Sunday, May 11, 2008

What’s Wrong With Our Education System?

So education in this country is constantly criticized as being less than stellar compared with many other countries around the world. And what I find amusing is that the solution is always to throw good money after bad. That will fix it. Never mind the fact that we pay property taxes and don’t have kids attending public school so it increases the amount they get per kid due to the many just like us. But if we did have kids, we wouldn’t get that money we pay to send them to public school tied to our kids so they could attend a school of my choosing. We’re stuck sending them to the public school of the district we live in, or we can pay money on top of our property taxes to send them to private school. And since that school gets our money regardless of whether or not they educate our kids, they don’t have to compete for our money. They don’t have to be better than the private school we might want to send our kids to. They don’t have to be better than another public school in another district. They don’t have to compete for our money because they get it whether we want them to or not. Even if we move to a new district, someone else will buy or rent our house and the property taxes will still be paid that support the school.

Free market competition isn’t a factor because the government is in charge and has monopolized the system. I understand collecting taxes to provide an education for our children. But it has become sub par, and many people are helpless to do anything about it. Or at least they feel that way. Surely by now most of you have heard of the concept of school vouchers, your tax dollars follow your kid. Some people demonize the concept. They are called teachers’ unions and those sucked into the beliefs of these lazy teachers that don’t think performance standards should be higher than the effort they are willing to put out. And for those teachers who do put out the extra effort, they often go unappreciated, undervalued, and underpaid because of the design of the system.

Just think if schools had to compete with each other what could happen. Bad schools would close. Good schools would grow. Good teachers would be rewarded and likely with higher salaries, as schools would compete for them. Think of the higher education system where they do compete with other schools and in some cases compete for exceptional teachers. My MBA program is a great example as I spent almost a year in Italy. It was a condensed program and I finished in about a year and I got to add the element of world travel and how it relates to business. The bonus I didn’t know about is that we had some of the most awesome, highly sought after professors from all over the US come teach our classes. I chose this program because I hate classroom settings so much that I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible and I’ve always wanted to go to Italy, and my degree is from a university in the US. Administrators, who want to keep their jobs, would look for ways to attract parents and therefore new students to their schools. This could likely result in many alternative methods to education and I like to think more enthusiastic students.

Let’s explore a method I would be very much in support of. I somehow made it through high school and college without much studying. That’s not to say I didn’t learn anything, but it wasn’t my forte and I was bored with the traditional classroom setting. I would have much preferred hands on experience, which some schools offer with shop classes and wood working classes. What if you had a school that helped you find a vocation to work towards while you were still in high school? Where you actually got hands on experience in various professions. For example, if you thought you might be interested in being a lawyer, you’d have the opportunity to work with a lawyer for a few weeks or months, helping him, attending depositions, or court cases or other various meetings. Maybe after some time you’d figure out that you didn’t want to be a lawyer, but if all goes right, you would have developed some valuable skills that might contribute to another job. And you would have weeded a profession out which might help you weed out others due to the things you didn’t like about it.

I like to think of this as some kind of apprenticeship. Because let’s be honest, unless we are doctors and maybe a few other professions I can’t think of right now, how many of us are really doing what we went to school for? My degree is so generic (business management) that I work with people with psychology degrees, accounting degrees, and probably no degrees at all. Meaning most of us learned our job by doing it. The longer we were there, the more we learned. I didn’t need to waste my money going to college to do what I’m doing, but the job description says I need one. Or lots of experience doing exactly what it is I’m doing.

I’m not saying an education isn’t necessary or valuable. I just think people stimulated to learn in very different ways. And I think there are more nontraditional ways to go about getting an education that might benefit many people who drop out of traditional educational settings. And I think our kids deserve a choice so that they don’t graduate high school like I did and say, “hmmm I have no clue what I want to do with my life, I just know I’m supposed to go to college, even if I have no clue what to study.” I just picked business because I hate literature so English was out, I didn’t want to go to medical school, or be a nurse or a teacher, and I figured a generic degree was at least a degree. When it’s possible I could have been successful without a degree at all.

So here’s to improving our educational system, not by throwing good money after bad, but by putting the choice back into it and letting the bad ones fail and the good ones excel.

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