We educate our children using the prison / factory model. It should be obvious by now that it does not work. In fact, it tends to prevent actual education.
Each child is a unique individual but our schools treat them as if every child age 7 was identical to every other 7 year old. They are confined in a room with probably at least 20 other 7 year old children. They are taught the same lessons and given the same tests and given the same amount of time to learn and are expected to learn in the same way. If their needs and personalities are enough different from the other children they are punished in various ways for a time (perhaps years) and then designated as failures and banished from consideration. (Yes, I exaggerate but these responses of the system should be familiar to you all.) While in class, they are expected to be still and quiet despite the fact that their bodies are demanding to move, to be active, to talk and play. (Play is nature’s way of educating our children. It works beautifully. That’s how they learned to talk, for example.)
Of course, this model means that almost none of the children are being taught in a fashion that is best for them. Some are being held back. Some are out of their depth. Some are not ready to learn the material yet or in this fashion. Some already know the material and are being required to wait quietly for the others. The result is boredom which destroys the brain and stunts the mind.
The school is organized like a factory. There is a hierarchy with the power concentrated at the top. Orders flow from the top down. Each classroom is a separate “business” or assembly line. As much as possible the administrative work is pushed down to the lowest ranking employees (the teachers) and the worst thing that can happen is a disruption in the smooth and orderly flow. Education is considered to be unimportant. Keeping people from complaining is the most important thing.
The relationship between teacher and student is that of supervisor and employee. The teacher has all the authority and has control of the pay (grades) of the students. Obedience is very important. Grades are used to punish those who do not obey. Naturally, the relationship between student and teacher is likely to be that of opponents. The teacher is seen as a dangerous being.
Teachers and students, having almost no power, find their positions quite unsatisfactory and high stress. Teachers who actually try to educate their students are not supported. They tend to be driven away or “promoted” away from teaching into administration.
Now let’s look at what we could do instead.
Our first objective is to make the relationship between teacher and student into that of allies. That is done by eliminating the grading function from the teacher’s job description. That function should be performed by a completely different agency. That is, those who evaluate what a student has learned should be different people from a different bureaucracy than the teaching staff. The students should be evaluated by different people each time. They should be evaluated without prior notice at any time.
The evaluation of the teachers should be based strictly on the educational progress that the students make. The more the students learn, the more authority and responsibility the teacher gains. The teachers should be ranked by their success in educating students. The more success they have, the more resources they should gain. The best teachers should run the school. The principal and other such offices should be responsible for the building and the administrative paperwork but have no authority over the individual teachers.
Master teachers should have apprentice teachers under their authority.
The teachers should be able to choose their students. The parents should be able to choose the teachers of their children. If parents and teacher agree that the teacher will educate that student, then they have a contract. Either party can end the contract at any time. Those parents who cannot find a teacher who will accept their child(ren) will have them assigned to a master teacher who deals with the more difficult cases. These master teachers are the most highly compensated and have the most authority.
Children are promoted when they have mastered the material for the grade regardless of age. Children stay with their teachers so long as both teacher and parents are happy with the arrangement. There is no need to change teachers when the child goes from one “grade” to the next. This results in some children graduating much earlier than others. It also allows the child to advance at full speed academically without having to be with older children who would be socially inappropriate in the opinion of the parents.
Because the master teachers have complete freedom to educate as they will without restrictions from the administration, those techniques which work best will be adopted and shared. Thus will the curriculum evolve for the better by natural selection.
Because the students and teachers are on the same side with the teachers and students sharing success and failure, they will see each other as natural allies.
The objective evaluation of the results of the teachers’ efforts will allow schools to be evaluated at the teacher level. Those teachers who succeed will attract students and those who fail will not. The result will be that those who are truly suited to teaching will remain and those who should have chosen another field will tend to do so. Also, having more power as one progresses and becomes more successful at teaching and being able to develop long lasting relationships with ones students will tend to keep the teaching staff and lead to long careers.
The evaluation staff can also evaluate students who are home schooled and provide official documentation of those students’ qualifications. The public schools can provide resources to home schoolers such as labs and group activities like theatre, band, sports, and community projects. In this way, the costs of public education can be reduced. Early graduation will have the same effects by reducing the student load.
Schools should never receive money based strictly on head count but rather on the basis of the education they are providing.
The combination of free market aspects in the association of teacher and student and the placing of authority in the hands of the master teachers destroys the prison factory aspects of the school and opens education to alternate means of education based on the individual needs of the students.