Letter: American education system needs to be modernized

To the editor:

The recent article regarding the wage gap of high school graduates (“Pay gap between college grads, everyone else at record,” Jan. 13), only scratches the surface of the gap between our education system and modern society. Our public education is designed and funded by a model geared to 19th century rural America.

We first need to recognize that schools and their curricula do not match the demographics and economics of the 21st century. Children are ready to learn in groups much earlier than kindergarten. However, in rural America they could not walk the mile to school until age 5 or 6.

Elementary school stopped at the sixth grade when children had “enough book learning” and were needed to do work on the farm. Higher grades were added to prepare those children who would go into trades, retailing, teaching or the professions. Junior high school was sufficient for apprenticeships and separated those going through puberty from those who had been through it. High school ended at the age of economic independence.

By 18 you could get a job in virtually every non-professional field. The age of economic independence is now 25 and the gap is a real killer of youthful motivation and participation in 21st century society.

This confounds both learning and discipline for both teachers and students on both sides of the fence. The entire system is out of touch with the modern real world yet we persist in expecting it to succeed.

Frustration with the lack of success has resulted in a hodgepodge of regulations and dictates from parents, pastors and politicians through local school boards and state legislatures. Educators are acutely aware of the changes in demographics and many are aware of the tremendous increase in knowledge of how children learn and advances in educational techniques and technology.

However, they are hard-pressed to get past the common wisdom of elected officials and the bureaucracy who dictate their funding and their evaluations.

The education system needs to be freed of these roadblocks to modernization. Two major overhauls would begin to put us on the right track – professionalization and method of funding. Educators need to take the steps that law and medicine did 100 years ago.

Educators need to establish professional standards, certifications, peer supervision, peer discipline and curriculum requirements for every person who teaches. Society needs to acknowledge that teachers are perhaps the most valuable profession of all. State education boards, staffed by professional teachers, not bureaucrats, need to be chartered and left to do their job the same as medicine.

Funding for schools, and local services as well, should be freed from the dinosaur of property taxes. Property tax is also a throwback to 19th century rural America. Income was not a reliable basis for taxation. Property was the anchor of society and participative democracy.

In today’s society, property tax is an unfair way to fund public education, public safety and services. The costs for education and local services needs to be spread over the wider base of all local residents, businesses and recipients of the services.

A much fairer tax would be on gross receipts of every person and organization in the state. Two percent of gross receipts would fund schools on a much fairer basis and eliminate need for other revenue sources.

If we believe that education should train our youth to think logically and creatively, behave considerately, and become responsible, productive citizens in modern society then let us give our educators the structure, resources and professional status to do their jobs. This needs to be done without the interference of lobbyists, vested interests, political opportunists and religious moralists.

Donald A. Smith