Reasons to Change the Standard Approach to Education

Happiness is what they deserve!
I wrote this article a year or so ago.  It received a lot of attention and I felt it to be necessary start to this education series.  I tweaked it a little and am happy to share it again!  Part 1 of a 4 part series for the whole month of February.

The way in which we view education has a lot to do with our past. How we grew up, societal influences, and the way we were schooled our entire lives shape the model that we are passing on to our children. It is not too late to change that model. The simple truth is that how we grew up is not working anymore. I'm not sure it ever did.

We live in a time where our schools are failing, our children are unhappy, drugged and overworked; and the system, as it is, becomes more obsolete every year. Something needs to change if we want our children to be happy and our country to be successful once again. The system we have now was built on a fault line and it has become increasingly evident that the cracks are growing exponentially.  Alfie Kohn has been a real inspiration to me and my entire family, any reading of his will show you just how broken the system of education has become.

We could talk about how to improve schools, maybe more money or less political involvement, but in the long run those are not the things that stand in the way of our children’s futures. What stands in the way is an archaic mindset build on false education and an inability to look past the norm. It is time to step outside of the box our own education put us in.

Our schools are failing miserably
Now that is not to say that some students do not do well in public school and end up happy, but that is not the majority. Most states spend on average over $10,000 per student yet we are lagging behind countries that don’t spend half that much. Money is not the problem, so throwing more into a broken system is just adding fuel to the fire.

NCLB has been a total failure. There is extreme emphasis placed on tests, yet as a country we rank far below most industrialized nations. It is based on increased federal funding which in turn leads to more control by the government and less local independence or flexibility. We are wasting money letting political agendas decide what is best rather then the parents or teachers who know the children best.

Unsettling Education Statistics:
Students are not faring well on national assessments. The most recent NAEP assessments indicate that less than one third of U.S. fourth graders are proficient in reading, mathematics, science, and American history.
More than half of low-income students cannot even demonstrate basic knowledge of science, reading, and      history.  U.S. eighth graders ranked 19th out of 38 countries on mathematic assessments and 18th in science.  U.S. twelfth graders ranked 18th out of 21 countries in combined mathematics and science assessments

History shows us that modern day schooling of our children started with the industrial revolution, but most of you probably don’t know that the people who funded its inception did not have children’s education as their main priority. Men like Rockefeller and Carnegie (powerhouses in corporate America) wanted good workers to take the jobs they needed filled. They didn’t want to help students reach their potential, they wanted children dumbed down, trained to work in groups and encouraged them to take factory jobs.  What on earth would they do with a group of people capable of independent thought, where they had been praised for questioning the norm?

John Taylor Gatto, teacher for over 30 years, NY teacher of the year, bestselling author, and home schooling supporter, states “The secret to American schooling is that it doesn’t teach the way children learn, nor is it supposed to. Schools were conceived to serve the economy and the social order rather then kids and their families….that is why it is compulsory.” This is a system set up for all the wrong reasons, and it is a system whose goals were set deep inside of ulterior motives and still are today. Maybe, just maybe, schools are not the best places for our children to gain knowledge.

Our children are unhappy, overworked, and not learning what they need to be successful
The first thing that needs to change is how we define the word…success.  We hear it all the time used as a measure of how our children are doing in life but what if the way we define success has been wrong all along? What exactly are we, as parents, supposed to focus on? Does success equal happiness?

I believe that if we change our thinking about that word, then success can equal happiness. Most parents get so caught up in competition that they can forget that our ultimate goal should be our children’s happiness. School is not a happy place, it is institutional and cold. It is a place where strangers are controlling our children’s minds and bodies. What's more, the curriculum no longer accurately represents the “real world”.

We cannot expect our children to be able to make sense out of the world if they are being taken out of it and then segregated. Not only segregated from peers of varying ages but also segregated away from their family.  Does it seem normal in your gut instinct to institutionalize your 4-year-old, or even a 10-year-old?  Those years are crucial to be gaining trust and self esteem, feeling unconditionally loved, and enjoying life to the fullest.  They should not, in my opinion, be spent in a place like public school!

When are we kept under lock and key, totally controlled by others and segregated to only spend time with people of the same age? It simply does not happen. It is NOT real life.  So how on earth can this prison-like structure pretend to prepare our children for an independent life?

We have been taught, in the US anyway, to think of the word success as being dependent on grades in school. But what true success seems more dependent upon is knowledge.  I do not believe those two things are synonymous.

In 2007, for the first time, Unicef did a study on the wellbeing and happiness of children in 21 industrialized nations. The US and UK, two of the wealthier nations on the list, came in dead last. This alone should raise some eyebrows and proves the points that our children are not happy and that more money is not the answer to the problem.

Another study was recently done by the American Psychological Association to survey stress levels in children. This study was done in 2009 and found some alarming information.  To start with, it showed that stress levels in adults and children has risen dramatically over the past few years, but even more upsetting is the fact that parents seemed mostly clueless to the fact that their children were stressed at all.  What were the main issues causing stress in children?  Worry about grades, about getting into college, and family finances (likely related to high college costs) top the list.  These problems are causing children to experience headaches, nausea and trouble sleeping. If our goal is happiness, school is clearly not the answer.

Sir Ken Robinson describes beautifully what is going on in our education system today and what needs to happen to change it.

School, particularly college, has become obsolete 
The last 10 years has seen more technological advancement than in the century before. Information is now literally in the palm of our hands. All of the world's knowledge is accessible at our fingertips through the internet. Why are brick-and-mortar schools still focusing on rote memorization of facts that can be Googled in seconds?

The system as it stands is repetitive, memorization and test driven, and downright boring. It’s a place that resembles prison and where “very little of what is taught is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is actually used.” John Holt  in How Children Learn.

Couple that with the fact that 50 % (technological knowledge) of what is learned in the first year of college is worthless by the time you graduate and you just have to ask yourself:  What is the point?  Is it even responsible to encourage our children to sign up for this and incur a mountain of debt?  A debt that will likely shackle them to a life of working for the "man"?  And we wonder why no one is happy.

Our children not only deserve better, they require better to compete in a market with growing unemployment.  No one is guaranteed a job after gaining all this debt.  College costs have skyrocketed (did you realize that Harvard University for example is $60,000 PER YEAR) in the past few years. Universities are making kickback profits from credit card companies and our kids aren’t even able to find jobs. With over 1/3 of college graduates now taking low skill jobs and over 65% graduating with crippling debt, it is questionable if college is the right path to put our children on.

For me and most people in my generation it was simply expected that we would go to college.  No one stopped to ask if we wanted to or if it even made financial sense given the passions we had.  But back to that definition of success, we were looked at as failures.   If we did not place ourselves on the college path we were not respected and thought of as stupid or lacking conviction!  I don't want this for my kids, does anyone really?

The wrong people are in control and it won’t get better until we walk away 
“The education system was deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens in order to render the populace "manageable." Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, Sr. policy advisor for the US Dept of Education and whistle blower on government activities to deliberately dumb our children down.  She also notes that the system is set up to make good consumers and to standardize people to keep them more predictable and easier to control. Does this sound like something you want to support? Do we really want our children controlled and held back in life?  

The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 were the first steps toward a large government role in education. This was not a good thing. What people failed to realize was that with the money from these acts came obligations to play by their rules. Now, because they were financially supporting the schools they could centrally control what was taught, thus bringing another facet of American life under the control of the Robber Barons.

This is proven again and again when we see how hard it is for adults to make their own decisions in life or how they beg for someone to give them a job when they're unemployed.  Instead, if they had confidence, boundless imagination, and the ability to solve problems they could create their own destiny.  Independent thinkers may not turn out to be good little worker bees that public schools desires them to become, but they may just reinvent themselves and the world.  

According to Karen de Coster " Modern education is built upon a foundation set forth by tyrants."  She goes on to explain that the worst part of it all is that the people who believe in our current system are the same ones against alternative paths to knowledge.  I am suspicious of system so one sided, especially when the "experts" must know how badly it's failing.  Or, perhaps, failure is success if they desire a dumbed-down, apathetic population.

It is clear that the purpose of school has become to serve corporations (for example: BP making policy in California schools) and government. School should have the purpose of serving the best interests of taxpayers, families, and most of all children. When the day comes that the people in charge make families, and not greedy corporations, the priority then maybe our children will be learning what is really important rather then learning how to be a serf to the very people who set up the system.

So how exactly can we make this change?
In a time when our economy desperately needs more innovators, how can we change education to expand the potential of each child? It seems we must do some things we did NOT learn in school: Question assumptions about education; think for and believe in ourselves; speak up against what we know is wrong; and challenge what we've been taught to believe is right. It is each parent's right and responsibility to decide the best way to guide their child to maximum human potential.

It seems that our modern world provides all of the tools to support a child's natural curiosity to drive their own education. Homeschooling and unschooling may be the most powerful form of revolt against an establishment which is terrified of individuals that question authority and refuse to be good little worker bees. John Holt said it well, “To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves….but most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.”

We also must begin to trust our own abilities as parents to guide our children toward happiness and independence, not to blindly trust the failed government standards that have resulted in anxiety and stress conditioning.  It is time for all of us to look outside the box for solutions to our education system to ensure our children's happiness -- this should be deemed the ultimate success.

Stay tuned, next Monday I will discuss my personal journey through school, home school, all the way to where we are now...UN schoolers!

If you enjoyed this article please use the tools below to share it!

Sharing is Caring

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Great article ! Looking forward to reading your personal experiences with home education.

  2. Thanks for that Mary! You have encapsulated what I have been feeling about school and the real purpose of school, very eloquently.
    "To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves" - that is the key, a barrier I am really working on! As I keep my kids home for another 'sick' day....

  3. "It is each parent's right and responsibility to decide the best way to guide their child to maximum human potential."

    YES! Excellent post. Thank you *so* much. :)

  4. I enjoyed your post and as a retired teacher I can say I agree with most of what you said. Public education is a mess. However, it's not going to go away and I'm hoping you post your ideas on improving it because there will always be kids "stuck" there. What about the kids who have no home support or anyone to teach them at home. I'm all for your ideas but, we need to push them into the public school system.
    I've been thinking of running for the local school board to "shake things up." Look forward to your future posts on this topic.

  5. Thanks so much anonymous. I completely agree with you that many kids are stuck there and I also feel that many kids do well and enjoy their school experience. I have been picking my brain as to what to write as my 4th installment so maybe your idea here will work. I have some ideas of what can help but not sure if it is a whole article worth. I believe very much in unschooling and I am not sure how that would translate to a school setting. This article and the following ones I guess are more starting points for people thinking of doing home or unschool themselves. I would love for you to share your ideas here!

  6. Quoting Burgon Russel, one of the „Inventors“ of the schooling system“ „Education should aim at destroying free will, so that after pupils have left school they shall be left incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking and acting otherwise as their schoolmasters had wished. Diet, injections and injunctions will combined produce the sort of character and the sort of believes that the authorities consider desirable. And any serious criticism of the powers that will be becomes psychologically impossible. „ THIS IS A BLOODY QUOTE AND WHY SCHOOL WAS INVENTED IN THE FIRST PLACE, just to slap that in everybody's face who still thinks he has to defend the hamster wheel he was born into and taught to defend it while being conditioned not to see it for himself. Homeschooling and unschooling are the ONLY choice in these times to grow decent caring educated and empathic human beings.