The current state of education is a controversial topic. Throughout history, there have been people educated in secret, those who traveled hours to reach a schoolhouse, riots and violence in reaction to education equality, and inclusion for those with special needs. As time has progressed, the levels and opportunities for education has increased. From traditional, to home schooling, to online, including accelerated classes, remedial classes, magnet schools, and trade schools, all levels of education have opened to make learning accessible to (almost) everyone. In the U.S., not only has the pendulum swung to and fro countless times with “new” curriculum or programs (often with different names and “research” to back them up), but some believe the pendulum has become detached, and it now crashes into walls, causing some to duck and cough on the plaster dust that floats in the air.
Schools, in the public sense, were started to educate the populace first to read the Bible, and then to learn a trade. More courses of study were added in order to develop a “well-rounded” citizen. Science and social studies were added to reading, writing, and arithmetic. Later came the arts and sports and a variety of vocational subjects. When I work with a student in a high level math class, I understand their frustration. 90% of the population will never use what I’m asked to teach.
When students inquire as to why they need to learn something, my answer is usually: “We need to communicate our thoughts and ideas, so even though we have computers with spell checkers, it’s in our best interest to learn how to put across those ideas in a way that others clearly understand. No, life isn’t about Moby Dick being a novel-length metaphor, but by reading such a story there is the opportunity for intelligent discussion about why Ahab is obsessed, and how the Captain and the Whale can be compared to real life people, and what can be learned from their actions. No, you won’t likely use the math we do now, unless you choose to be a scientist or engineer, but this level of math expands your knowledge, encourages your brain to make new connections (often called ‘learning’), helps you figure out how you learn, and forces you to retain the math you already know and use.”
Is the current model of U.S. education outdated? Perhaps. Has the population it was created to educate changed? Without a doubt. What does the future of education hold? We’ll see.