Education reformers and I agree. Here’s my alternative. What’s theirs?

In the October 19 Huffington Post Justin Snider described how five education writers feel about the potential impact of Waiting for Superman:

Toward the end of our discussion, Errol St. Clair Smith gave the five of us — Jay Mathews, Diane Ravitch, Valerie Strauss, Debra Viadero and me — a multiple-choice test on what the lasting impact of Waiting for ‘Superman’ would be on U.S. public education. Four of us — all but Ravitch — opted for choice “D,” that the film would prove to be “another example that when all is said and done, much more will be said than done.” (Ravitch, ever the contrarian, picked “None of the above.”)

Education writers and I agree, but I believe those who tear something down should offer something to replace it. Journalists are in no position to suggest what should replace the problems they write about (low test scores, bullying, grade inflation, poor literacy, low level of STEM knowledge, etc.). They rarely go into classrooms, and they are neither teachers nor policymakers, so it is not their job to improve education, only to comment on its good parts and bad parts. What could be easier than that? Public education has plenty to cheer about and plenty to condemn.

Education writers know public education is a complex professional bureaucracy built on a democratic foundation. They know it is an American experiment that is still evolving.  All the dedicated teachers I know (of which there are many) see that schools are going in the wrong direction. Teachers face greater problems with administrators and policymakers than they used to, and they continue to face enormous difficulties trying to educate students from across the spectrum of American society.

With dedicated teachers as my audience and inspiration, I offer a set of suggestions for what should replace our current system of public education. It is all explained fully in the book, but here is the short answer to the question, “What should take the place of our current system of public education?”

Suggestion #1 — Instead of believing democratic governance should drive education, we should believe in the six-virtue definition of the educated person.  (This costs nothing.)

Suggestion #2 — Instead of arguing about which knowledge and skills should be taught, the new purpose is to model and teach the six virtues. (This costs nothing.)

Suggestion #3 — Instead of democratic governance, which models our vices; a new approach to governance requires the modeling of the six virtues. (This costs nothing.)

Suggestion #4 — Instead of organizing schools as bureaucracies, they should be organized as communities. The best schools are already communities. (This costs nothing.)

Suggestion #5 — Instead of using a social science paradigm, we should use an aesthetic one to improve education. Education improves as teachers appreciate their students and subject matter, and as students reciprocate with appreciation for their teachers and lessons. (This costs nothing.)

That is what it looks like to suggest a comprehensive overhaul of public education. If you believe our current public schools are good places for young people, never mind.

If you believe they can be better, however, the next time you hear about school improvement ideas, ask whether the writers and policymakers are basing their suggestions on a deep, useful definition of what it means to be educated. If not, tell them to cut the crap. No matter what improvements are suggested — new technologies, more data, new curricula, new research-based strategies — public education will not improve until we bring the six virtues to situations that need improving. And it costs nothing.


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