The Big 3 Bailout and Education

It occurs to me that the institution of education is like the Big 3 automakers. For years they kept churning out gas guzzling, big cars and SUV’s even as the world around them was changing. Today, they sit in front of Congress being criticized for not making cars that people want, for not changing with the times, for not paying attention to the warning signs that were everywhere.

“A Nation at Risk” came out in the ’80’s and indicated that our system of education was broken.

Experts keep telling us that our schools are not preparing kids for the 21st century. They warn us that NCLB is merely an attempt to perfect the educational approach of the last century. But on we go, much like the BIg 3, ignoring the experts and churning out the same familiar products.

Isn’t continuing on in this mode analogous to building Escalade SUVs during a time of major economic transformation and climate change. The icecaps are melting, weather patterns are shifting, droughts, floods, and hurricanes are larger and more forceful than ever and yet we keep building those Escalades and other SUVs, getting 14 mpg, spewing Co2 into the atmosphere, and paying no heed to the kind of car that is really needed.

And we technologists…is what we consider meaningful educational change akin to adding a 9 speaker stereo system to the Escalade, or redesigning the ashtray to a cupholder? We think we are making educational progress, especially in educational technology; but are we merely adding Onstar, a GPS, and a voice activated radio, to a polluting hunk of metal, in a time of $4 a gallon gas.

It’s not nearly enough.

Our industry is in the same shape as the auto industry but because we are not market based, (we have a captive audience) we are not feeling the effects the same way the Big 3 are. They have finally hit the economic wall. It’s brutally black and white for them…change or go out of business!

It is either our good or bad fortune that because of the way education is funded, we won’t hit that economic wall the same way the car companies have. Yes, finances have always been tight for us, but schools aren’t going out of business anytime soon. This allows us to keep making the same mistakes over and over without consequences.

Pumping out dis-empowered learners into a world where manufacturing jobs have disappeared, where we are competing with others globally, where the jobs of tomorrow require curious, self-directed, self motivated, collaborative workers, and confident, life-long learners is analogous to pumping out Hummers in a time of great global transformation.

The “Sshh! be quiet and listen” approach to education is deeply dis-empowering.

Think about our public schools. How do we empower students? What control do students have in regards to their own learning?

The curriculum is predetermined. The sequence of teaching is predetermined. The pedagogy is predetermined. The teachers are pre-selected, as are the textbooks, tools, activities, assignments, and homework. Most seating arrangements are pre-determined. Students rarely are part of any decision making body in the school including the school board, or tech planning, or textbook selection, or software selection. You name it, if it’s important to the overall learning environment, students aren’t involved.

It goes farther than that. Students aren’t even involved in the little things like lunch menus or the colors of the walls in the hallways.

BTW we have also dis-empowered parents from any truly meaningful role in the education of our kids AND parents are all too happy to abdicate all the responsibility for their own children’s learning to the schools.

John Taylor Gatto says that we have constructed our schools so that they re-enforce the message that students, our children, have nothing important to give to the world until they reach the age of 18. We treat them like parasites. If we want to teach them responsibility we need to give them real responsibility. Homework? Gatto considers that a phony responsibility.

At whose feet do we lay the blame for the horrendous lack of decisive action? Who will we call before Congress to explain why we kept doing things the same way when we, as educators, knew better? Who will explain why we were so out of touch with the times? Why did we keep manufacturing Hummers in our schools? Why didn’t we re-tool and build more fuel efficient cars, the one’s needed for the 21st century? How did we lose our worldwide dominance?

Why didn’t someone step up and say, “Stop!, This is madness?”

Where were our leaders?



6 thoughts on “The Big 3 Bailout and Education

  1. The leaders are just looking at the national tests, comparing “us” with “them” in other countries. This is ruling like a nightmare in country after country. I live in Norway, and it’s much like this in our school system too, though not as rigid and crazy about security as in USA.

    I’m following the blog of a Norwegian boy who is staying for one year in a secondary school in USA, so I have got an impression of a system that looks very much like the one you describe.

  2. Great post, Pete. It makes me hope for cataclysmic change, which unfortunately will be messy and hurt many people. My boys are almost through school, not completely unscathed, but it could have been so much better. Damn them all for allowing the system to continue to rot.

  3. Administrators and policy-makers want to maintain the status quo and if anything, make minor, largely ineffectual tweaks (like NCLB).

    It is very rare (except in the wake of huge calamities like 9-11 resulting in war/Patriot Act, etc.) for the system to make top-down changes that are real, sensible and relevant.

    So why wait?

    IMO – the real change will come from teachers, students and parents. It will come within small (and then bigger) schools, and within the community.

    One example of this is the recent profusion of Charter Schools in New Orleans, and the fact that about half the students in the city now attend one.

    Great educators can and will empower students, the “incumbents” will hopefully retire soon.

    What we should do with technology is enable great teachers to easily do what’s mandated, and then do much, much more.

  4. A key toward real educational change is to see schools as resources and not expenses. To most people there is no connection between the taxes they pay for schools and a benefit. We see the benefit of taxes we pay for roads, bridges, sewer, water, ect everyday. If school were more of a community learning center and not a monolithic institution the connection between cost-benefit would be more easily seen everyday, just like the roads.

  5. Jim,
    I agree, the more schools are valued, the easier it will be to keep them funded.

    The problem is we can keep them minimally funded even if people don’t see the value.

    That allows us to keep schools going ‘as they are’ and not have to face the economic reality that the car companies face…’change or go out of business’.

    How do will the system change itself if there are no powerful forces (Market forces or otherwise) requiring it to do so?


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