Would you applaud or celebrate if you believed a philanthropist who had accomplished good things for you and your community were dying? If you had some kind, elderly neighbors who tried to do right by you and others around them, would you make disparaging remarks about them, destroy their property, or slander them with false assumptions?
Chances are good that most of us would answer “no” to the above questions. Yet, why is it considered acceptable—almost heroic—to commit these acts when it comes to educators and higher education?
To borrow a quote from Mark Twain, it could be said that the “rumors of education’s death are greatly exaggerated.” A quick flip through the slideshow on the Evolution of American Education from its Classical roots will show how education has continually realigned to meet the needs of society (North Carolina State University, 2012).
According to NCSU, in the early 1600s, the focus was on “fortune-seeking gentlemen” and the need to learn Latin and Greek to be considered educated. Over the next few centuries, this was followed by apprenticeships, the Dame Schools (largely to teach women reading and writing while they also completed their housework), Latin Schools (which focused on rote memorization of Classical Languages), and the beginnings of higher education. Gradually, the need for the “Seven Liberal Arts” was advocated, and the focus evolved further, as education included the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, and Dialectic) and the Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music) (2012).
At the turn of the 20th Century, note the striking familiarity with concerns about education in 2012. This educational period known as The Awakening was characterized by:
• disenchantment with public education was rampant
• curriculum that was still primarily classical
• learning that was irrelevant to an agrarian society
• learning that had no practical application
• extensive use of lecture and rote memorization
• only 8.8% of all 17 year olds were high school graduates in 1910 (NCSU, 2012)
By 1920, the U.S. Census revealed that U.S. society had shifted more to cities and factory work. The response was the evolution into an educational system that served our emerging urban, industrialized society better. If these past transitions are replaced with the needs of our modern, Information Age society for technical fluency, global awareness, and such, it becomes clear that education is evolving to meet the needs of our society. It is not dying.
Furthermore, education continually provides a lot of benefits to society that hardly warrant the assaults waged upon it or the premature announcements of its demise. Consider the following examples I have recently written about:
• “Teachers Become Inventors to Meet Student Needs,” (2 July, 2012)
• “How College Graduates Are Paying It Forward,”(15 June, 2012)
• “Educational Inspiration from around the Globe,” (7 June, 2012)
• “Educators: Planting the Seeds of Literacy and Community,” (11 April, 2012)
• “3 Ways Colleges Are Fighting for Your First Amendment Rights,” (27 February, 2012)
Although there are many more examples of how engaged and beneficial education actually is, these should easily demonstrate that, rather than attempting to hasten education’s alleged demise, Americans ought to be celebrating its life and continuance.
Granted, large cultural shifts like the movement to an agrarian-focused and then an industrial age-centered education system a century ago or our modern need to meet the needs of students in the Information Age place a lot of stresses on a massive system such as education. Solutions are not always quick or easy. However, it is vital that the public continue to support education as improvements and refinements are pursued. The Nebraska State Education Association (NSEA) provides a list of the top ten reasons why:
10. An educated population is the cornerstone of democracy. This nation’s well-being depends on the decisions of its educated, informed citizens.
9. Education reduces costs to taxpayers. For every dollar spent to keep a child in school, the future costs of welfare, prison, and intervention services are reduced. It can cost less to educate a child now than to support a teenage parent or a repeat offender in the future. Education monies help to secure the future of all citizens.
8. Public schools are the only schools that must meet the needs of all students. They do not turn children or families away. Public schools serve children with physical, emotional, and mental disabilities, those who are extremely gifted and those who are learning challenged, right along with children without special needs.
7. Public schools foster interactions and understanding among people of different ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
6. “Education is the best provision for old age”– Aristotle. The future support of our aging population depends on strong public schools. In 1954, there were 17 workers to pay the Social Security cost for each retiree. By 1995, there will be only three for each retiree. It is likely that the productivity of these three workers per retiree will depend on the strength of our public school systems.
5. More than 95 percent of our future jobs will require at least a high school education. There is no question about the need for an educated work force.
4. The nation pays a high price for poorly educated workers. When retraining and remediation are needed to prepare a worker to do even simple tasks, the cost is paid by both employers and consumers. This process raises the price of American products and makes it more difficult for this nation to compete in the world marketplace.
3. The cost of dropouts affects us all. This nation loses more than $240 billion per year in earnings and taxes that dropouts would have generated over their lifetimes. Well-supported public schools can engage all students in learning and graduate productive and competent citizens.
2. Children are our nation’s future. Their development affects all of us. Good education is not cheap, but ignorance costs far more.
1. Public education is a worthy investment for public funds. We can invest now, or we can pay later. (June 1994)
Imagining a world without education would be like considering a world without that beloved philanthropist or kind-hearted, elderly neighbor. It’s not a world most of us would like to live in; therefore, applauding the alleged demise of education needs to stop. Let’s offer our support instead.
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