17th century system fails 21st century students

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Second of three parts

Are Idaho public schools performing? That is a hot topic question, especially during election season. To answer that we must ask what is the mission of our public schools; what are they supposed to be doing?

The Idaho Constitution provides us with the answer. We have a system of uniform and free public schools to ensure the stability of a Republican form of government (Article 9 Section 1). If you are to ensure the stability of something shouldn’t you know what it is, how it works, why it is important, and why it’s better than other forms of government, like socialism?

Do the students graduating from our public schools have this information? Are they prepared to ensure the stability of a Republican form of government? Can they even give a concise definition of ‘a Republican form of government’? Is there a graduation requirement or even a mandatory class to satisfy this basic primary requirement? No, there isn’t. Our system of free public schools is failing at its primary required objective. Why?

Our Idaho Constitution was adopted in 1890 and at that time the best education system was one originally designed in the 17th century to facilitate the administration of the British Empire. With no phones, no internet, no airmail, all of the communication needed to manage a global empire was transmitted on slips of paper carried on ships. For this system to function, it was required that administrators at each end received the same, standardized education. Each student was fed a concise quantum of knowledge and periodically tested to ensure compliance to the standard.

To achieve this, schools operated like factories where students were processed in groups to achieve a product that thinks, labors, consumes, and is entertained in an efficient, uniform manner.

This system has a fixed rate of knowledge transfer in a fixed amount of time. One teacher can only pump so much information into the heads of students in the time allowed. There is no variable that will significantly increase the amount of knowledge transferred.

The knowledge is updated at a glacial pace. Any revision must be approved by “experts,” enshrined in textbooks, and distributed through warehouses by trucks. Much of the information presented in school becomes obsolete before it can be put to practice.

Even at this pace, change does happen and the primary mission slowly fades from the syllabus.

The Information Age is the age of change, innovation and invention. Entire industries are sprouting anew while centuries old institutions are shuttering. To prosper in this environment, individuals must be able to adapt and embrace new opportunities.

Our schools are performing, exactly as designed in the 17th century, taking raw material and processing it into a stable and uniform product. Any system designed to be stable and uniform abhors innovation and change.

Unfortunately the uniform and stable product our school system is producing is now obsolete.

It is time to modernize the school system to serve the needs of students in the 21st century.

The choice is easy.

• • •

Brent Regan is a Coeur d’Alene resident.

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