As I mentioned in my previous post, education is simply the process of replacing ignorance with knowledge. This has clear value and can be clearly measured.
Our educational system, built on the Prussian paradigm, seems to have once been about education -replacing ignorance with knowledge – but is now more about commodification of a knowledge, which I suspect, is part of what’s driving educational reform down the entirely wrong path.
Our current educational system culminates with a degree, a product earned by a learner by completing required curricular sequences in either a high school or college. In each case, the purpose of your degree is to communicate with the next step – colleges or employers – that you have the requisite skills to be successful. The degree allows the admissions counselor or human resources officer to pawn off on someone else the task of assessing your skills: if you’ve earned a degree from a SUNY school in education, for instance, I know you have been taught what NYS has mandated new teachers learn. A degree becomes a shortcut to evaluating a candidate’s qualifications against others.
Do degrees actually communicate this information? Sometimes.
From the time I was a very small child, my mother will tell you, I never really bought into paradigms. I was a child who saw, say mixing the ingredients of Nana’s carrot cake in three separate bowls and then pouring into the baking pan as one possibility; equally plausible was simply pouring all of the ingredients into the baking pan and mixing there, saving three bowls from being washed along the way. (An epic fail, for the record.) If you said I couldn’t or shouldn’t, I took that to mean that you simply didn’t know how to, and I had discovered a challenge.
And when I look back on my public schooling, I realize that I have been active in educational reform since I was a high school student. Middle school had been full of pleasure reading and book auctions and Christmas tree forests and science fairs; high school was full of sitting in rows, being lectured, and being told what I should or could do until athletic practice began at 3:15. I was miserable, as most teens are, and I rebelled, as most teens do. And while much of my rebellion was typical teenage nonsense (see also my Angela Chase Red Hair phase), much of it was actually a pretty purposeful attempt to break the educational paradigm in which I found myself. It had been communicated to me – both verbally and through the precedent set by countless prior students – that all students take courses in a certain sequence, that it takes 4 years to graduate, that college comes after high school. Refusing to believe that the path taken by most was the only path, I successfully advocated an alternative education for myself, graduating with 38 hours of college coursework and a 3.74 collegiate GPA from a high school that graduates less than 100 per year, has a 47% free and reduced lunch rate, and offered only AP English and math. What follows are suggestions for young people about how to use the current educational system, broken as it is, to accomplish something similar, an innovating of your own education.