' or favoring a particular church or religion, in some cases. This is not true. The only intent of the Constitution is to avoid a state religion and preserve choice.
2. Are the poor really able to choose the best school for their children? Elitists believe that only a select few can make good choices for childrenŐs education. Selecting a school involves a similar process as picking a car mechanic or a doctor. It is the height of arrogance to believe that only a few are able to choose a school for their children. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, the best principle is to give power to the people, not to central authorities.
3. Won't educational choice ruin the government schools and cause chaos? The answer is no. First, the government schools are already a mess. Secondly, the effect has been quite the opposite. Giving people choices forces the government schools to improve by offering people competing options. This is what the unions and some others who desire total control do not want to contend with.
4. What if school choice doesn't work? It does work. In fact, many home-schooled children easily are outperforming the government schools hands down at a far lower cost and requiring far less time to learn as well.
5. If Japan, Germany and other nations have workable government schools, why can't we? The fast answer is these nations are not in better shape than we are. In fact, many are in worse shape. Japan is so competitive the suicide rate among students is enormous.
Other nations spend almost as much as we do. Many are more corrupt than ours. So we cannot look to Europe for answers, just as in health care options. Better to look to our heritage as a nation that believes in the power of individuals to solve problems without government interference.
6. What is the proper role of government in education? It is to establish and maintain laws that protect parentsŐ rights to educate their children as they see fit. Systems that are successful will be copied. Those that are not will die a natural death. Those who cannot pay for an education will be helped by private charities.
1. Illich, I., Deschooling Society.
2. Krishnamurti, Education and the Significance of Life.