I’m a little concerned about the idea of promoting “innovation” in our education system. As a retired government manager, I experienced decades of low bid, best-seller management initiatives that cost the tax payer billions and resulted in productivity losses. Instead, I favor a return to the basic education standards that have served our country for almost 200 years.
It’s funny how “change” seems to be the solution to all the problems that didn’t exist until someone initiated change. We now seem to be in universal agreement that a healthcare program that didn’t exist 5 years ago, needs to be changed, rather than merely cancelled. An “entitlement” seems to come out of nowhere and then, cannot be exorcised.
The fact that we are in a “digital age” and no longer in the “industrial age” does not impress me as a rational excuse for changing our education system. Writing a coherent sentence is/was essential in both ages. The building blocks of the pyramids can be used for both great walls and modern casinos. Words and numbers, and how to use them, are vital. “Changing” definitions of those words and numbers are suicidal.
There is no question that our education system today is failing in big ways. Grades and I.Q. levels continue declining, and the US ranks in the double digits worldwide, where we used to be number one (numero uno), or number two after Sputnik. When did it start failing? I maintain it started in the 60s, when “New Math” became the first tweak of the education standards that carried us for so long. Since then, every feminist, psychologist, revisionist historian, and economist who could write a coherent sentence published a book in search of excellence, or short-term profits. The result? Lots of change, along with declines in almost every measure of learning. The few rare cases of measured improvement resulted when professional educators started to game the system (or cheated it altogether).
Teaching became a lost art because educators became mere implementers of the latest gimmick or fad. Traditional blocks of lessons became program packages that were either bought, copied, or downloaded to facilitate the learning experience. From “Flat Stanley” and mandatory violin lessons to prepackaged science experiments in little plastic bags, teachers became dispensers of copyrighted hype rather than knowledge. To compound the problem, teachers were convinced that they had been neglecting girls for 200 years, and that these girls needed special care and nurturing to make them more aggressive, selfish, and entitled to all the things that interested boys. All the while condemning inherently male behavior as a disease or “bullying” and in need of medication. ADHD became an epidemic amongst boys, while girls were rewarded with acclaims and kudos. Forget becoming a teacher, mother, or nurse. STEM was the mantra for all girls. Pound that square peg into the round hole! Boys? They don’t need help. They’ve had it made since the invention of the wheel.
Included in this educational hysteria was the concept of “self-esteem”, previously known as the 2nd of seven deadly sins, “pride” or “ego”. Girls are being told, “If you can dream it you can do it”, while boys find out that they could be arrested for their dreams.
The education system for the last 50 years has been more like a laboratory for psychological experimentation. Now there is talk of calling it an “industry” for low bid contracting. As a retired government employee I’ve experienced, first hand, upper managers who were influenced by the latest publicized best-seller and donuts from low bid contractors. I lived through “Quality Circles”, “Management by Objectives”, “Zero Defects”, and “Zero-Based Budgeting” and many more. But, those concepts didn’t deaden the youthful brains of future generations still in school. They just cost the taxpayer some money. The results of low bid contracting can be seen every day, the most costly example being Takata airbags. Do we want that innovation in our schools?
The concept of Middle School was one of those innovative ideas that began to spread in the 60s and remains a fixture today. There is reliable evidence that student performance and test scores are lower in middle school than they would have been in the previous elementary school structure. There is a measurable psychological impact on early adolescents whose brains aren’t quite ready for the transition to a freer environment. Yet these counterproductive innovations don’t go away until the next best-seller scheme comes along. The building blocks need constant patching and repair.
I suggest that we go back to the education system that made this country what it was for almost 200 years, attracting and inspiring foreign idealists who wanted the original American Dream. An education system in which professional teachers employ their skills to convey standard, time-tested lessons in reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, with a side dose of Judeo-Christian ethics, morals, values, and principles. That system provided the basic and essential building blocks for every child and teenager in preparation for specialization in a career or vocation of their choice, not a media-hyped zeitgeist. Critical thinking, logic, and reason were the tools that were put in the students’ tool bags for the future. Innovation was limited to changing blackboards to green boards and eventually to white boards, but the developing frontal lobes of the children were not manipulated for profit or political objectives. We should limit innovation today to self-driving school buses.
It’s not the fact that we’ve gone from an “industrial age” to a “digital age” that matters. It’s the fact that we’ve gone from a “motherhood age” to a “working women age”. In response to the emerging problem of “latchkey kids” we gave the teachers the added burden of providing huge homework assignments and projects as well as programmed after school activities to fill the gap in parental responsibility. It kept the children busy after school but contributed little to their tool bags. In fact, it probably caused a measurable decline in creativity – that used to blossom when school was out for the day and the pressures of “assignments” were on hold.
We have recently seen the dangers of innovation in colleges, where it is expected and even essential. “For-Profit” colleges and universities using modern digital technologies popped up as fast as student loans and college degrees became an entitlement during a progressive administration. Courses in Feminist Studies, Social Programs, Black History, or Environmental Sciences did not produce degrees that lead to meaningful careers or productive jobs. At the same time, enormous student debt continues to be a national problem, much like the mortgage crisis of the previous decade. Unemployable graduates are now back in their parents’ homes with health insurance coverage extended to the age of 26.
As an engineer from birth, I can understand innovation and creativity in every aspect of the human evolution. I also know that a firm foundation is essential for every building. An education system must provide a firm foundation for every human child to build on. That foundation is even more important today than it was 200 years ago, and should not be weakened with low bid materials, untested theories, and unskilled application.