Sunday, May 6, 2007

Revised Public Education Entry, Part 1

Here's my thinking, more fleshed out.

Like anyone who has spent any significant time in High School, I’ve had my fair share of dealing with inefficiency and the slow, unproductive toiling of bureaucratic organs. Certainly, the capstone of most peoples public education should be a good, valid system, and in this entity exists the potential for a better, more meaningful system – choice. Any system that is not custom-tailored to a specific person needs to have a degree of choice inherent to be useful, and this is built on a very simple premise - there is no ideal solution for everyone. Totalitarianism works really well for the dictator, and gets progressively worse as you go down. Since not everyone can be the dictator, the only path that makes sense is one that empowers all people to make choices equally (sure, being emperor would be fun, but it makes much more sense to manage one's own affairs, and let others manage theirs).
Currently, high schools offer electives, a limited variety dependent on the resources available at a given school. In theory, every class taken by a high school student is taken by choice. In reality, this is less true, as the credits from all classes are to be matched with required credits, classes in topics that have been deemed necessary (generally by the school board) for people to know to function in the world. While this certainly makes sense, it's both a nanny-state and a totalitarian model. It offers choice, and then co-opts most of that choice and replaces it with state-chosen options, so that we don’t go around willy-nilly taking classes in computers and art without having spent any time doing the respectable schoolwork of factoring polynomials. What is deemed required skills for proficiency in society at large is often a poor match to what actually is required for proficiency in society at large.

It’s easy enough to see how requirements can veer from reality. I, me, myself, am of the opinion that everyone should know who the identity of Gavrilo Princip before graduating from high school. This information affects only those who would go on to be history majors, which, of the general population, is not going to be a large number. This requirement would be deemed absurd, and no one would benefit from it being in place.

The problem becomes more muddled when topics like math are brought up. Math is a vital skill, and this is not really a point of contention. What math should be taught, the little detail of “Should everyone take Algebra 2 or statistics?” is a valid issue. Fortunately, schools have a way around this, by simply having a requirement for years of math, with a starting point for what years of math will count. In theory, everyone who wanted to take statistics instead of Algebra 2 (quite possibly reasoning that understanding the numbers presented to us on a daily basis is more likely to be useful in most careers than the knowledge need to go on into higher math) would be able to, so long as the class was provided.

Algebra 2 teachers are required at high school. Statistics teachers are a budgetary luxury, available only to the few, if any. Choice, being in theory presented, is not offered in substance itself. Choice, the very essence of both democracy and capitalism, should be present in a public education system in a democratic and capitalist land. Any attempt at reforming education systems should be made with choice at the very forefront of everyone’s mind, radical changes should be necessary to allow for more productive use of resources, so that allowing people to study what they themselves deem worthwhile (who, of all people, should know what they need/want to study) is not only possible, but is commonplace.

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