We are either growing or we are dying. In our dichotomous world things are either going up or they are going down. You might be able to stand still for a little while, but not for long. Our educational paradigm pretends to be progressing with its ever changing policies, while it appears to be at a standstill, but more accurately could be said to be dying. It is a colossal waste of money, a tragic waste of young people's minds and time, and a cruel imposition of stress and anxiety all to maintain a coercive illusory anachronism that must of necessity either evolve or be replaced.
For far less expense we could facilitate, rather than suppress, children's natural inclination for learning. No human being is born into this world without the facility to educate themselves. Young children learn despite any well-intentioned parent or teacher. We have succeeded as a species because of the curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and willfulness we are born with. Instead of getting out of their way and encouraging them, we send them to schools that deliberately shut off their learning instincts, suppressing their curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and willfulness – all at considerable expense and trouble, inefficiently and ineffectively channeling them through a puritanical system of rewards and punishment that stifles their natural curiosity with shame, hubris, and fear.
We could do this far less expensively and with a lot more joy if we could first get away from the idea that learning can be graded. Get rid of the K thru 12 concept and allow young people to pursue whatever interests them at any given time in a multiplicity of settings beyond school walls. Same thing for our higher system of sanctioned learning discrimination called college (which should more appropriately be called grades 13, 14, 15, and 16).
Outside of what is gained through sheer maturation there is not much proof that much actual learning is going on in any of those additional years of schooling. Colleges have become credentialing mills, largely admitting and matriculating already advantaged Americans. They don't ask them to do much or learn much. After four years of following the program students are given a certificate that entitles them to higher earnings and the flaunted aristocracy is preserved with their bestowed credentials.
College is a commodity for which people try to get the most they can for the least amount of money and effort. Research has shown that the average study time for college students today amounts to a mere 12 hours per week, compared to 25 hours in 1960. Furthermore, students attempt to avoid coursework that calls for original writing or considerable reading. While colleges argue that students gain critical thinking skills during their four-year stay, there is little evidence to demonstrate college graduates are any better equipped to think critically than those who did not attend. Colleges are not much more than four more years of the same rote learning practiced in high school. Critical skills come from engaging in serious, self-motivated dialogue with others that share similar interests, not from standard classroom practices.
I have known parents who have kept their children out of the reach of public educators during the formative years, allowing them to explore and play as children do naturally, making sense of their world without too much structured outside direction, finding what interests them and then being allowed the freedom to pursue their passions uninterrupted. Self-directed and self-motivated learning that is fun and personally meaningful is much more effective and impactive for the individual.
Most children channeled by the public education system don't have much exposure to potential career opportunities. All they ever see is the profession of classroom teacher. How can a kid develop a passion for being an engineer or doctor or lawyer or scientist or business executive without some sort of meaningful exposure along the way? Long before someone engages in further study beyond high school, a student should be exposed to the real world of employment for the areas he or she may have interest in some sort of apprenticeship or entry-level employment. Compare this to the way things are done now where students graduate with a degree in fields where they have absolutely no experience or exposure before attempting to find work in those fields.
With actual hands-on exposure, students can refine their academic preparation in advance to specific areas of interest, customizing their continued education to satisfy requirements for gainful employment in those areas. Too much time is spent studying topics that have no application or contribution to most career choices. Instead of taking a generalized liberal curriculum, students should be allowed to take a specialized, more direct route to acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to be proficient in any given chosen career. A shift of this sort will lead to increased self-motivation, preparedness, and job satisfaction, not to mention less employer-based training, once students conclude their studies and find a productive place of fulfillment within society.