To the editor:
Your recent editions have had good articles and columns about the sad state of education in Indiana and across the country. Our 21st century children deserve a 21st century education if we are to have them carry forward this struggling nation.
Unfortunately, there are at least three millstones weighing down those who are trying to deliver that education. One is antiquated funding. A second is an outdated schedule and curriculum; the third is the influence of poorly-informed politicians and parents augmented by the lobbying of the textbook and testing industry.
The last is the most serious because it prevents any comprehensive effort that would upset the vested interests of the current, failing system. The education community knows how its bread is buttered and tries to introduce small changes that do not upset the power and money structure that overwhelm the system. All we have are Band-Aids instead of the major surgery that we need to reshape education for the 21st century.
Three major surgeries are needed to remove the millstones and give our children the education they deserve and need. The first is funding overhaul. Schools as well as other public services are funded by a tax system that dates back to the early days of our country. In early America the primary resource of families and communities was land.
Income was incidental and bartering was common. The only fair way, back then, to raise public funds was to tax the land and buildings. As the industrial revolution matured, the entire resource structure of the country changed, but the tax system remained in the dark ages.
Today the property values are distorted and discrepant.
We have vast numbers of productive citizens who own no land yet public services are the burden of the property owners. A lame excuse for the system is that the renters pay their fair share through their rent but that doesn’t hold water. The major resource of families, communities and nations of today is money, not gold or land. Gross receipts tax is the only fair way to spread the load of public education and services. It puts everybody and organization on a level field.
The second overhaul is to match the schedule and curriculum to today’s needs, demographics and knowledge of how children learn. Our current model of public schooling also dates back to the early days. Children started school when they could walk a mile to the schoolhouse. Reading, writing and arithmetic up through the fifth or sixth grade was all they needed to eventually run the farm.
High school started when the hormones were in full swing and finished when they reached the age they could get an adult job or start college. Today nothing fits.
We know children start learning at birth and can benefit from schooling as toddlers. The age of puberty has dropped from the preteens to ages 7 and 8. The age of economic independence has risen from 18 to 26. Society needs workers trained in specialties unheard of in the “3-R” era. Public education needs to be structured around our 21st century children and what our 21st century society now needs and when it needs it, not what we old folks are comfortable with. It also needs the technology tools that baffle both parents and politicians.
Third, the politicians and parents need to step aside and let the education community professionalize itself. It is long overdue. The legal community did this in the 19th century, the medical profession did it in the early 20th century.
The education community needs to do it now. Teachers have long passed the normal school level of training and are now one of the most valuable members of society.
We would not have lawyers, doctors, dentists, editors, administrators, governors, senators or presidents without them. It is time for educators to step up to the challenge of professional certification and discipline.
It is time for the politicians and parents to acknowledge that they are not trained in education any better than they are in medicine or criminal law. As Levitt and Dubner demonstrated, common wisdom is usually wrong.
Band-Aids are not working and our children are falling further and further behind. It is time for us to lay aside our poorly informed common wisdom and give the education community the right combination of respect, resources, flexibility and challenge to restructure the entire system to benefit all our children.
Donald A. Smith