Future Shock in Education

(Even though this will be in rough draft form for the foreseeable future, I’ll post it, so you can provide feedback that may be useful to its completion.)

American Education is in the Dumpster

American Education is in the Dumpster (Photo credit: brewbooks)

Haves and have-nots.  Alvin Toffler  predicted that the education gap would be the destruction of society as we know it.  As the power and organization of the Internet grows, the availability of the world storehouse of knowledge comes ever closer to the fingertips of the masses.  At the same time, elites in ivory towers are attempting to hold the information high ground with such exclusive products as Internet2.  Meanwhile, the vast power of the internet escapes many people who find themselves on the lower end of the financial scale, due to their inability to afford internet connectivity or the tools to utilize it (computers, routers, etc.)

To this problem we add the entire idea of traditional, but outdated, knowledge.  My parents, for instance, had top-quality college educations, and they are extremely knowledgeable in their fields of expertise.  Yet, they find themselves struggling with even the most basic of network-related tasks.  To them, email is new technology, a wonderful way to communicate with friends and colleagues, and probably as far as they are over willing to go with network technology.  For them, long retired, this is probably fine.  But, for the tens or hundreds of millions of baby boomers who are caught in the gap between traditional and cyber living, such network illiteracy endangers economic viability and survival.

Besides the baby boomers, we also have tens or hundreds of millions of younger people who barely have enough education to read a book, much less understand the internet.  If they do understand the internet, it’s only an understanding of iTunes or Netflix.  As I often saw in California, immigrants learned just enough English to memorize the DMV questions and answers, but they had no working knowledge of English.  So it is that the average internet user may be able to twitter and download, but they might not know or care about the rest of it or understand how to access it.  I really can’t tell at this point what an average user looks like, since it’s impossible to know how many under-educated people can actually use it at all.

Perhaps the problem lies in he fact that technology has moved into the 21st Century, while our education system still seems to be mired in the 19th.  That is not so say that the 19th century education was bad.  On the contrary, most graduates of the eighth grade back then were expected to have the equivalent of today’s university liberal arts education.  Literacy was true literacy.  One needed a tremendous work ethic.  Of course, this work ethic was instilled by parents who, often less than literate, knew from experience that the secret to a better life was higher education.  In the 19th Century, the eighth grade was higher that most people were able to go; so it was the milestone of achievement, just as the college degree is today.

Unfortunately, college education today is failing to produce well-rounded, rationally thinking graduates.  However, because it now takes twice as many years of formal education to instill the same knowledge as the 19th century eighth-grade education provided, and because most college graduates are still not functionally literate (able to put knowledge into practice in society),  the cost of education is astronomically high compared to the results.  When this is coupled with the fact that colleges and universities are now the place where children go to learn how to party and to undermine all types of authority, the recipe for disaster is complete.  I don’t think it’s going too far to say that our present education system is bankrupting and ruining this country.

In this time of e-commerce, m-commerce, mobile connectivity, inexpensive telecommunications, and the cloud, does it really make any sense to continue with antiquated bricks-and-mortar education?  Certainly, many universities are adding more and more online courses to their repertoires.  However, the bricks-and-mortar must still be maintained.  Therefore, online learning is the worst of both worlds.  One does not receive the benefit of the class camaraderie, nor the intimate access to professors, and yet one still pays the cost.  If you were to ask someone what they gained from attending Harvard, the number one answer would be the personal connections.  The learning could be gotten anywhere, even online.  The connections are priceless.  If online students are not going to have the connections, why should they pay a high price for readily-available knowledge?

Maybe this also opens up a whole other tangent of discussion.  With the ability for everyone to make connections around the world online, why should we any longer pander to the “haloed institutions” of yesteryear, at which the standards of education have eroded, and all that they have become are shelters for secret societies.  Why should we continue to support the cronyism that only seeks to make the gap between the haves and the have-nots wider?  It is a wonderful, warm and fuzzy feeling to U rah rah for our Alma mater.   But, in our ever-evolving and over-glutted university systems, there isn’t the same sense of community in the colleges.  Only a few select people form the elite insiders, and the rest of us are just “trying to get a degree so we can get a job.”  Why should the rest of us pay such a high price to prop up the select few?

It’s time for a new model of education.  It’s time for equivalency testing.  It’s time for home schooling and internet-based learning.  It’s time for worthless school systems to be streamlined and transformed into lean, mean, mostly online learning facilitation devices.  The teacher’s unions probably wouldn’t be in favor of this.  But that’s because most teachers are stuck in bricks-and-mortar thinking. It’s very hard to think outside of these massive (and usually old and inefficient) boxes.  However, buildings, and the massive complex of people needed to maintain them, are a huge block to innovation.  Freed from the constrains of four wall, teachers could be free to work at home, or to take their classes on sight for real-world instruction with a lot more freedom.  Cities, who spend half their revenue on education, could find themselves flush with money and still be able to significantly lower property taxes.

While we are at it, why not consider the value of work-study.  Instead of pushing our children into sports activities, why don’t we create work clubs that they can join.  These clubs could do all sorts of community projects, from picking up trash to planting trees, to even using their knowledge to help design the city scape.  Cities would benefit in several ways.  First, the need for planning other youth activities disappears.  The rate of juvenile delinquency would plummet.  The decrease in demand for public-sector workers would free more talented people to engage in private-sector jobs, thus increasing our tax revenue base and further lowering the tax burden and eliminating the deficits.  And, of course, the children would have the camaraderie and interaction that they would supposedly be missing by being schooled at home or online.

Many people will probably wonder from where we are going to get our future sporting stars if we don’t have large schools to spend ghastly amounts of money and obscene amounts of time overworking our young people into athletic machines.  But what is the gain in that?  The only real gain for most student athletes is a scholarship to the next level, since only about .066% of high school athletes will ever play professionally.   If we didn’t have to sell our homes in order to send kids to college, these scholarships wouldn’t even be necessary.  So, why don’t we just spare our children all the heartache, injury, false sense of pride, and sleeping and eating disorders associated with school sports?  Let the professional teams develop their own talent, and let’s stop wasting valuable money and time that most of us don’t really have.

Additional Note:  Anyone who wants to know why education is really failing us should read this interview,  From Grammar School to Battlefield with Richard Maybury.  Mr. Maybury is a first-hand expert on US global empire building and why knowledge of this, which is not taught in schools, is essential to financial survival.  He is an educator with tons of resources for home schooling or for supplementing your child’s knowledge with the truth about how the world works.  The idea is to help your child avoid reaching mid-20’s and ending up a deer in the headlights.

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Filed under Economics/ Book Reviews, On Family, Health, Environment and Ethics

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