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Education Reform:
Discovering Who We Are

Shaun Kerry, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology

When students graduate, they often feel lost and bewildered. The real world is very different.

One graduate's boss told him: "Forget everything you learned in school."

The new graduate has usually lost touch with his emotions long ago, and his brain resorts to denial as a means of dealing with the pain of the outside world; a world that is huge, overwhelming, and confusing.  He does not blame the schools for his problems and shortcomings; he faults himself rather than the system.  He is often at a loss when it comes to relating to the opposite sex, he has difficulty expressing his feelings, and his meager salary only allows him to live at the subsistence level.  Test scores, reading comprehension level, and math skills are the least of his concerns.

We could rectify this situation by taking the following course of action.  First, we should abolish mandatory school attendance.  Our compulsory school laws once served a purpose: they protected children from being used for excessive labor.  Like the factories of the past, schools are currently serving as the exploiters of our children. As home schooling becomes a practical alternative to the classroom, compulsory school laws are already being abolished in some areas of the country.

Some might contend that if children are not forced to attend school, they will be roaming the streets and wrecking havoc on our communities.  This is a false assumption.  Time spent outside of the confines of the classroom can still be productive, beneficial, and utilized for learning.  Granted, school is a natural meeting place for socialization, which is an important part of adolescent development.  In no way do we advocate abolishing schools altogether, but rather, altering them such that they become places where children would want to be. Removing the constraints of compulsory attendance is a profound step in this direction.  All children are different, and not all will require the same amount of classroom time.

Second, we must abolish rigid, required curricula.  People remember only what they find interesting and useful.  Children want to learn things that will help them make sense out of this often-confusing world.  They want to make a valuable contribution to society.  We do not need coercive force in order for them to accomplish this; there are plenty of positive motivators.

Third, we must bring more of the real world into the classroom, both through the use of interesting guest speakers and audiovisual communication.  Also, we must stop segregating the classroom from greater society.  In Philadelphia and Portland, there are already schools that exist without buildings. Children, with proper guidance, use the real world as a powerful learning resource.  Private schools in many cities are beginning to do the same thing.

Additionally, we must recognize that teaching a subject is one of the best methods of learning that subject matter.  Children are often the best teachers of other children, and should be encouraged to tutor each other.  Some schools already implement this practice of "paired-learning", which promotes teamwork, a natural, morale-building function that will be actively used in the real world.  Not only should we let our children serve as teachers, but also, we should allow them to judge their own work. It should be our job to listen, and be available to help when asked to do so.

Some parents may be concerned that, through these alterations, their children may fail to learn something that is essential to their future success in life.  In all honesty, we cannot be certain what future generations will need to know in order to ensure their success.  The world is a rapidly changing place, and education should never be treated as a stagnant phenomenon.  Learning should be viewed as a lifelong process.

We must stop teaching our children that, in order to be anybody of importance, they must attend college.  College must not be preceded by a course of preparatory study that requires a 70+ hours per week and volumes of paper-based busywork.  We must stop using formal education as a display of prestige, or a ticket to a high paying job.  Rather than stress rote memorization and blind obedience, we must stress self-discovery and exploration.  It is not necessary for everyone to be an employee in order to make a living.  It is possible to start one's own business with just a computer and internet access. Many companies hire people based on ability, rather than on the basis of a degree.

One of the most glaring deficiencies of our educational system is how our high schools completely fail to address their students' needs to earn money following graduation.  It is no wonder that there are so many high school dropouts.

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