Education! A system?

Upon the education of the people of this country the fate of this country depends.” Benjamin Disraeli (1801-1881), British Prime Minister.

Those words are prophetic, many times confirmed by the history of nations. They should be taken to heart by everyone who decries education, people, and institutions associated and responsible for it – such as teachers or the US Department of Education.

Education functions as a system. This system is embedded within myriads of other systems (federal, state, local community, laws and legality… you name it). These, and the rest of the systems, can all be examined by what is referred to as the “system world view.” There is a “system theory” that dares to look at systems and their interrelations and actions within and interactions with the outside.

Let us consider the basic components of the education system. One of the possible perspectives offers this: The human components of the system are teachers and administrators, students, parents, and citizens of the nation. The content includes a curriculum. Locations are comprised from schools (more generally “educational settings”), further divided into public, charter, private, and “home schooling.” Finally, the system has a spectrum of implementations ranging from classic classroom “assembly line” model to “learner-centric” education.

The question for this education system is “does it require coherency?” I think this is the crux of many current discussions. Let us reflect on some relevant points.

First, public, or charter, or private schools? Do you know, recognize and realize that charter schools are publicly funded? Yes, by your tax dollars.

There are thousands of charter schools in the US. We, in Nevada County, are fortunate to have outstanding charter schools. Nevada County School of the Arts is the first one to come to my mind. The school is accountable for its funds to the public. It is accredited and certified for quality, just like public schools must be.

Next, the administration of the system. It is my experience that there are many misconceptions in the minds of the general public regarding what is involved with running schools. Once I posted a statement in my office, “Nothing is impossible for the one who does not have to do it oneself.” Very true!

Consider the statement by JoAnn Rebane (The Union, Feb 5, 2019): “…over all, the Department of Education is not just irrelevant, it is harmful.” Imagine a manufactured product without specifications, or military units without commanders. Does that invoke “coherency?” Now, imagine educational systems where everyone has their own quality specifications (yes, standards), no legal boundaries, and perhaps no rules or requirements how to educate “special” classes of students (yes, the ones with disabilities or other handicaps), or for student loans. Would this be what we want?

Speaking of bureaucracy, where does this come from? The key word is “accountability.” The public finances the education system and demands proof that its money is not wasted. Who will take care of that? The only available supervising entity is the “government” (which is immediately a bad word for some). Welcome to the maze of legal and mandated requirements that school administrators absolutely must, no exceptions allowed, comply with! Yet, it is a necessity – and surely a justification for the existence of an entity such as the US Department of Education. Of course, the associated bureaucracy should be purpose driven and effective. The public would be well served by keeping the legislators accountable.

The other fallacy is “parents know what is the best for their child.” No, with rare exceptions, they do not! Neither do “local communities.” It should be remembered that education is one of the coherency glues of the whole society. This means the nation, the world. The fragmentation of educational content into religion and science, “pure” academics (such as mathematics) and arts (such as dancing), and – especially – individual and social skills, does not seem to be conducive to the development of a whole person or development of a well-functioning society. Vouchers, truly private (read “religious”) schools, and “home schooling” will not do the job.

How about teachers? This profession is deeply undervalued, financially and in general esteem for its value. We pay babysitters more. There are other associated issues – tenure, class sizes, supplies, safety. Teaching is and should be a truly noble profession. I know, I taught, and so did members of my family.

Indeed, the future of this nation will, to a great extent, depend on education and the system that provides it.

By Milan Vodicka, Ph.D.


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