An Ideal Model of Education
Posted by Michael Dickens on January 17, 2010
The current idea of education, anyone would agree, is severely flawed. In this essay I will develop an ideal model of education, and propose goals that can work towards this model. I will outline the ideal structure of education and the subjects to be taught.
Education at its best will effectively prepare students for the working world. But even as soon as I say even that, its flaws become clarified. Under such a paradigm, an educational system is only as good as its future. The model of career acquisition may itself be flawed. So instead, an ideal education system would not only prepare students for the working world but would also prepare them to become empowered to reform the working world to better suit the needs of the people. There are far too many men and women who are unhappy with their jobs; but with proper education, they could seek careers that not only would contribute to society, but that they would enjoy.
Some would say that such a model is impossible. Others would say that we already have such a model. As usual, neither extreme is fully correct. The primary flaws of our educational system are that: its teachers — and teaching itself — are not highly valued enough; there is little incentive from the outside to improve the educational system; students themselves do not understand the purpose of education; and the results of education are misunderstood.
I will go into detail over each of the flaws outlined above. When these four key problems are rectified, our educational system will be significantly improved.
It is understood by many that teaching is an important job, at least in an archaic sense. But in primary and secondary education, this understanding is rarely put into practice. College professors are highly respected, but elementary through high school teachers are not. Why? For one, many of them are simply not very good at their jobs, but this is a side effect of the lack of respect for the teaching profession. If the profession was more highly respected, then better-qualified people would take the jobs. Teachers are chronically underpaid: even schools that have plenty of money typically waste it on frivolous (and usually nationalistic) expenditures such as a new football stadium. If teachers were more highly respected and received better pay, schools would be able to hire better teachers as teaching would become an attractive option for people in the field. For example, good high school math teachers are hard to come by as most people who are qualified to teach math are in much higher-paying jobs. The only math teachers left are the ones who either love teaching enough to accept the lower pay, or are not good enough at math to get a better job. Unfortunately, it’s usually the latter.
This leads me into the second main problem: there is little incentive from the outside to improve the educational system. This may sound almost paradoxical. The children are the future, after all. But that’s exactly the problem: the children are the future, not the present. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it most people are only really interested in the present. The benefits of investing in education are far off and difficult to see. While people agree that education is important, other more pressing issues tend to get in the way. I see no easy way to incentivize people to invest more heavily in education.
The third problem is that students themselves often misunderstand the purpose of education. Many high schoolers find school pointless, and either put in as little work as possible or simply quit. In some ways, they are right. But they usually fail to see the benefits that even a lousy education can have. I think that most of this feeling can be attributed to the restrictive nature of schools. They think that students cannot be trusted, so place restrictions on students. Naturally, this makes the students want to lash out, further enforcing the idea that they cannot be trusted. This mutual mistrust stems from the lies inherent in our culture; to reach the root of this problem, we must address these lies.
My last contention is the most important. What is the purpose of education? To prepare students for the working world? As I have already stated, the working world itself has flaws which will necessarily be reflected by the educational system. Ideally, an education would open up a student’s options to the greatest extent possible. This would mean teaching not so much facts as the ability to think. Facts, of course, should not be discounted; certain types of facts are empowering, and others are helpful in understanding one’s own culture. Arithmetic is the former; history is the latter. I will now address the four core subjects, and how each fits into a scheme of not facts but thinking ability.
Mathematics is perhaps the most obvious. Math is one of the most loved and most hated school subjects, and rightly so. Current math education is rather dreary. But at its best, math could be not just memorization of facts but an exploration of logical reasoning ability. Such reasoning skills could be easily integrated into other subjects and areas of life.
The current state of science education is better, but not much. To my mind, the single most important thing you can get out of a science education is how to investigate the veracity of real-world claims. This is what I have learned through my self-education of science. Unfortunately, about the closest thing I have ever gotten to this in a high school science class is an education of the scientific method, but even that is not properly applied. What I really would have liked to learn in high school science is how to assess the credibility of propositions. Science is a great place to learn critical thinking skills; and yet we associate critical thinking with the humanities, even though science is entirely built upon critical thinking (along with empirical observation). Learning about mitosis is great and all, but what really needs to be taught is how to rationally investigate a claim. For example, are those real ghosts? Now, I don’t believe that we shouldn’t teach any scientific facts; but we should be giving a lot more time to teaching the art of critical thinking. Then maybe religion would stop trying to sneak into the science classroom.
Seeing as how they are not my areas of expertise, I don’t have as much to say about English and Humanities. I’ll say what I can, though. In History, students learn many historical facts, many of which are useless. Some do help to build a cultural foundation. One thing I do like about these subjects, though, is the essays. Essays help to expand the mind by getting students to focus their thoughts and form a coherent piece of writing on a given subject. This sort of task improves communication ability and helps students understand their own process of thinking things through.
I have presented the four major problems of education, and their root causes. I have also presented the major flaws in the four core subjects, and where ideally they would be. These four subjects should be integrated in order to improve students’ ability to think. When students are better at thinking, all other scholastic abilities will follow.