America's Education System is Backwards

Education reform is a hot topic during election season, and most solutions involve tweaking the federal code, blaming the federal/state/local government, blaming teachers, blaming parents, and blaming students. These explanations look at symptoms and not the actual problem. The issue in modern primary, secondary, and tertiary education isn’t that teachers can’t teach, that the media preaches ignorance, or the government is too involved (though some of these may be true on a case by case basis). It is that our system is operating backwards.

In the modern educational system, we begin by teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is a great start. Students need to be able to read critically, write critically, and do basic mathematics. But, other subjects need to be added: logic and rhetoric. Students need to be equipped with these understanding tools from an early age. The ability to speak your ideas and formulate complex concepts is important in a free society. At the early levels of education, we should teach (and only teach): grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

In secondary education (middle/high school), we should continue our focus on grammar, logic, and rhetoric, but also emphasize applying these concepts to other subjects. We need to begin to introduce the complex things that need to be discussed, analyzed, and formulated from this strong background. In the early secondary schools, we can introduce the basic sciences (natural science, earth science, astronomy), basic mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry), and the basics of analytical fine art (music appreciation, drama appreciation, painting/sculpture appreciation). Unlike our modern classes, these classes would stress the analysis of these topics and the questioning of common wisdom. 

Does anyone expect a 14-year-old to discover anything new in biology? Of course not, but we need to implant the idea that study of a subject can be good in and of itself at an early age. Late secondary education needs to focus on allowing students to pick their own path of enquiry. If they are interested in the sciences, they should be allowed to pursue the sciences, dedicate their life to it, and have a dedicated curriculum for the pursuit of this idea. If it is the polis, they should also have a dedicated curriculum for the polis and gain a greater understanding of the concept of the state in a free society. If it is iron working or sales, then our education system needs to provide a way for these students to pursue that passion.

Tertiary education needs to be reserved for people that absolutely need it. In the United States, it was once possible to gain enough wealth in a single worker household without a college education. I know this because my great grandparents and grandparents were able to pull off this feat and live a well life. They worked in the factories and in even in management without a need for college. Today, for some reason, you need a college degree to screw bolts into a Greyhound bus. We are too college focused, as if college will save the world and everyone in it. We need a society where success does not require you to become $100,000+ in debt to get a $20,000 per year job ($9.62 an hour). You should not need a college degree to get into: management, logistics, hospitality administration, marketing, real estate, or risk management. Do you really need four years of college to understand this sort of thing?

Photo Credit: AmericanSolutions