Public Education: Start Again

If you could start from zero, what would public education look like?

The new President’s challenge: Take a Number!

Posted by Stephen Dill on January 25, 2009

People are lining up with ideas for the new President. If you look at the change.org site you will see the overwhelming response to the new administration’s request for public input. Countless corporate executives, recognized experts in every field, and a huge percentage of the blogosphere’s brightest are weighing in on what the next priorities should  be and what to do about them. 

Not to be outdone, Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute, spoke to Steve Hamm at Businessweek about how “If Obama’s in favor of improving education, let’s do it right. It’s got to involve a curriculum. We have the most complete set of curricula available, so let’s not reinvent the wheel.” Convenient, but that’s not my point. What we see in this and most recommendations is yet another bandage. I find myself unable to consider spending time and money on the system that has gotten us where we are. Others must, this is true. But I wonder why it is that there seems to be so few gathering to consider the way out of this mess, the only true way out: reboot from scratch. This is the time to be distilling down the fundamentals for a life-long learning program. Change will not happen overnight!

My wife, an early childhood educator, alerted me to the wonderful work of Richard Louv in his book “Last Child In The Woods, Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder” and the organization he co-founded, Children & Nature Network. I made a comment on his blog congratulating him on his work and suggesting that, “The inexorable decline of the role of in-situ exposure as a key part of educating anyone, not just children, in the natural sciences–or physics, or accounting, or most any topic–is one of the many negative unintended consequences of the otherwise noble quest to provide basic education for every child that began as an incredible dream in the 18th Century.” Clearly we are staying inside, relying more and more on digital representations of nature in order to maximize “learning” while minimizing the expenditure of costly resources, such as teachers and time. I recommend you read more of Richard Louv.

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