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Education For The Modern Child

What is important for children to know? Everyone agrees that education of our youth is important. Almost everyone disagrees with how the educaiton of our youth should occur. This article will point out that the system currently used by the United States (and by extension many other industrialized nations) is designed for the industrial age and thus should be modified for the digital age.

Horace Mann: The Legend And The Reality

Horace Mann is a legend in educational textbooks. All subjects have a legend. Mann occupies the educational spotlight of the 19th century by encouraging the literacy and education of Americans without cost. America was founded partially on the roots of the great literatti of our time; Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, to name a few. The educated man did not need a monarch to rule over them because he could handle himself. Americans, and Horace Mann included, needed the Average Joe to be competent in historical matters and basic literacy to help keep the progess of American freedom moving forward.

Except there is a conveniently ignored fact about Mann's reforms to American education. Few people know that Horace Mann visited Prussia and was enthralled with their education system 1). The Prussian education model was not a system to create enlightened inviduals to help guide a free nation. The Prussian model is built upon training people to be able to follow orders and basic commands. Mann saw how well the students became trained to do what they were supposed to do and wished to bring it to the United States. This paints a different picture of the legacy of Horace Mann. What good is a more efficient way to teach literacy to large populations (which is the excuse Mann used for implementing a Prussian model in America) if you can't think about what you read? In this way, literacy becomes a new form of slavery. You can read but you can't accurately dicipher for yourself what is truth and what is fiction. You are now enslaved to those who know.

Education in the 20th century was infused with the sign of the times; automation. America quickly became industrialized through the late 19th century and the jobs that were increasingly available did not require critical thinkers. They required a mostly competent worker capable of following directions to man a machine. Sometimes the human was the cog in the wheel, so to speak, replacing the machine on the assembly line. Our educational model was focused on preparing children for an industrial nation.

Repetition, autmation, and rote learning were valued in the educational system not only for the nation's industrialized jobs. A most powerful coterie of businessmen found ample opportunity in removing critical thinking from schools. The most poweful education, quite obviously, is an education that teaches you to think for yourself. Led by the Rockefeller Foundation, there was an attempt to whitewash history as a compliment to the lack of critical thinking. If students were not asking the tough questions about what happened in the past, they could sanitize the history and cover the tracks of those who accomplished wrong doing and still held power at the time. The Rockefeller Foundation in cahoots with the Carnegie Endowment wrote that they were accumulating historians who would help print textbooks writing history in a cleaned up version 2). It was the Reece Commission in 1954 that exposed all of this information to the public. But since those dishonorable historians were still in high positions, few people looked to see how our American history had been altered according to rich people's whims 3).

We know a few things now. The United States became a leading industrialized nation and its school system was helpful in preparing the youth for that world. We know that the Prussian model is liked by autocrats who can have people that are controllable. We know that Big Business has directly intervened in the formation of public education to the detriment of real history and critical thinking skills of young Americans.

Now we are in the 21st century and a whole new era has emerged; the Digital Age. From sending telegram like messages in the first forms of the internet, to now anyone can video chat around the world, the internet is an awesomely powerful tool that grew so fast, the powerful didn't know what hit them. This world is lightning quick and decentralized. No longer do we need a controller telling us what to do. The web is asking for millions and millions of users to add imput creatively; websites, videos, games, alternative currencies and their communities, the list is endless and it all requires self motivated participation. Therefore the education system must adapt to better prepare children for the age we are in.

Antidote #1: Critical Thinking

The first thing modern education needs to embrace is critical thinking. Literacy was the rallying call of education activists for centuries, but the reality of the situation has set in. If you can read but can't think for yourself, then being literate is refined form of slavery. What is put into your eyes and ears push and pull you like the chains of an enslaved man. Literacy is merely the stepping stone to being able to thinking critically and determine for yourself what is true and what is false.

The freedom to find all the information you can handle on the internet is colliding 20 different opinions on history. A person educated to believe whatever was in their textbook as gospel truth is horrified at the lack of a clear truth on history as it is told in the internet. If they are taught to think critically, a student can discern which of the 20 versions make sense, which don't make any sense, and which could be true to some degree. The same holds true for any life decision. Should you buy a home? There isn't a textbook answer for it, but you can read to your hearts content the many offerings of opinions on this subject online. Using your ability to think, you can then decide for youself and your own situation if its right to buy a home or not.

Antidote #2: Computer Literacy

The second thing modern education needs is computer literacy. We are submerged in a world of computing devices and the reality is that while computers can display normal human languages like English, they use a completely different language internally. If we think its important for our kids to know to do the laundry, mow the grass, and other household chores now, just wait until most of those tasks are managed by a computer system. Knowledge of how computers work and most importantly, how to be able to create using computer language is essential. A person who can create a website or another form of internet communication can potentially reach hundreds of millions of people. Never before in history did one person have that kind of listeners within range.

We must keep an eye on how computer literacy is used, however, lest we fall into the same trap as before and become beholden to other masters in a never ending scheme.

Looking To The Future

How will the old education system morph into a new one? A couple of ways are distinctly possible. From this author's personal knowledge of teachers within the public education system, rumor has it that the system is destroying itself. Teachers are finding asanine decisions are being made at the administrative level. Why? Those teachers muse that the government wants the system to crash so it can start over. It seems the governemnt is keen on moving towards charter schools, which are a strange conglomeration of public funds and privately run organizations. While charter schools still follow the same old system currently, there is significant potential for new charter schools to emerge that are completely formed by teachers of good conscience and an eye for the future. A new charter school could embrace critical thinking and computer literacy. They could embrace a whole host of novel schools that focus on incredible combinations of disciplines; martial arts and learning, health and learning, spirituality and learning, to name a few. The charter school system is currently required to meet standardized testing requirements and therefore these options aren't available now. However, enough public support could change the system to allow teacher to create their ideal schools. The most successful ideal schools could then replicate where possible.

The other way the system could change in the right direction is in private, independent and radical schools. Currently, if the school is willing to not have a state sanctioned diploma offered, they can do literally whatever type of education they desire. Someone audacious enough to do it could create a school and build it from the bottom up. Once it gains enough success and other schools are built in its namesake, the public sector could study how things are done differently and change the system accordingly. One example would be the Free School. This kind of education started in England in 1919. A.S. Neill, who was a friend of famed philosopher scientist Wilhelm Reich, started the school on the premise that trust the child and loving them was more important then stuffing their brains with dead knowledge. He allowed them to be free to do what they will day to day so long as they didn't infringe upon the rights of others. If they wanted to learn, they would learn. If they wanted to play, they would play. One of the goals was to show kids the world was full of trust. Allow them to explore the world safely and they will find something they love. Once they find it, they are free to study it to their heart's content. The school was also run democratically and treated children with equal respect as adults. It has spawned hundreds of variations throughout the world, most notably the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts and its dozens of derivative schools mostly along the east coast. Googling “free school” yields multiple results in New York, Canada, California, Oregon, Florida, and much more.

If you have children, spend a few days looking into what is really important in life and what skills are truly most necessary. A diploma nor a college degree should be on that list. Consider what is most important to you and then find a way to make that educaiton a reality. Keep in touch with renegade teachers who want change but don't know how to accomplish it.

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