Schools do not work

By Murray Bourne, 28 Aug 2006

An interesting article from Arizona State University, Liberating American education, dismantling compulsory schooling (link no longer available), is something I have often thought about, having been involved in secondary, tertiary and adult education.

There is something about those classes where students have chosen to be there. The students are alert, they are on time, they are keen to learn. But compulsory education for teenagers is often a disaster.

Despite a century of reform movements, American schools do not work.

While superintendents scratch their heads and politicians proclaim the brilliance of minor tweaks, it's time to call into question the very foundation of our system.

The deepest crisis in K-12 schools is not reading skills, or violence, or teacher pay. It's an absence of meaning. The only solution is to disband compulsory schooling altogether. To save education, we must make school optional.

And later:

Schools currently double as daycares. Let's free them to be what they aspire to - centers of education.

The trouble with this idea is that from my observation, the majority of people need some external structure (assignment deadlines, exams, someone telling them what to read and when) before they can learn. Those that are passionately self-directed in their learning seem few and far between. But maybe it's because of our educational systems that train them to be that way.

And another problem is that if we allow large numbers of teenagers to do whatever they like because they are not forced to be in school, this could be a dangerous situation.

Maybe the compulsory part is okay, but let's look at bringing more meaning into schools. One interesting, but radical approach is the Sudbury/Summerhill concept which I wrote about in Flower children or the Real Deal?. In such systems their learning is very flexible and self-directed.

Footnote: It surprised me when I first arrived in Singapore (the country with a reputation for good educational outcomes) that school was not compulsory. Even so, there were very few children outside of the school system. Schooling was only made compulsory up to the end of primary school (grade 6) from 1 Jan 2003.

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