A Short History of American Education ~ and ~ How To Change the World

So… I’m an admin for a Homeschool site and let me tell you, the posts have been flooding in from brand new parents that are considering schooling at home due to Covid19!

I get it, man, do I get it! Our current world is out of control and there are a lot of reasons to try to reconfigure our plans!

I believe that we all love our children a ridiculous amount and we want the very best for them. Across the board, without exceptions. If you’re a parent who is freaking out right now it’s because you’re one of the ones who is parenting your best (even if your best doesn’t look like neighbor Karen’s best or my best or your high school friend’s best).

There is NO SINGLE RIGHT WAY. So we’re going to have to work together to embrace and support diversity.

Based on the posts I’m seeing from parents on this homeschool facebook group, it seems like there is a distinct desire to try to recreate public school at home, just using an online platform. Every day there are questions about how to compare this, that, or the other free public school online.

That may be what works for your family. It makes me cringe, though. Why?

Because… as unwanted as it is, this is a time of opportunity, a time to dream and to consider changing the way the cookie has been crumbling for the last generation.

Right now you have the POWER to Do Something Different.

What you choose today can literally define a new future in a generation.

Start with asking yourself a really gnarly question: Do you like what you see in the world today? Is there room for improvement?

You see, the vast majority of our population has been educated under a single system and that system has created the world you see when you look around. If you truly care about social justice, if you really think that black lives matter, if you’re willing to protest and look for unifying answers… it’s time to change the narrative.

Today is your opportunity.

Instead of looking at what seems easiest, and doing the same thing that’s been done before, upset the apple cart and get truly revolutionary.

Ask yourself a different question – instead of, “What do I have to do to make sure they graduate and can get a job?” ask instead yourself, “What kind of person do I want them to be and what does that well-educated person actually think about?”

You see, what you put into a brain is going to determine what comes out of it. And if you see that 99% of the people walking around right now were all educated from the same system… and you don’t actually think highly of 99% of the people surrounding you… you have to change the common denominator so your kids have a chance of escape.

Change their education.

What does a well-educated person look like to you? What is the purpose of education?

Now, this is where sometimes people can get side-tracked because they don’t consider themselves a well-educated person. They don’t think that they have the ability, patience, or know-how to be an educator themselves and wouldn’t even know how to begin. To this I ask you – if learning is innate in human nature (and we know it is because we all learned to eat, to walk, to potty-train, etc.) – what has caused you to lose confidence in yourself? I would argue that it’s the system you grew up within that has stolen your confidence. So, in classic Bob Newhart-style… Stop It. Turn off that dialogue in your head and take a moment to dream!)

Let me give you some facts about our current public education system.

You see, I have a passion for education and even studied the History of Education for my advanced college degree. To make this overly simple (and also brief!), initially public education was created to meet the need of the Industrial Revolution. Parents were working and the kids needed babysitting. There were too many kids wandering around and creating a ruckus once child labor laws passed so the schools stepped forward as a societal band-aid and compulsory schooling for the public appeared in the United States.

Because it was the time of the Industrial Revolution and everyone was gung-ho on efficiency and standardization, the systems created for managing the kids ended up looking a lot like a machine:

  • Children were separated into classes and grades by age (although age was often not the most important indicator of ability, it created simplicity in other ways, like what size desks and chairs were necessary, and at what height the water fountains should be mounted on the wall).
  • The children’s ability to learn was measured with tests. (Because efficacy must be proven.)
  • At the end of the course of study, the students earned a stamp of approval in the form of a diploma. (Because… quality assurance.)
  • The stamp of approval would validate that there was a stream of potential workers coming out to fuel the Industrial Revolution and progress, progress, progress!

Now… there is a lot of stuff happening in education from the beginning to where we are now, and there have been a lot of manipulations and thought-processes and reforms and, oh my goodness!, do we have a hot mess on our hands today!

But that’s the history and the foundation. It has a really serious defect in perspective: humans are not machines.

This attempt to create mechanized human beings has resulted in some pretty abysmal failures that we feel the consequences of in our culture right now. Here are just a few of the fruits of failing to educate our population:

  • Only 37% of the students who graduated from public high school in 2017 were proficient in reading, and only 25% in math. (National Assessment of Educational Progress)
  • 40% of Americans under 44-years-old did not read a single book – fiction or non-fiction – over the course of the last year. (National Endowment for the Arts)
  • A civic education poll showed that 77% of students didn’t know that George Washington was the first President of the United States. (Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs)
  • 18% of Americans still believe the sun revolves around the Earth. (National Research Council)

“Colleges are admitting youngsters who have not mastered what used to be considered a ninth-grade level of proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Very often, when they graduate from college, they still can’t master even a 12th-grade level of academic proficiency.”

– Walter E. Williams, Educational Fraud Continues

How does that influence your opinion of how well the public school system has been doing so far?

Why would you sign your children up for more?!

Here’s a reality – you probably didn’t get a great education. You aren’t “doing alright.” You got an education that prepared you to do a job, yes, but it doesn’t do a lot to help you interact with your neighbor, or think through a hard decision like whether to keep renting or buy a house.

Your education didn’t prepare you to be a human. You’re not prepared for the conversations on social media that are challenging. Your education didn’t help you learn how to evaluate ideas and their consequences.

Why do I have the boldness to say this? I’m so rude, right?!

I say this because it’s ME. Because even though I had a “great education,” was a really good student, and have more degrees than 98% of the population of this country, it wasn’t until I began homeschooling my children that I actually received an Education.

I had learned how to play the system and do well. I had learned how to cram for a test and get a good grade.

But I never learned to practice, as Aristotle says, “entertaining a thought without accepting it.” I didn’t know how to Human.

In other words:

“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”

St. Francis of Assissi

I was trained to be an excellent laborer and a pretty good craftsman.

I’ve learned on my own to be an artist by choosing and completing curriculum alongside my children as we home educate together.

The education I’m talking about existed before the Industrial Revolution and produced the greatest thinkers of humanity. In older times, a well-educated person realized that knowledge is about improving quality of life, not preparing for a career.

“We’ve bought into the idea that education is about training and “success,” defined monetarily, rather than learning to think critically and to challenge. We should not forget that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers. A culture that does not grasp the interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand that the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death.”

Chris Hedges

For me, once I realized that the system of public education was designed to control the mass of childish humanity and produce worker bees, I soured on that vision. Actually, I got angry and felt manipulated!

The thing that’s amazing about today, about this crazy period of time caused by a virus no one wanted and is universally hated, is that it gives people the opportunity to make changes!

You have an opportunity right now to change the narrative!

But you aren’t going to find it within the public school online platforms. It’s not possible because the intended outcome of that platform is a worker bee, not a clear thinker.

Take the time to look at the traditional home schooling curriculums. Look for words like Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in their descriptions. They exist. They are both paid and free.

Don’t be a blind sheep and see this challenge as a brilliant opportunity!

I agree with Chris Jones, who wrote an excellent piece for Medium that says, in order for there to be any chance of the public schools being able to maintain recommendations for cleanliness and safety for the families that truly cannot have their kids at home, anyone who can possibly keep their kids out of the public school system, MUST.

But that puts a burden of responsibility on the parent that no one really wants.

So I plead with you, be different. Embrace the unexpected and show up for the wrestling. Face the really difficult decisions and consider, truly consider upending your life as you know it.

The family dynamic will change by having the kids home. It will be stressful.

Careers will be derailed. Economics will be challenging.

You may see more ugly in yourself than you knew existed. But remember, “My biggest problem as a parent is not my children, it’s me. My children don’t cause me to do and say what I do and say. No, the cause of my actions is found inside my heart. My children are simply the OCCASION where my heart reveals itself in words and actions.” – Paul David Tripp

Friends, we’re going to have a national come-apart and have to find a new normal. It’s not fair… and you’ll still have to figure it out.

So – know better and do better. Please, don’t choose the online platforms that are offering the same kind of mind-numbing education that has created the world we live in today. Choose the path that may be harder on you because it requires you to learn alongside your child and think. (oh! but has such a sweet reward!)

There are people, long time home educators, who want to help you wade through the waters. They’re eager to show you the beauty of this lifestyle but a little put-off by your determination to keep drinking muddy water when there is a clear stream in your peripheral vision.

After all, are you trying to make a living, make a difference, or leave a legacy?

How you answer that question will emphasize your purpose of education. You’re literally choosing the world of your retirement. Right. Now.

No pressure.

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