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Home arrow Media Center arrow Public education needs to learn new lessons to raise good citizens
Public education needs to learn new lessons to raise good citizens

By Nicholas Charalambous (The Cocklebur), Anderson Independent-Mail
May 10, 2008

Conservatives have been mashing the ideological hot button of “choice” in education for more than a decade in South Carolina, and it looks as though a legislative victory on school vouchers is as far away now as it ever was.

Sadly, liberals may be confusing the public’s lack of appetite for vouchers with the public’s support for public education as it now is. Emboldened, they’re arguing once again that public education simply needs more money or a more supportive environment to truly succeed.

Bud Ferillo, the producer of the education shockumentary “Corridor of Shame,” recently launched a grassroots initiative for a new Constitutional right to more than a minimally-adequate education. And former state Superintendent Inez Tenenbaum launched “RiseSC,” an anti-poverty initiative, which, it’s assumed, will improve educational outcomes since poorer students tend to fare worse at school.

The fact is a good portion of middle America still has growing doubts that our current system of public education is up to the task of raising productive, well-adjusted citizens.

And until public education supporters come up with ideas that re-imagine how we do public education, they may only succeed in delaying, not preventing, public education’s eventual dismantling by entrepreneurial forces that always serve the wealthy.

Public education was established in the industrial era, and its methods are more or less unchanged today: Students are seated at desks in classrooms of about 30, taught more or less the same things at the same time in the same way.

Just the past 100 years of advances in child psychology and child development alone would argue that we have to seriously rethink that instructional model — and a lot of plausible, researched alternatives are out there. When you throw in the various technologies that make more personalized instruction practical and economic, it’s even harder to understand why we’re OK doing the same-old, same-old.

The sheer cost of providing public schooling has forced the system to mimic industrial economies of scale, with vast buildings and large student populations, at a time when students most need individualized, nurturing environments.

So many students today come from broken families. And all them live in a bewildering and bizarre popular culture that recognizes no moral boundaries and gives no thought to whether kids are prepared to handle the daily choices put in front of them.

I know many great teachers who try and meet those needs only to be overwhelmed by the bureaucracy and the incessant demands of performing to standards, as if mere facts were more important than shaping a student’s character.

I suspect our public education system will always fall short unless every child has the opportunity to be treated as a whole person, whose emotional and spiritual well-being are a critical goal of the overall learning experience.

To the extent that is happening in schools today, it isn’t an organic part of the school mission, and it can often interfere with, not complement, the knowledge and skills training that should remain the heart of public education.

What we need is a system of public education with an ethos that comes more from Socrates than Dickens.

After all, wisdom, not information, is the path to life.

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