A colleague noted Obama’s call, in his un-State of the Union, his call for patriots to promise to go to higher education for a year. On one hand, I can understand why he was excited. After all, professors are a product of institutionalized education. You might even say we are the “winners” of the educational rat race. I recall when our grad class sat down for a photo and held up a sign that said “21st grade.” So, it’s natural to assume that we, like Obama, would see more schooling as a good thing.
I gravitated toward his call for more funding for early childhood education. I have a feeling that by high school, it is already too late, and by college, we are just putting lipstick on a pig. I noted to my colleague that rather than increased graduation rates (Obama called for more college graduates in the future), I would rather see, for example, our high school graduates be able to out-think and out-create students in other countries. Let me say more emphatically, my ideal would be that high school students are so well prepared that they can confidently drop out of high school and still have command of more knowledge, more analytical skill, and more creative capacity than their peers in other systems of schooling. I really don’t care what happens to our graduation rate; I care about how much people in our country learn.
He noted that in Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, the argument is made that our high schoolers are worse off than those in other countries because we have a summer break. At a gut level, this seems just so wrong to me. Of all the subtle differences between cultures and cultures of schooling between countries, this just does not seem to me to be a factor that can be effectively isolated and blamed.
My thinking tends to align far more closely to Ivan Illich’s. Here, Pinky sleepily muses on the nature of institutionalized learning (thanks, jeremy):
I am very much a fan of unschooling, at least as a first step. Of course, whether what works for my family will work for everyone is an open question, and one that I am very concerned about of late. Someone pointed me toward episodes of Wife Swap that are cringeworthy, and if you follow discussions online about unschooling, you will find some real gems amidst a frightening amount of racist, paranoid, right-wing, ultra-religious nonsense. The latter is enough to encourage some form of public education–I’m just not sure that schools are the right place for that to happen.