That title sounds arrogant, I know. But since I talk so much about education (and have been accused of being “anti-choice”) I’ve been asked many times, “What would you suggest for kids who can’t get out of their school situation? How would you fix education for them?”
Well, I do have an answer: go back to the old ways. Let the teachers actually teach. Do you think these young men and women who graduate highs school with the desire to be teachers dream of having their hands tied by governments? No. They want to teach children. They have a gift and they want to use it. They want to make a difference. And then they get to the schools and realize their gifts are secondary to state and federal standards, test scores, and checklists. Their gifts are secondary to the agendas of a small group of unelected policy writers and corporations and billionaires.
So how do we fix education? Simplify it again. Go back to the old ways. Shut down agencies. Get rid of districts. Put the control where we all say we want it: with the local town and school board.
Before the 20th century, schools were simple and terribly underfunded. As civilization moved west in America, education followed in the form of very young women, sometimes teenagers, who were hired by a group of townspeople to teach their children. The men of the town donated wood and labor to build the schoolhouse, or even a building that doubled as a church. (Wait: a church?? How did they rectify that fabled separation of church and state in the 19th century??)
Before the 20th century, a school’s curriculum consisted of a stack of readers like the McGuffeys, and if they were lucky they had a map and a blackboard. Some even had a few extra books donated to the school by townspeople. Those readers consisted of reading, grammar, and writing lessons all combined with the history of the world and the scientific discoveries up to that point. The student read a long portion of history and then practiced vocabulary, spelling, and punctuation with that history.
When a school was not available due to geographical distances, those same readers were used in the home. Those that finished their local school might advance their learning through a local, private college or through a tutor. They would study more history, philosophy, Latin, Greek, law or medicine. Many who didn’t attend college advanced their own education by reading every book they could find in their spare time. (Abe Lincoln, anyone?)
Before the 20th century, this simple education method produced world-changers. People like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Michael Faraday, Samuel Morse, Charles Goodyear, the Wright Brothers, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikolai Tesla and hundreds of others.
Those men were not the result of standardized anything…they were the result of a simple method of learning and exploring, and I guarantee you: they spent plenty of time in hard work and valued their small amount of free time. Time to explore their ideas and experiments. They weren’t held to “grade levels” because there weren’t any grade levels. The McGuffey system allowed every student to learn at their own pace. The student simply progressed from one reader to the next without regard to calendars or class groups.
This old-fashioned system is not outdated. In fact, much of what I described here is what happens in the living rooms and kitchens of homeschoolers everywhere. A small stack of books, progressing at the pace of the student, basic instruction centered around classic works of history and literature, and very little regard for grade levels or education budget — this is what makes learning fun and what makes education successful. (Ask me how I know this.)
It’s not money. It’s not standardized regulations. It’s not STEM. It’s not technology. None of those things were part of the equation before the revamping of the public school system in the early 20th century. It’s not politicians. It’s not small groups of unelected policy writers and corporate billionaires who need to be making these decisions. It should be up to parents, their local school board, and the teachers. And if the local school isn’t working for a child, parents still do have the right, and should exercise it, to take that simplified education method into their own hands without worrying about state and federal oversight — the oversight that has strangled our schools and teachers and kids, and has made us all want a “choice” to begin with.
All of this would require shutting down the Department of Education, the State Board(s) of Education, and removing the need for a gazillion positions from State Superintendent of Schools all the way down to district supervisors. It’s kind of like asking for term limits; we’re asking bureaucrats to shut down their own organizations and put themselves out of a job. That rarely happens, does it? But if those same people say that want to give control back to the local schools and the parents, this is exactly what they should do.
Government doesn’t “give” us anything; they take it away. And we let them. You want to take it back? Do it!
If parents sit idly by and grumble about property taxes and too much testing but keep sending their kids to those bureaucrats for school, the only change we will see is the gradual worsening of the situation. But let me tell you: if a disorganized band of patriots in the 18th century American colonies could tell the English king where he could go stuff it — and win —I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that a slightly more organized band of concerned parents could do the same with Big Ed.
There is no excuse for allowing tyranny of any kind.
Nicki Truesdell is a 2nd-generation homeschooler and mother to 5. She loves books, freedom, history and quilts, and blogs about all of these at nickitruesdell.com. She believes that homeschooling can be relaxed and that history is fun, and both can be done with minimal cost or stress, no matter your family’s circumstances. Nicki is a member of the Texas Home Educators Advisory Board and The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Review Crew. You can also find her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
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