Some parts copyrighted in 2002 and 2008, in total in 2012, by Mark Edward Vande Pol
All rights reserved.
This article proposes a complete reconfiguration of education in America. It is not a discussion of pedagogies or specific methods except in examples. So if what you want is to know how to teach algebra to your child, this article is not for you. If however, you want to know how to make it possible for your babies to learn algebra by the age of seven and have the equivalent of a lower division college education in a half dozen disciplines by the age of eighteen, this article is for you.
What is the whole point in getting an education? Most people respond citing the skills to get a decent job. Others come up with the historical and geopolitical knowledge to function as a responsible citizen. Then there are social skills, learning to live and work with others in harmony. Finally, there is the basic pleasure of an intellectual life and an appreciation for the fine arts. But what if I said that all of these goals pale in comparison to one?
An education comprises the working base of knowledge and skills with which one can acquire new skills and information to be applied toward an intended outcome.
Given the rapid development of new technology, the ability to learn becomes a necessity. Yet with that capability is still the need for discernment with which to observe, measure, and test, propose a model, distinguish opinions from useful facts (or even outright lies from mistaken impressions), analyze data, posit solutions, construct prototypes, validate performance, and communicate faithfully the advantages and risks to potential users.
While an economy is all about human productivity, few people ever attempt all of those facets of the product development process at the usual corporate level because the technical scope is so broad, multidisciplinary, and complex as to require whole teams of specialists; not one of whom can understand all of the pertinent facts. This is why we have lawyers making decisions about biology, accountants making decisions about chemical processes, or doctors performing diagnoses subject to insurance. We have psychologists treating PTSD who’ve never been near a battlefield. We have financial people making decisions about research. We have politicians making decisions about all of the above and people who know NOTHING of any of those technical details selecting the politicians.
Everybody knows it it’s a problem.
Now, I am not proposing that everybody become an expert at everything. Yet when the question involves assessing large scale risks from public health to “the environment,” it should be obvious that the general public (voters) should have at least some skills with which comprehend what the experts are saying and to assess whether or not it is credible. For too often the public has left such decisions to “the experts” only to find that they had succumbed to the corrupting influences of power, ideology, or money
Thus, whether the decision is in a team setting or political in scope, it remains essential to grasp the varied cultural and historic influences on the players. Effectively, society as a whole, while increasingly technical in execution, also needs a classical base in social sciences more than ever, for these choices are not just increasingly technical but often global in scope. One must know the history, resource geography, language, and philosophy that influence the people with whom one is doing business, worldwide.
OK, so now that we agree that nobody knows what they are talking about, I’m going to make that situation even worse. ALL of that education nobody is getting should be accomplished by the age of eighteen. Why?
One does not need to consider the disastrous consequences of Common Core or any other existing pedagogy to see that education as we know it portends the demise of the American middle class. It is hard not to note the high unemployment among recent college graduates or how many are staying in college seeking multiple bachelor’s or advanced degrees just to get a decent “middle class job.” Yet even so, simply imagine the most ideal (and increasingly rare) outcome of the existing system: a young woman lands said "good job" requiring an advanced degree. She would be at least 25-27 years of age at graduation, and possibly over 30. Now she gets a job, meets a guy, they court, get married, get settled, and she’s… 32? 35???
I hate to tell you how many women fitting that description are showing up at infertility clinics desperate to have a baby (my wife worked in one). Those who do get pregnant are having a much higher proportion of babies burdened with lifetime learning disabilities such as Down's Syndrome (she works in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit now). Effectively, our educational system is structured to preclude the middle class from replacing itself.
As this demographic trend continues, as the demands of what constitutes an education grow, and as machines replace even professional positions, the only people having kids even approaching their full potential will be the very well-to-do, with the very poor having little prospect of a competitive education at all. History teaches that this arrangement leads inevitably to social cataclysm, representing not just the death of a culture but a nation.
Worse, were it even possible to "fix" said existing system, we would have to wait between 15-20 years for the benefits to even begin to be realized. Needless to say given our parlous finances, disaster will have precluded even the possibility of that "eventual" marginal improvement.
Hence, simple reproductive biology teaches that this problem of "education" MUST be dissolved as a matter of life and death, NOW. The matter is too urgent to be left to succeeding generations, while improving the existing system won't cut it.
Transactions form the basis of any economy: One person is selling something another may want to buy. For the system to work, the buyer needs to understand and rely upon what the seller is offering, whether a product or a service. It is no different when the product offered is an education.
Consider SuperWidget, Inc. They make widgets and sell them to anybody who wants to buy them. As far as pleasing their stockholders is concerned, whether they make widgets in a borderline sweat shop or in a high-tech factory really doesn’t matter, but to their customers, it matters even less. The WidgitBot they’re looking at has considerable attractions compared to adding labor: It works 24-7 or close to it. It doesn’t need a parking lot, a toilet or a lunch room. It won’t hit up the owners for a raise. It doesn’t need contributions to its retirement or health care. Nor will the owners need a security guard to keep it from ripping them off. As a bonus, it can’t hire a lawyer. In fact, the stockholders of any business really don’t care if they have any employees at all. To SuperWidget, a “job” is a contract for services by which to make widgets, a job that they wouldn't offer at all unless it was to perform tasks WidgitBot cannot do as well for less.
As the company grows and technology advances, the demands for skills become more specialized and the one-on-one contract system for a particular skill starts to break down. Inventing an “unprecedented” SuperDuperWidget then requires an array of talents, hiring from an array of people, each with unique combinations of skill sets, making a “perfect match” of team members highly unlikely. Thus, when it comes to putting the team together, neither the owners nor the prospective employees can do more than guess whether the skill sets a particular candidate offers match the job demands. This usually requires a third party to validate the candidate’s claims.
Over the first half of the 20th Century, that latter task gravitated toward a “human resources” department (treating people as equivalent to raw material). At first, these employees were hired to find other people to make widgets. Yet today they are hired as contract enforcers because they understand labor law; most have never made a single widget themselves. They too have little ability to discern whether the potential hires are capable of doing what they claim.
Enter the university, the ultimate “human resources manufacturer.” They market people with credentials, a BS, MS, or PhD degree in “Widgetology,” or some such, a degree that supposedly means their graduates can perform all the functions attendant to a particular job.
"Supposedly"? That’s right, no guarantees.
It is that degree, that credential, for which we wage-serfs scrimp and save for decades (and our kids go into debt for decades more). Together with our taxes, we spend all that money for the great privilege of letting our precious children regurgitate what the communist academics want to hear, all so that they can get that credential saying that they “MIGHT” be able to do whatever-job-the customer-wants about which the university knows next-to-nothing!
Well, it gets worse. Let’s take a look at those credentials and see what they imply. If a person gets a degree in let’s say, electrical engineering, would that person be qualified to work with a biologist on an implant? Engineers seldom study advanced biochemistry while biologists rarely understand materials science, physics, or computer science. Seldom do these specialists know how to understand each other’s concerns with which to exchange and synthesize ideas, much less to debate the relative merits of completely alien approaches. Worse, for those companies too small to hire all the specialists they might need, how do they find people who are capable of managing a such a complex problem?
Effectively they cannot, because the investment of time and money to acquire a university education is so great that most college graduates have mastered but one field of study. Effectively, university curricula are designed to produce only specialists, of which the PhD degree is the exemplar. These are the people we call “experts” who happen to know a huge amount about very little. Yet the moment they are called to opine outside their study (which is usual), most are about as knowledgeable as most anybody with a bachelor’s degree. Yet when dollars hang in the offing, few of these "experts" are willing to admit a lack of qualification. Even if they were so qualified, many companies cannot afford all the experts they might need, much less assure that they can all communicate effectively. Those they can afford to hire are expected to deliver despite insufficient knowledge to learn what they need to know from another field.
Technical specialization is exactly why the Anthropogenic Global Warming scam was so easy to perpetrate for so long upon so many otherwise intelligent, talented, and highly trained people. One cannot expect a specialist in carbon sequestration or coral reefs to understand climatology, much less the dendrochronology (e.g. tree ring studies) from which some prominent historic temperature records reconstructed. Experts in only one field simply must rely upon the integrity of the peer review system within other fields for the bases upon which they perform their own work. Yet in this instance of "global warming," there were several core studies upon which huge amounts of work were premised, that had relied upon ridiculously small cherry-picked proxy data, while allowing little to no access to review that source material. Billions of dollars in research and the technical reputations of millions of university graduates are built on work that cites those very shaky premises. Whole nations were sold the crooked gambit of carbon trading. Yet the problems with these datasets were so obvious to an educated generalist that the ubiquity of credulity among so many scientific experts is almost incomprehensible.
By contrast, notice how a handful of multidisciplinary amateurs such as Steve MacIntyre, John Daly, or Anthony Watts have done so much to cut the legs out from under this multinational multibillion dollar government/university Global Warming behemoth. Whole nations are quietly backing away from carbon trading schemes because their work has been of such quality that it has held up to the desperate attacks of "experts" from all sides (in my opinion, Steve MacIntyre deserves a Congressional Medal of Freedom for the work he has produced under such constant assault). Because of their work experience, these people had the education to pursue their interests outside their expertise. Yet they still lack access to traditional peer review process for their work. Why?
They are not "peers." The university system has no advanced credential for self-taught generalists addressing multidisciplinary problems at a high level. Nor does anyone have the time or money to acquire such education at the university level despite the fact that there is an evident and massive advantage to general capability in the real world marketplace.
This problem gets worse when it comes to people expected to make technical decisions lacking ANY technical background. Consider a judge, business manager, investor, or purchasing agent expected to make decisions involving biological or chemical hazards, where mistakes can be catastrophic to an entire industry. Such are the perils of a symptom of relying upon advanced specialized training at the expense of broad technical education.
Yet most of the great inventions that have produced whole new industries, have been multidisciplinary syntheses taking advantage of new developments. Examples are the automobile (chemistry, electrical, chemical, and mechanical), plastics (chemistry and energy meet engineering), cameras (optics, chemistry, and film processing machinery), the silicon chip (chemistry, electronics, optics, machine design, and logic), or DNA sequencing equipment (silicon chip technology, biochemistry, and genetics), with nanotechnology looking to take advantage of them all. At this level of invention and development, each of these industries involved numerous approaches to undefined problems, sometimes involving teams of specialists under the guidance of a multidisciplinary genius.
This "specific problem" does not end with the need for broad technical education. Consider how many technical experts in the current job market are forced to become familiar with contract law, accounting, finance, project management, liability law, marketing, and economics, not to mention writing and graphical communications skills. For when it comes to transitioning from the garage shop to an IPO, ALL of those skills, particularly communication, become the difference between the very few who have a great idea and get rich, from the horde that gets taken to the cleaners. The reason we don’t have hundreds of the likes of Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Alejandro Zaffaroni, Steve Jobs, or David Packard is that it takes too long and it costs too much to find, educate, and train those few possessing the necessary personal and intellectual gifts to make great entrepreneurs (or so we believe). Further, the list of disciplines for what constitutes a generalist grows by the decade, which often means that one must be able to learn whole new technical fields as they develop, nanotechnology being a recent example.
When one goes from invention to scale-up and full-on manufacturing, the university training system does a fine job of cranking out specialists that drop into positions like Lego blocks. Yet in the short run and within such limited scope, employers do not care that much about most of what their hires learned in college; they only care about what they can do to make more-better-cheaper widgets. On the other hand, they also need people emotionally and verbally capable of functioning within a dedicated team, which is an entirely different skill set than their immediate tasks. In the longer term however, as the knowledge necessary to function within the ‘company team’ becomes increasingly proprietary, employers then need people with education to acquire training. For while there are measurable attributes for attainment in training, and particularly in mathematics and sciences, these metrics do little to measure an education: creativity, communications skills, or, possibly more importantly, personal integrity, demeanor, and listening skills. Yet the damage that can be done to an R&D effort by either industrial espionage, missed communication, or interpersonal friction is so great that such intangibles develop increasing weight in the risk associated with a prospective long-term hire.
Worse from the perspective of the aspiring job candidate, as the pace of technical development accelerates, the useful life of an expertise has shortened. Once the company is done with said expertise, having demanded so much of time to learn it, it is almost impossible to stay current. Then what happens? Do they go back to school? Have they got the basic skills to acquire new expertise in an affordable interval? How can the company compete after having invested all that proprietary knowledge into an individual only to see the value of what they learned superseded by new technology? In short, the value of an advanced degree is becoming increasingly illusory over the term of a career.
All of this taken into account, the employer must then fit the people available against the tradeoff between the quick return but zero loyalty of training and the long-term product-line dominion of a multidisciplinary, well-integrated, and experienced team. In a world of shortening products lifecycles of increasing complexity, that can be a tough strategic decision. In other words, despite the fact that our 19th Century education system was designed to deliver highly-trained experts for large corporations, it not only doesn't produce independent entrepreneurs, it no longer works that well for the big guys either.
By now you have probably noticed a deliberate emphasis upon a critical distinction: the difference between the value of what a person knows and learning capability, the distinction between training and education. As this bifurcation between what colleges consider “an education” and immediate marketable job skills worsens, all the university offers, all it holds with which to collect all that money is the power of credentialing training, namely the immediate job skills, the power to screen candidates for those intangibles and decide what constitutes a degree. Take it or leave it.
In an uncertain economy in which long term objectives become less important, not a few employers are starting to choose the latter, to prefer training to education, which is why over half of recent college graduates cannot find a job in the field for which they were trained. In other words, those students are going into hock for decades in order to offer skills fewer employers want.
That sounds like a marketing problem, doesn’t it? Well, it’s more than that, but first we’ll have to deal with the "raw material."
To recap, we have distinguished three attributes of dysfunction that plague our education and job-training systems, without regard to their cost or efficacy:
While it is obviously problematic that those seeking education or job training are going deep into debt with little to no idea whether what they are buying is what their prospective employers want, neither do the people in the business of preparing credentialed candidates! In fact, the schools tend to serve their own interests at the expense of their customers. Why? They have a monopoly. If whatever they sold you the first time wasn’t good enough to get that job, you’ll have to come back to them for “remedial education,” “continuing education,” “higher education,” “State boards,” or more whatever. Their job is to get your money, not to get you a job.
Where do they get that kind of unaccountable power? From you (at least that’s what the government is saying and they’re sticking to it). Effectively, the State (you know, those guys you hire in return for promises to make things better for you…) the State demands you pay off… er… “graduate” from an “accredited” institution in order to acquire a State license, be insurable, whatever. Are they accountable for the quality of their licensees? Nope, they don’t offer guarantees either! You see, they get out of that by credentialing the people offering the credentials, the accreditation body.
If by now you are smelling that malodorous but all-too familiar stench of lawyers here, you betcha! More importantly, it is also the whiff of the most coddled lobbies full of lawyers and accountants to be found anywhere near a State capitol: insurance companies (effectively lawyers protecting themselves from other lawyers). Yet these people assure neither you nor your prospective employer protection; for the most part, they simply make the cost of suing somebody prohibitive; justice has nothing to do with it.
For decades, leftist politicians and media corporations have lured voters with the claim that “Education” is among their highest priorities. Yet somehow that translates into hiring ever more leftist “educators” to indoctrinate the people to elect politicians that will give them goodies. Over the last fifty years, education spending per student has grown, while classroom performance degrades to the point that America is now a nation producing a third rate primary and secondary education product, and a “college graduate” product with a 50% unemployment rate. Much of that relates not only to training, but to politically-correct indoctrination masquerading as education.
Who hires trained specialists? Big Business. What do they want? Specialists. Who does most of the hiring? Small business. What do they need? Educated generalists. Which of the two wields more power in government and universities? Hence the problem with government colleges and universities marketing successful job seekers: they produce marginally trained and badly-educated specialists.
It should be no surprise therefore, that education (as opposed to training) is in fact the more critical issue in America, more serious than even the budget crisis. If you doubt that, realize that the budget crisis exists because so many Americans are so ignorant of the mechanics of liberty and economics that they elect liberals to get them goodies with other people’s money while paying all sorts of hidden taxes to fund it. Yet there is absolutely no reason to expect those charged with delivering that educational product to do ANYTHING to fix it. The reason is that the extremely wealthy (the 0.001% if you will), those with funds sufficient to control politicians will use their tax-exempt “charitable” foundations or yapping media serfs to whip up the public cry for government regulations to assure that small businesses don’t get big. And if that doesn't work they'll fund a lawsuit by some appropriately named activist group that supposedly represents the down-trodden. The big guys have no interest in true transformation.
To recap on "the problem," we have two deficiencies with the current instructional paradigm:
The reason I have so carefully developed this discussion is to convince you that the benefits of the remedies I am proposing here are worth enduring the shrieking you will hear the moment they are seriously considered in the public forum. Despite the seemingly modest nature of the legal changes necessary for this transformation to be enacted, those dependent upon the current system are absolutely incapable of producing anything of value to anybody without the legal protectionism it affords. They know it. This is a matter of financial life and death for them. These changes are inevitable, and in part, are already in progress. That is why they are so desperate to lock the existing system in political and legal concrete. So, now let's get started with laying out some dissolutions.
The first step toward cracking this concrete is to realize that the university is the wrong place to be “educating” anybody. For all but career academics, that job should have been done long before the student enters the university. Nor does this mean that we should accept low standards; for before there was "public education," the "liberal arts" elements of what I am about to propose were the usual among small schools across America. So to meet the demands of that problem, these are my standards for a 21st Century education to the age of thirteen:
Here are my standards for a 21st Century high school education:
You will note the glaring absence of physical education, sports, and such. Although it is important, to me, it goes under the heading of “play time” and “chores.” Why work out when you can work outside?
That is an education which produces voters capable of understanding the issues and discerning which of their prospective representatives are suitable. More importantly, it prepares virtually anyone to work for or start a small business without need of a college degree. I have little doubt that 95% of college graduates today do not meet those standards, despite the fact that not one of those courses is beyond lower division college level (sophomore year). That is how bad the system is.
I would suspect that most people will recoil from these standards as "impossible." Yet one must ask, by what standard do they make that judgment, other than their own experience? Aren't they making comparisons in terms of what they believe to be possible against their own achievement levels as graduates of an intentionally-dysfunctional system? Others will assert that these are standards that could only be met by those with exceptional innate intelligence, and that what I am proposing is somehow elitist, leaving low achievers behind.
Well? I can tell you from experience, it's not that hard. I used algebra to teach arithmetic. Most engineers I know doing calculations in their heads do them that way. Yet to demonstrate how habituated to educational methods we really are, if you do know any engineers, ask them if they teach their kids that way. My bet is that you'll get a blank stare. If you then ask why they use algebra to break down arithmetic problems, they'll probably tell you, "It's easier," probably ruefully.
I removed years of "schooling" off the front end of my kids' education that way, but only because the necessary reading skills were in place by the age of four. If I had to do it again, it would have gone quite a bit faster and it would have been WAY faster if I'd had similar materials available. You see, once the math is truly embedded, teaching sciences at the college level in high school is a snap. The level of concentration, careful reading, and self-discipline mathematics induces makes every other course go far more quickly. At that point, the above goals become quite reasonable for the vast bulk of students.
You see, the goal here is to shift the entire "bell curve" to the right, to have EVERYONE performing at a higher level because math and reading are introduced at a higher level earlier in the develolpment process. Yet even if the students do have genetic differences such that some will never express their ability beyond what they achieve now, what will happen if we demand more of those with more ability is that the curve will broaden to the right, toward higher average attainment with even greater levels of superior attainment than is possible today. Better educated people will then be availabe to teach, but more importantly, the wealth of the society will have increased with it, leaving us with more capable people with more money with which to improve the lot of those with less ability.
Yet my experience says that even the least intrinsically gifted among us are far more capable than the current system allows them to express. So to those folks who doubt that the goals I listed above are reasonable, I give you Jamie Escalante. This is a guy who took inner city high school students in Los Angeles, California, students people would normally write off as residing at the wrong end of the bell curve, students with obvious reading and comprehension problems, not to mention poor study habits and a very poor study environment. Jamie Escalante turned these kids into students that not only passed the AP calculus exam, many of them scored at the highest level.
It only took him a year to make that change in these kids. How big a change then is it possible to make in ten to fifteen years? That's what we are talking about here.
So to those teachers who feel themselves incompetent to teach calculus to grade school students, or physics with calculus to high school students, I have this to say to them: If you cannot teach higher mathematics to children, then we can find people who can and will. There are a lot of unemployed engineers out there who would be happy to figure it out, design the pedagogical tools, and get them online. Nobody is going to retrain you to your satisfaction. The materials are out there and they are inexpensive if not free. If it is re-education and training you need, you have only to get to work. Be the student you want to train into being or get the hell out of the profession.
This article is too short to be a book about specific teaching pedagogies. Instead it is about why and how to change the existing system so that each child has access to a pedagogy that works for him or her. If some day, some publisher waves an adequate sum in front of my nose, I might attempt such a book, but right now, I'm way too busy. That said, there are a few things I will offer by way of principles.
Start early, VERY early. The reason for this emphasis is developmentally important. The peak learning phase of a child’s development is during the time when they are typically in middle school. To have more powerful information acquisition and processing skills in place before then allows them to take full advantage of that high learning rate.
I was teaching my kids games about shapes and perception while they were sitting in their playpen and before they could talk. This was huge fun. The key to the method was to give them enough time alone after introducing a new idea or toy for them to get bored with their own play, so as to make the learning event an exciting interlude of full adult attention. Be very deliberate and keep things calm, tactile, and simple. I even ripped the labels off cans and bottles so that they could discern the shapes with less noise. NO fancy, brightly colored, high-stimulus toys. Teach them what is interesting about what might seem to be dull things. It is the essence of developing their own curiosity and insight. What we fail to recognize is how much children are learning. We then do not structure what they are learning so that it builds by topic in a rational and sequential fashion.
NO TV. NO computer games. The problem with them is that, even if they are good (perhaps ESPECIALLY if they are good), is frame rate. The level of stimulation is so high that children become physically addicted to high levels of their own neurotransmitters and cannot calm down long enough to see what is interesting about something that requires protracted study, something quiet that doesn't move, like a book, or looking at bugs in water, or a microscope. They just can't hold still long enough to learn from one. Maybe some day some smart person will learn how to do it right, but why should we be teaching children that all knowledge comes from a telescreen?
Treat simple problems with exceptional rigor while looking for interdisciplinary learning opportunities in every challenge. As an example of the way we did second-grade level mathematics, the kids would diagram the sentences of a very simple mathematical word problem with grammatical rules. Then write out all the necessary identities and set relationships. Then and only then convert it into algebra. Draw useful diagrams to illustrate the problem. Perform the necessary substitutions and unit conversions. Then solve the problem. This is preparing them to do high level mathematics applied to real problems while the problems themselves are still self-evidently simple.
I treated mistakes as moral issues. I’ll bet a good many of you think that is unduly harsh, but that is simply how moral issues truly are. First, we simply won't ever get educated adults without treating children as if they are responsible for learning. The kid signed the paper believing what he or she said was true and never asked a question indicating any doubt. That signature is a serious matter because they are to be people of consequence. If they have a question, great, thank and reward them for asking. Bringing an incorrect paper, signed, and without asking is a moral problem. Why?
Recognizing uncertainty is the key to any kind of inquiry: If one does not recognize a deficiency in understanding a problem, one will never ask the questions that lead to the answers. Hence, learning to recognize uncertainty is the key to research, the essence of self-education, while rationalizing existing problems allows them to remain unchallenged in perpetuity.
Errors are a moral issue because learning is about truth telling. In essence, it is the fact that our scientific models are only approximations of reality that forces us to realize that every problem incorporates uncertainty and error. If one looks microscopically enough, one realizes that solids are plastic, that edges of materials have sluffing and out-gassing molecules, diffusion is changing shapes, temperature changes are inducing changes in size, contaminants are seeping in... In other words, and as the guy who taught me metrology once said, "It's a rubber world." We are all liars in our imperfect models to understand. We learn when we repent of our certainty and seek truth, despite the absolute certainty we will never get there.
It should be fairly obvious that there is one context wherein that kind of thinking is most easily incorporated into the every day life of a child. With adults, especially those who know them intimately, understand their learning modalities viscerally, and share an absolute commitment to their success in learning.
Home education is enjoying a renaissance in America, and religious freedom isn’t the principle reason. Parents are choosing to stay at home to assure educational excellence for their children, whose learning habits they know best. A family bond of patience and discipline is a critical factor in student success, especially in a challenging situation.
What many people don't know about home-schools is that they have a higher-than-average percentage of students with genetic, behavioral, and developmental disabilities, problems that had often been poorly served by or even caused by public institutions. Yet even with that statistical disadvantage, SAT, ACT, and STAR test scores strongly indicate that home education is producing superior results across the entire spectrum of individual ability.
Yet the greatest potential of home education as a system is in what I described earlier, solving that terrible problem of supplying educated students to enter college capable of learning a wide array of skills on their own at the upper division college level. To that end, I approached the new President of my alma mater, a college founded with the purpose of producing broadly educated scientists and engineers. It has been fantastically successful in commanding that market niche, producing graduates that rate at the top of incoming graduate school students. Yet this new President was making an alumni presentation, arguing that these fantastic students, each with a basket of high AP scores, almost half National Merit Scholars, these kids were cracking under the increasing demands of breadth! Nor could she find minority students ready to undertake that work load with which to meet the “diversity” goals of the college. Her proposal was to dumb-down the college’s most successful and differentiating principle: breadth in sciences and engineering to make those targets easier to attain.
The problem was that the work load existed because of how the students were prepared while the college has no power to fix the high school curriculum beyond demanding AP scores. Yet there is one group with the flexibility to adapt to these demands for high-quality breadth: All the college had to do was post online what their ideal candidate attainments would be for each degree, and what skill levels had to be acquired by a particular age in order to get there. Heck, even write some practice tests so that people could be sure they were on track. Simply put the targets online and the most diverse group of families to be found anywhere, parents of every race, creed, nationality, and profession, every income level and array of talents, sharing only an absolute commitment to their children; home educators would find a way to attain those goals and produce those candidates.
Did my kids attain all of what I regard as that seemingly outrageous “minimum” standard? Almost. One still needs the business courses and the other is deficient in physics. After a year of college language they still could not speak Spanish fluently (we’ll fix that). So you see; I’m not perfect either. Had I the online materials twelve to fifteen years ago that exist today and put them into the local junior college when they were intellectually ready, it would have been a slam dunk.
I am not touting my kids to brag, but to make a crucial point on behalf of those who think themselves unqualified to do “home schooling”:
I did not teach them second year algebra, geometry, calculus, biology, or beginning chemistry. It was the rigor with which I taught first through third grade reading and mathematics that prepared them to succeed in these “advanced” courses on their own. They either did it perfectly and at a very high level, or they did not proceed.
Please, stop and think about the implications of that before going on. Was all that moral emphasis really so harsh, or was it the key to success? Isn't it easier to build on success than to learn by repeating and correcting errors amid the trauma of failure? The former builds confidence, while the latter build confusion.
Once our kids learned those elementary basics, with emphasis upon the importance of being honest with themselves as to whether they understood what they were doing from first principles, all they needed was to read the book and look online for help with solutions. For the most part, I didn’t even need to be there. It was THAT easy. Now think back to the excuses you hear from teachers as to why classroom performance is so bad.
You see, for our girls, their “education” (in principle) was done by the time they were ten. Beyond that point, they were independent learners, capable of training for virtually any career. Yet even during those first intensive years, it took me less time to teach these kids than dealing with the private school they had attended for the first two years of k-12. It was our emphasis upon morality and self-discipline that made it possible for me to write two books and restore our land while educating two kids. Don’t think for a minute that my own pursuit of knowledge and achievement was lost on them. Nor do I believe that their outstanding achievements are a result of genetic superiority. They are bright, but neither one is a genius. They were simply raised to be high achievers with no excuses accepted for anything less, and so they are.
Are they whipped currs or servile nerds? One is an accomplished ballroom dancer. The other went to State finals in her first year of track and the team’s highest scorer the second year. One loves photography; the other is talented with animals. One was on a board of directors of the local classical music concert association for five years; the other won awards as an outstanding tutor. One transferred to Stanford graduating With Distinction in microbiology while working as a Resident Advisor; the other got a full academic ride to Utah State University and graduated as valedictorian of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (that includes all those seeking to be veterenarians) while running for the track team and working as a teaching fellow... all by the age of barely twenty. Both girls, are by no means automata, but whole people. In my opinion, it is possible for virtually anyone to produce equivalent results. Do they have deficiencies? Absolutely. They still can’t speak Spanish well (having "learned" that in a public community college), have never played volley ball or field hockey, nor are they as musically proficient as I wish they were. We had the time, but I didn’t have access to the tools commonly available today. Their deficiencies are all mine. No excuses. They succeed despite me.
Besides the usual questions about "socialization" (which have been shown to be totally baseless), not a few parents feel themselves unqualified to teach their children. Note first that this concern and deference to "expertise" demonstrates how important these parents feel education really is and how much they care about their children. If they only knew how unqualified or outright destructive many public school teachers really are, they would be less circumspect, but let's take that question on directly. Let's say you as a parent feel unqualified to teach algebra. Shouldn't YOU fix that problem in yourself? What if there was a guaranteed program for you to follow? Would you do that for your children? Would you do it WITH your children? What if you could learn history while teaching it. Wouldn't that be a wonderful example to your children of the value YOU place on self-education? Do not think for a minute it would be lost on them.
The inculcation of self-education has the potential to correct the deficiencies of historic educational malpractice at every level and in more than one generation, simultaneously. It would be an immediate transformation compared to "reforming" education. Now you know why the left holds home-schooling in such fear and contempt. In other words, self-education is the only means we have to accomplish what needs to be done in time to save the nation before it is no longer able to compete in the international struggle for jobs commanding middle class compensation. I assume that matters to you, as it does to me. So, no, I am not telling you to learn and teach your children at home; I am telling you that you can.
This brings us back to the point about self-education with respect to children: Despite our deficiencies, parents are competent and responsible to make choices about their children’s education. Home schools offer a huge array of possibilities with which to manage nearly every conceivable combination of specialized educational needs and goals successfully. But what about those parents who don’t care about their children? Shouldn’t “we” be making sure ‘no child is left behind’? Well, before proposing the answer, let’s take a look at that prospect, for I am NOT underestimating the situation.
The most comprehensive study of literacy ever commissioned by the U.S. government found that nearly a quarter of the American public is functionally illiterate, while over 40% were at or below basic levels of attainment, this after the most expensive public education in the world. Over the 25 year period beginning a decade after ”Why Johnny Can’t Read,” real classroom spending, on average k-12 children (not special needs), after inflation, has increased by 25% with virtually no improvement. “More money” has already been tried for over three generations of students and the only people that benefited are those in charge of the system that produced those unacceptable results.
Given that collection of depressing facts, and given that there is no point in trying to “fix” the current system, what are committed home educators doing right that we can apply to public institutions teaching so many children that come from broken families? After all, I did promise you a plan capable of transforming the educational system as a whole, both for the better and in short order, and are you ever going to get one!
As home educators have grown in number, they have been organizing into loosely knit cooperatives that point to a new form of public education: a decentralized, customer-oriented network for lifelong learning, using products designed to meet individual interests and abilities. That promises what 21st Century public education could really become: a multi-disciplinary market of customized learning products and services, every one guaranteed to work as promised.
We are already starting to see the effects of this change. Software and curriculum companies are finding a growing market of customers, committed to gaining competitive advantage working on their own. PimsleurTM and Rosetta StoneTM duke it out for foreign language training offering guarantees for their products. Colleges and universities are offering free access to lectures online and online degrees because they need superior students to assure productive alumnae. The Khan Academy offers whole courses on YouTube. There is no reason that method cannot move down-market. Superior teachers could get rich transmitting their ideas and methods to a mass-market. The key is to get those products to school children while still under the control of the suppliers, and over the objections of you-know-whom.
The obvious barrier to what home education can do to transform public schools is teachers’ unions. I won’t pull any punches here: The first thing we must do is to assure that the unions lose their monopoly status. The key legislation is to reform the National Labor Relations Act to eliminate the exemption unions enjoy from antitrust law. Unions must become profit-making businesses marketing skilled labor in competition with everybody else. To that end, we must force the States to enforce the Supreme Court decision that prohibits unions from requiring campaign contributions in dues payments without employee permission (Beck (487 US 735), 1988). To keep the "company union" from effecting monopoly power in their place, we should invoke the laboratory of the republic, the Several States, to develop and improve conflict of interest laws in boards of directors and contracting involving public funds, including real jail time for fraud.
Second, we must reverse the trend toward large unified public school districts that has effectively excluded parents from affecting public school decisions. The purpose of consolidation was supposedly to reduce the cost of overhead through economies of scale and to strengthen the districts’ collective bargaining power, but that isn’t how it has turned out. In fact, there is a negative correlation between the size of a school district and student performance. Instead, district bureaucracies have become so powerful that parents are pushed aside by an organizational machine controlled by bureaucrats. With teachers running both sides of the negotiations, the premise of collective bargaining power is little more than a ruse.
While there are economies of scale in corporate services, those can be divested from school districts so that they reorganize into smaller, more personalized institutions while retaining the organizational muscle to deal with the unions. Smaller school districts could then give parents a stronger voice on district boards over the issues that matter to them. The principle need to make this possible is to develop programs for children with special needs. See above; here is where can turn to parents and home education for solutions. Not every small school needs them all.
Third, and this is the most comprehensive point, we can use private and home education as if they were R&D laboratories developing and testing proven learning tools and services. Parents on school boards could then select those products that the State would fund for use in public schools as long as they come with an insured performance guarantee verified by a third party. It is a gradual transformation, from experimenting on our children with untested academic theories, to contracting for innovative tools and methods that have been proven in the marketplace. The first State to break ranks and do this stands to gain a leading position in a new industry.
Fourth, eliminate child labor laws for those meeting specific test standards. I don’t think anyone could rationally dispute the value of an early first job to a young person, for the number of lessons that sharpen the value of education then become glaringly apparent: Show up, be polite, be rested and ready, and do your job; educational skills really are worth something, the boss is there to help you but only if you’re there to help him...etc. That work experience can then become the core of a generalist academic career path by which the child can select from emphases that appear to be more likely to yield a profitable job, one to which the child is best suited by location, interests, and ability. This measure directly addresses that marketing problem to which I referred above, the problem of selecting an educational emphasis that most readily yields a satisfactory career and an entry point into the world of big business via small business. Entrepreneurs can make great mentors. They are a huge educational resource that absolutely must not be lost on our communities. It matters little whether this is as a volunteered internship or paid. This is about gaining the benefits of a job as consciously intended to augment education. Even the most unpleasant grunt work has the benefit of teaching the child that we aren’t all CEOs unless we get an education that befits that kind of trust, but that EVERY job has grunt work that must be done. Yes, the labor unions and teachers will scream “exploitation,” and they are absolutely correct, for the word itself is a term that in the Latin denotes unfolding one’s abilities to full advantage. Isn’t that what we would want to see in a first job? A child, “fully exploited,” is free from the need to depend upon the left to tell them what to do. Moreover, a child having learned what grunt work is while still able to avoid it, still has the opportunity to save him or herself from that fate in real life. Both my girls spent ample time weeding.
Remember also, that the development of manual skills is a lifelong blessing and freedom from needless dependency upon contractors. The human hand is a 27 degree of freedom manipulator, equipped with fantastic feedback sensors. It demands some 25% of the brain’s motor control systems. "Weeding" on our land took the skill of distinguishing over 100 weed species from over 200 natives, including grasses and in their juvenile states. Developing those skills IS developing the brain. Needless to say, whatever a child can make to benefit his or her life over the ensuing years is also an expression of self-worth that is lost on no one. Work is its own blessing, not to be denied by vicious power freaks seeking to breed a culture of dependency.
You see, teachers’ unions are only a symptom of the power of credentialing. Without that certificate, you or your children could go anywhere you want to learn whatever you want. You could read on the Internet to your heart’s desire. You could watch YouTube videos on any topic imaginable. There is only one thing the public schools and universities have that keeps you in their thrall, and this is the key to that certification: TESTING. Without passing their tests, you don’t get that certificate. Without paying them off, you can’t take those tests.
The solution is brutally simple. So much so, that you’ll absolutely recognize the degree to which you’ve been had.
Envision a small shop in a strip mall: "WeTest." WeTest tests, and how. WeTest tests are no joke, indeed; they are hard. REALLY hard. We Test guarantees that any person who can pass their tests can perform as specified with an insured guarantee. If the person you hire with their certificate fails to perform to those specifications within the term of the guarantee, WeTest pays the cost of hiring and training a replacement.
Any human then could use any means imaginable to acquire the necessary knowledge to pass WeTest tests. Any school would do, no accreditation required. ALL prior work would be transferable. The Internet is loaded with coursework and curricula, libraries and lab-simulators. Any human with the drive and intelligence to learn on their own could then qualify for a job. No saving for decades, no brainwashing, completely transferable work, at any pace one can withstand. Any employer could then simply select from a menu of We Test specifications instead of a diploma, at any level. WeTest tests.
WeTest doesn’t care if your urchin knows how to put a condom on a banana or can spout the latest Global Warming Welfare State propaganda (unless the employer wants to pay for that pack of lies). To keep their liability and retraining costs down, WeTest needs to know what employers actually need in order to make good widgets (which fixes that marketing problem). They’ll partner and keep trade secrets, because to divulge those secrets is to go out of business.
As an example of how little it would take in the way of infrastructure, consider my wife. She just passed her board certification exam as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit. She walked into H&R Block, sat at a computer, took a three-hour exam harder than anything she'd endured in her Masters' Program at Cal State San Francisco, and within five minutes after completion had her passing grade. If the private system can handle a test that specialized, why can't it test arithmetic, algebra, US history, or college chemistry? Instead of bricks and mortar, it would be e-books in quarters.
One would think that this should have happened a long time ago, but in fact there is one thing standing in the way that makes the realization of this seeming inevitability a matter of now or never. State licensing and accreditation requires degreed credentials obtainable only at said profligate, bureaucratic and unaccountable institutions charging outrageous fees and demanding excessive time as only a State monopoly could command.
As I said, YOU gave them that power. It is now quite evidently time to take it back. Simply just amend the legislation specifying education for state licensure by adding the simple words, "or guaranteed equivalent." If the existing system was that good, they would have nothing to fear.
Now let's imagine that we just took an exam at WeTest. Presume that we had not qualified to their standards for the position we seek. Where you go from here? Who now knows best your capabilities with respect to the career that you had been seeking? Who has the best sense of what you need to learn to be able to do that career? Who knows where you might go to obtain the most cost-effective means to learn that material?
That's right. To WeTest, you are their customer, and if they don't do a good job you can go to somebody else. So now we know that WeTest needs to take into account both the needs of the company seeking employees and employees seeking a job.
A lot of people might get queasy about an employer or agent of an employer knowing so much about your capabilities. Well the last time you gave out such information was probably to your high school counselor, or your tax return. That's the government. They have guns. WeTest doesn't have guns. In fact you can fire WeTest and go hire somebody else. If WeTest this uses your information, you can sue them. If you tried that against the state... in fact, you can't bring that suit, because the state has immunity, “sovereign immunity.”
In reality these ideas are not at all radical. This is in fact the way most things work in commerce and industry between suppliers and their customers. So let's take this whole idea a little farther.
You and WeTest have been partners for some time. They know you. They make more money if you make more money. They make more money if you're happy with your career. That means they want to market your services. That means they will tell you about a new job you might want. And they know how likely it is that you will like that job. In effect, they could become your personal agent and marketing department.
Remember: WeTest is not the only game in town. The good news is that they know that better than you do.
OK, so here’s another leap. Let’s say that, in a turbulent era of constant technological change, you end up time-sharing among jobs. Indeed, one might be a new profession to you demanding new training and some degree of risk. One might be a boring but predictable “cash cow.” One might be just for fun. At that point, having that agent with which to combine such packages becomes more important to you than ever, especially if you are a working mom.
WeTest could even be an important partner in group enterprise, coordinating specialists into teams, whether the effort is for profit or voluntary. Considering how many dating services there are on the Internet, this is a marriage made in heaven.
All we have to do is allow this to happen, by keeping government from regulating new educational methods out of existence. Private and home education leave the State with more money to spend per-child with more and better choices for course work, while simultaneously imposing a competitive incentive for public schools to earn their customers. It ultimately produces a more productive citizenry. Private testing with an insured guarantee validates any training for purposes of employment.
Together, let’s help America rise from the ashes of a broken system and lead the way once again, into a world of exciting possibilities for us and our posteriety.
 Where’s the Money Gone? Changes in the Level and Composition of Education Spending http://epi.3cdn.net/9f9803682f88680e77_06m6iixw2.pdf
 Education and Urban Society, Feb 1989, "A District of a Certain Size, An Exploration of the Debate on School District Size" by Florence R. Webb, University of California, Berkeley. Retrieved 08/10/12 from http://www.smallerschools.org/research.php?ref=smaller-districts.
Mark Edward Vande Pol is an engineer engaged in habitat restoration. He is the author of two books: Natural Process: That Environmental Laws May Serve the Laws of Nature
Natural Process: That Environmental Laws May Serve the Laws of Natureproposes an objective pricing system for free market environmental management, protected by a business method patent.
Shemitta: For the Land Is Mine is an astonishing reconstruction of the long lost original purpose and function of the Biblical Sabbath for the Land, now revealed for the first time.