Even with all its flaws, I’m a proponent of public education in much the same way I remain committed to the fundamental principles of democracy despite recent events in D.C. having tested this commitment.
In terms of public education, there are countless books, articles, and research projects from numerous points of view and it’s clear one can find proponents and opponents to whatever perspective you may choose. One recent publication is noteworthy due to the clarity in writing and direct premise — “Schools Cannot Do It Alone” by Jamie Vollmer, former attorney, businessman, and harsh education critic, now an advocate and consultant to education. I’d like to quote and paraphrase from this book in the following column.
He argues schools need the trust, understanding, permission and support from their communities in order to improve the public education system and increase student success. In tracing his journey from critic to consultant, he weaves an interesting tale as he encounters “blueberries, bell curves, and smelly eighth graders,” and comes to two conclusions. First, we have a system problem, not a people problem. We need to modify the system in order to get the graduates we want. And second, we cannot touch the system without touching the culture of the surrounding town because everything that goes on inside a school is tied to local attitudes, values, traditions and beliefs. But in order to improve the system it’s vital that we first accurately understand the system that presently exists and how it came to be.
For the first time in history the security, prosperity, and health of our nation depend on our ability to unfold the full creative potential of every child — not just the easy ones, not just the top 20 percent of the class, and not just those who reflect our preferred values. The problem is that America’s public education system was never designed to do this. As Thomas Jefferson imagined it, schools should be designed to select and sort students into two groups: a small handful of thinkers and a great mass of obedient doers. Back then most everyone was a farmer, the pace of change was slow, options were few, and only a small handful of people were paid to think.