I have received a few interesting comments on a YouTube video I posted back in January titled “Elephants in the School Reform Debate.” Today someone posted the following comment, and since YouTube limits comments to just 500 characters (which my response exceeds) I am posting my response here and linking to it from the YouTube page. The comment I’m responding to was:

If throwing money at education actually worked we would have a nation of geniuses already. When De Tocqueville visited the US in the 1830’s he was amazed with the level of literacy possessed by average americans – and that was before there was even a public school system. Bottom line: People who desire education will educate themselves.

I agree that simply throwing money at any issue or challenge isn’t likely to solve it or address it well. I also agree that a great deal of literacy can be obtained independently, particularly when people have access to diverse, high-interest texts. I wonder myself what would happen if we suddenly stopped making education compulsory in the United States. I agree that we need some basic changes in the system, but I think it is naive to think that it would be constructive social policy to stop providing free public educational opportunities for people. Education is the only long term solution to many of the most persistent challenges which we face as a society.

Our society has changed dramatically since De Tocqueville’s time, however. Our culture is much more media-centric, and differently-literate especially when it comes to written texts. When the Lincoln-Douglas debates were held around the U.S. people sat and listened for hours, and then discussed what had been said by each person. I think a case can be made that television and mass media influences have led to a de-intellectualization of U.S. culture in some respects. I don’t think hope is lost, and I actually see trends of blogging and instant messaging as being positive for literacy in many ways. I don’t agree that we can just stop providing free educational opportunities for young people, however, and let them “educate themselves.” That works for some, but I don’t think it would work for many learners. That being said, we also DO need to help students become more independent learners in schools. We don’t tend to do that much in many K-12 contexts.

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One Response to People will educate themselves?

  1. Dave Bauer says:

    You said “I wonder myself what would happen if we suddenly stopped making education compulsory in the United States.”

    Then you said ” I agree that we need some basic changes in the system, but I think it is naive to think that it would be constructive social policy to stop providing free public educational opportunities for people.”

    It is not necessary that stopping compulsory education also means stopping providing opportunities for learning (as opposed to forced “education”

    The key here is compulsory. Making everyone learn the same thing in the same way, at the same time, in the same place, is the shortcoming of the system. It seems to me that providing opportunities is what the current compulsory system doesn’t do well.

    My local school system notified me about the “gifted” program a the middle school recently. It is a special program where the top 10% get to do someting they are actually interested in at school. The other 90% have to contiue to be bored with endless reptition.

    It seems to me that providing the opportunity to everyone would make the rest of the day more bearable, and possibly even keep the kids motivated to learn the rest of the stuff.

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