A New Vision for Education
Part One – What's wrong with the school system
I spent over two decades in school as a student and hated almost all of it. Nothing against learning, but school was boring, burdensome, uninspiring, and constraining. I had a few excellent teachers along the way, but most of the school day was dreadful, every day. Year after year after year.
While waiting for another interminable class to end, I often thought I could do better than that. It's a big reason why I became a teacher, and even subjected myself to additional years of expensive, generally pointless suffering in graduate school. (But that was the limit; no way I was staying on for a doctorate.)
I also decided back then that I would homeschool my own children. Why should I pay $20,000 a year per kid for my children to be turned off to Judaism and bullied in school? Why should I pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for them to go through the Jewish day school system and wind up uninspired, knowing almost nothing, barely able to read Hebrew, and needing a year in Israel to be rehabilitated? No thanks, I'll homeschool.
When I said this aloud, people were bewildered. They didn't extol the virtues of the day school system and the terrific education my children would be deprived of. I didn't receive a single such argument. No, their concern was always the same:
“What about their social life? How will they make friends?”
“For $20,000 a year, I can buy them all the friends they want,” I replied.
Two decades later, homeschooling is no longer a fringe idea. The quality of education has only deteriorated, while the cost has gone up exponentially. Children are exposed to all sorts of harmful influences in school – not just from other kids, but increasingly from the curriculum. Meanwhile, governments have turned schools into indoctrination camps and eugenic injection sites. Even in Israel, where parents pay little for tuition, there is increasing interest in homeschooling. It's no longer just about having greater control of their children's education; it's about keeping them safe.
Unfortunately, putting this idea into practice is overwhelming for most parents. Most people are unable to balance work and other responsibilities with teaching their own children. They are also concerned with their ability to assume full responsibility for their children's education even if they have the time. And yes, the concerns about their children making friends and developing socially are valid, too.
Because of all this, most parents continue to take the path of least resistance and stick with the familiar, as bad as it is. Fear and inertia keep them stuck in the system. They will complain about it – anonymously, for fear of retribution (which only exists where truth and goodness are unwelcome). But they won't do anything decisive, like pulling their children out and charting a new path. Homeschooling is left to the most intrepid and the most desperate.
What if there were a better way, one that made homeschooling convenient and accessible for everyone?
The school model we've become used to is a sort of factory in which students are placed on an assembly line, with the goal of molding them into a generally homogeneous product. The heads of school look for teachers who already fit this mold and will stick to a formula. Creativity by the teachers is welcomed only to the extent that it keeps the assembly line flowing without disruption. In many schools teachers are even given detailed lesson plans; their job is to plug themselves into the wall, recite their lines, and pretend they enjoy it.
Similarly, students are accepted into the school based more on how they can serve the school than how the school can serve them. The admissions department looks for students who already fit the mold, and can easily be turned into the homogeneous product; students who will make good poster children for promotional and fundraising opportunities; and students whose parents can grease the wheels.
The assembly line school model works well for students and parents who already fit the mold and idealize it, as well as the wealthy and well-connected who can enjoy more determination over their child's experience.
This model works poorly for those who don't fit the mold or necessarily want to fit a mold, students who have a hard time keeping up, brilliant and creative students who color outside the lines, and parents who can't “donate” enough to receive special treatment. In other words, this model works poorly for the vast majority of people.
If children are lucky, they will muddle their way through the system and get their real education some other way. Most will go through the motions but will be totally uninspired. Many will become disillusioned and drop out of the system. Very few will thrive.
Teachers are just as miserable, especially if they are foolish enough to care. Their salaries are not remotely commensurate with the skills an outstanding teacher needs to have, nor the time they devote to their students both on and off the clock. When money is tight – and according to the well-fed people on top, it's always tight – the teachers are the ones who are told their paychecks will be late. The teachers are the ones who are asked to “sacrifice” and tighten their belts, or take yet another side job, or beg for charity. Whatever they do, they mustn't complain, and certainly mustn't go on strike, because they are doing holy work, and people who do holy work are supposed to suffer with joy.
Of course, the janitor gets paid on time, in full, because otherwise the floors wouldn't be swept and the toilets wouldn't be cleaned. The teachers, however, will keep showing up. If they quit in the middle of the year it will be almost impossible to find another job quickly, and everyone knows it. They're stuck.
At the same time, school administrators are perpetually crying poverty, have a difficult time finding and retaining quality teachers, and are beholden to a small number of wealthy patrons or government officials who have their own agenda.
In sum, the school model we are used to produces homogeneous products who are generally ignorant, uninspired, and even turned off. The teachers are underpaid, creatively stifled, overworked, miserable, sacrificial lambs. Parents pay through the nose, have little control over their children's education, and are at the mercy of the system.
Despite the long hours their children spend in school, parents must help their students with homework and pointless assignments, or hire expensive tutors. All this produces a great deal of stress for everyone, but little actual growth. It's an intellectual labor camp.
Contrary to what they say, school doesn't prepare children for “the real world”. It's their introduction to a lifetime of being constrained, compliant, and submissive, in exchange for good grades and a place somewhere in the larger controlled system.
Let's face it. For almost everyone involved, school is hell.
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Part Two – A new vision for education
Imagine if you could have the best of a centralized school environment and homeschooling. Parents wouldn't have to personally teach their children beyond what they can manage, but they would still manage their children's education. Teachers would have the freedom to teach what they want, how they want, to however many people they want, and be compensated according to fair market value. Students and parents would be able to custom-design their own curriculum and choose their own teachers, for far less than the cost of private schools or private lessons. They would also enjoy all the benefits of group learning without being stuck in a system.
It might sound like an impossible dream, but I believe it's well within reach.
In recent years collaborative workspaces have become very popular around the world for self-employed people and small companies. They get to enjoy office space and services in a professional environment for far less than the cost of setting up a private office, which is out of reach for most. They can also network and collaborate with others in the workspace while maintaining their independence.
Now imagine a similar place that was a center for education. Teachers would be completely independent, and would rent space to offer their classes. They would decide how many students could sign up for a given class, when it would take place, and what the fee would be. Parents who were interested in their services would register. Essentially, it would be no different than hiring anyone else for a job. The teacher is the one offering the service, and the parents are the customers.
A “homeschooling center” could offer a huge range of educational subjects and styles, well beyond what a typical school could offer. It would be an open marketplace for education, governed by supply and demand.
Imagine all the talented, creative teachers out there setting up shop independently, attracting students who want to learn specifically from them, specifically what they are teaching. Parents could choose what they want from a broad menu, or team up to create something new and hire someone for the job. Outstanding teachers will be rewarded, while those who don't belong in a classroom won't find customers.
Nepotism would be eliminated from the hiring process. Agenda-based curriculum designed by outsiders would not be foisted on children, unless the parents wanted it and voluntarily paid for it.
Parents would be free to work and go about their day while their children would be educated in a supervised environment. Their children could learn from the teachers of their choosing, at the hours that are convenient for them, in a group environment, without all the unnecessary expenses of a typical school. Teachers would be independent contractors and could set their own fee per student.
Parents would pay far less, and teachers would earn far more. The bloated salaries of assistant principals and expenses of running a large campus would be cut out. The result would be top-notch, personalized education in a group environment, without the fluff.
No doubt there are many details that would need to be worked out, but in principle this vision offers the best of centralized schools and homeschooling without the main problems of each. We live in a time when everything we took for granted in society is shifting. The flaws of the educational system are more glaring than ever – indoctrination, bullying, incompetence, authoritarianism, even pressure to take dangerous injections. This is a crisis, but it is also an opportunity for parents and teachers to reclaim their rightful control over the educational process of our precious children.
Let's join together and make it happen.