School’s OUT! Brown Shoes Don’t Make It

In general, we can describe education as the orderly transmission of useful information from generation to generation. It saves us from making the same mistakes over and over again. The human capacity to build a culture is the key to our success as a species. It allows us to benefit from the discoveries and innovations of our progenitors. Language and culture free us from the limitation of our short life-span. What one person can learn in his lifetime is limited compared to what our culture can compile over many generations.

The computer revolution is perhaps the most profound advance in human culture since the invention of writing. Before writing, culture was limited to what one man could memorize in his lifetime. And then he died. With writing we were able to pass greater volumes of information between generations. Mass printing was another step forward because it greatly widened the availability of human knowledge. Radio and television were further aids to teaching our culture. Now, the computer has placed almost all human knowledge at the fingertips of anyone with an internet connection. The whole world has changed with respect to our ability to store and access information. Alas, our institutions are not as nimble as our technology. One area where this is particularly evident is in our education system, our schools.

Our public education system functions admirably for the world in which it was designed. The problem is that it was designed to fit the culture and society of the Industrial Revolution. The theory was to give the workers a baby sitting service while mom or dad or both worked in the factory and in the process also indoctrinate the next generation of workers. Our schools were designed like factories which produced docile and compliant consumers. Even though we live in a post-industrial world where most of our jobs AREN’T industrial or agricultural, we persist in training our population to work in factories that moved to China a generation ago.

The Poet’s Eye sees that Public Education is the strongest thread in our social fabric. Without successful Public Education our Democracy simply will not work. It’s what gets us on the same page. Public Schools teach us the things we need to know to be good, productive citizens. The particulars in the curriculum may change over time, but the more important aspect of Public Education is the Public part, it is the thread of commonality which connects us all. It is the place where we learn how to function in a larger group than our blood families. High School is a microcosm, a sometimes cruel crucible that tests our metal and shows us how to find our place in a complex society. What is learned there can hardly be enclosed between the covers of a book or a dozen books. Public Education is charged with the task of indoctrinating our children with the values we share as a society. If it fails in this duty, then the rest of the curriculum is irrelevant.

What we are seeing today in the world of education is the simultaneous death throes of an old system and the birth pains of a new one. Our system of education is failing because the whole apparatus is outmoded and in many cases irrelevant. We persist in preparing our students for yesterday.

What will our education system look like when it finally adapts to the digital age? Everything will be different, from how it is funded to what the buildings will look like to who the teachers are and what they do. The turmoil we are witnessing in the fight between teacher’s unions and school districts and state and federal governments is a symptom of the changes that are inevitable. There are hot tempers because the occupation of teaching is due to take a big hit. Much as other occupational niches such as typesetters and newspaper reporters and photo processors have all but vanished because computers or the internet now do their jobs, teachers will also have to find other ways to make themselves useful. We won’t need as many of them. Do I suggest that the class-sizes will be larger? sixty or a hundred to a classroom? No, the typical class size in our new schools will be one. Just junior and a ‘puter tutor. Home schooling will be the rule rather than the exception. Aside from periodic meetings with study groups and counselors, our students won’t be bound by buildings.

The nonsense that we hear about ‘good teachers’ and ‘bad teachers’ and tenure and pensions etc, will all go out the window because our very best teachers and lecturers will be instantly available to any student at the click of a button. A young cello student will be able to get the word straight from YoYo Ma instead of from Yo MaMa.

In the new school, homeroom will more resemble Facebook than a room with cork boards and desks in a row. Classes may contain students from many cyber locations across the country. Kids will oftener be found studying in malls than in libraries. All the libraries in the world will fit in their shirt pockets. Local school districts will wither but it serves them right; they are cesspools of corruption. But property taxes will go down.

Teachers will have a new role, more resembling that of a guide or counselor or mentor than a classroom teacher specializing in this or that subject. Each student will be directly involved in the planning of his own curriculum. We will no longer press out graduates like Pringles. Each student will be able to study that which will best take him forward in his life.

The question will inevitably arise, “Are public schools even necessary or desirable?” The answer will probably still be Yes. At some point we will realize that simply letting our children teethe on an iPhone will accomplish more than all the Headstart programs our legislators can invent. Schools as we know them today should probably have been abandoned long ago because they don’t accomplish their purpose . The students themselves have been coming to this conclusion as our dropout rates continue to rise. They know that schools are at best kindergartens for conformity and at worst day-care warehouses or prep-schools for prison or other careers of the institutionalized or brainwashed.

What do we want from our schools? We want them to prepare our children to be happy and productive members of society. The Poet’s Eye doesn’t see that goal changing any time soon. What will inevitably change is the method and means that we use to achieve that goal. We expect our public schools to provide our young people with the tools they will need to carve out lives as good citizens. Today, what that means is that a young person should be able to navigate a hyper-connected world where our idea of what a Job consists of is in great flux. Our antiquated notion of what a Job is will change and we will realize that we are all freelancers and that a job is not enough. We will see that what we really want are careers, callings and devotions and that school is not just for kids anymore. We all need to enroll for life.

“Brown shoes don’t make it.
Quit school. Don’t fake it.”–Captain Beefheart

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