Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of the Union and Compulsory Education

I watched the president’s state of the union speech tonight. Overall it was a good speech. I disagree with him about a comment he made about education. 

What would happen if the compulsory education age was raised to 18 years of age?

In the inner city today every teacher knows the secret that most bad students in the urban areas of our country drop out. They do not want to be in school, and the teachers do not want them there either. They disrupt learning, and seasoned high school teachers long to get posts above the 10th grade. By then most of the trouble makers drop out of school. Teachers who hang in there are rewarded with students who want to learn.

Compulsory education is not the answer to our education crisis. Students are not motivated by forcing them to stay in school when they do not want to be there. The father of American education, John Dewey, would say this is a bad policy. Students are motivated by connecting meaning with learning in the classroom. Teachers who are good at doing that should be rewarded. However, if the system is set up with accountability measures that stifle creativity, then good teachers must operate under cover to introduce innovation and real world problem solving into the classroom. Good teachers are no longer the sage on the stage. They need to be a guide on the side. Teachers across the nation are learning to coach and mentor student directed learning. This is difficult to do. It is much easier to take out a work sheet, and keep the pencils moving and the students mouths shut.

The lesson of education from Finland is a simple one. If you want to fix the education system, then honor the profession of education. Pay teachers well. This will accomplish two purposes. Student will aspire to be teachers. The teaching profession will then attract the best and the brightest.

Compulsory education has never been the answer. School choice has proven that. School choice is injecting systemic meaning into the educational system. Home schooling brought education back into the home where our values can be better connected to our values. Neither of these strategies depends upon compulsory education. More of this systemic change is needed. Solving the educational crisis in our country has never been to teach to the test with high stakes testing. This strategy just places a lid on achievement. In attempting to raise the bottom we cap the top. Teachers know that every student can contribute in a classroom that emphasizes teamwork in problem solving. These creative teaching opportunities do not happen where lesson plans are dictated by the results of high stakes tests. The negative reinforcement measure of compulsory education stirs rebellion instead of embracing meaning in education.  

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