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What are public schools becoming?

Public school has played an important, nay, critical role in the education and economic success of America. From the original one room school houses with a range of ages with one teacher and textbooks like the McGuffey Readers to computers, virtual reality and cell phone apps…the world has changed and is continuing to change.

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Education was focused on the 3 R’s (reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic). If we asked 10 people what the current purpose of modern education is we would likely get 10 different answers. I went looking to see who had addressed this topic and found a few articles. One in the Huffington Post lists 20 categories of services. Another article uses references from Oregon State University to walk through the evolution of education.

If you go to the ASCD (an association created to support teachers and educators) you get their view which includes: basic education; social emotional health; teaching critical thinking and other items. A UK group calling themselves purpos/ed asks people to write a 500 word essay on the “purpose of education”.

Adam Burk lead a discussion (2011) at TED where he asked “In your opinion, what should the purpose of education be?”  He posits that education is intended to be a way to produce economically viable products – employable citizens for the industrial complex. He goes on to offer his opinion as to what education should be: “I believe that education should be an empowering process that allows and guides children to develop their passions, critical thinking, compassion, and orientation towards wisdom for timely action.” 

Today our public schools are places to learn but they have also become the place where children are given meals and in some cases clothes. They are daycare centers. Some offer assistance for helping parents find jobs. They deal with children who aren’t ready, willing or able to learn. They may have parents who never attend a function nor respond to requests for meetings, who have substance abuse issues and more. They virtually can’t discipline students (and they know it).

Some schools are blessed with parents who care, are supportive, involved and make the learning experience positive and productive. It appears that economics play a role as do a mix of racial and religious backgrounds.

Teachers and principals are asked to deal with issues that go far beyond teaching the 3 R’s. Do we want our schools to be responsible for raising children? Is this trend a sign of a deterioration in our society and a portent of a decline?

As a parent and grandparent I’m concerned that asking teachers to become surrogate parents and to then evaluate them on their effectiveness on things they have no control over is wrong and demoralizing.

As parents we need to accept responsibility for bringing children into the world and provide them the support and direction needed to be successful and productive. I realize there are a lot of parents who do just that. I also realize that it’s probably only a small percentage that don’t provide the needed support, guidance and direction.

As parents become concerned about public schools some put their children in private or charter schools so they have more control. Does this mean that the mix of children (and thus their needs) are changing in public schools? In some cases are there more children with special challenges that further complicate the picture?

Are public schools going the way of the Post Office?

Watching children struggle who might be able to able to excel is heartbreaking. We need to determine what we want our schools to be and then create a plan to make that happen.

Share your thoughts.

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