Wednesday, June 15, 2005

School Choice and Liberation of the Spirit

I am enthusiastic about the current expansion of charter schools and charter school laws as well as tax credit and voucher plans that allow for more freedom in education. I am most distressed by Bush's "No Child Left Behind" law (NCLB) because it exercises federal control over education, including charter schools. This is a very dangerous and constraining precedent. Among other things, NCLB requires licensed teachers, possibly the single worst problem in K-12 education.

The existing K-12 education system, public and private, acts like a dominant operating system that prevents new entries. People often complain about the dominance of the Microsoft operating system, and how difficult it is for Macintosh, Linux, or others to win market share against this monolith. But the K-12 system of curriculum, textbooks, standardized tests, teacher training, transferability of credits and transcripts, and parent expectations has a much larger "market share" than does Microsoft OS and, worse yet, it is enforced legislatively and funded coercively. Imagine how outraged we would feel if Microsoft had the opportunity to force us to use their software and we all got it "free" because the government taxed us in order to pay for it?

All of the schools that I have loved are outside the dominant operating system. I want to have the freedom to create schools at which students become excited by reading, thinking, and talking about ideas; schools at which students can become passionate about programming, or fiction writing, or organic gardening, or anything else, and then pursue those passions; schools at which young people can pair up with amazing singers, carpenters, judges, massage therapists, and others; and so forth. Life is endlessly fascinating; school is not. But in order to allow us to create schools at which students can learn to love life, and to live engaged, alive, spirited, existences, we can't be forced to teach "5th grade social studies" and "7th grade English." The fascinations in life don't exist in those boxes.

Yes, we can expose students to little tiny bits and pieces of them. But compare:

1. Student A who, at the age of 13 spends two years studying with a Zen master.

2. Student B who, at the age of 13, reads a small side-bar in her world history textbook that provides a shallow and inaccurate description of Zen which she barely has time to wonder about while preparing for her multiple choice test on which she will spit back information that she will forget the next day.

There is simply no comparison between the two experiences. And yet our education system, the dominant operating system, is 100% designed to encourage and facilitate the experiences of student B, while making it virtually illegal and impossible for students to have the experiences of student A.

And we wonder why our society is prone to shallow, compulsive appetites and addictions to drugs, alcohol, casual and manipulative sex, materialism, status symbols, and so forth?

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