Education policy proposals
1 — Expand the educational role for CCAC
- Move toward a goal of providing lifetime education for all citizens and taxpayers
We can't wait for better education of pre-schoolers to pay off two decades from now. We need to give people of working age an opportunity to both better their job skills and increase their family's well-being, as well as enhance their enjoyment in life. Such a goal can increase the attractiveness of the region to quality, long-term investors by ensuring a higher educated populace. CCAC can play a central role in laying out and coordinating the strategy, and it should be the primary instrument for implementing that strategy in conjunction with other institutions of learning — ranging from our public schools to our fine universities and trade schools.
- Encourage and assist in the use of old schools for community education centers for all ages
Old schools in traditional communities are usually well located to serve the surrounding neighborhoods. A goal should be established of preserving those that are no longer to be used for public schools, using them instead for community educations centers as a coordinated effort of the local school system, the local libraries, CCAC, and other community resources.
- Establish programs for independent, distant learning:
- Charge CCAC with the task of developing Internet-based curricula for a distance learning program and encourage other educational institutions to join the effort.
- The County should apply to the FCC for the WQEX educational broadcasting license and use it for providing distance learning programming as an arm of CCAC.
2 — Education should take a stronger role in preparing good citizens
The one justification for public education upon which both the left and the right political wings should agree is that its primary purpose is to produce good citizens who, in addition to being productive members of society, are able to effectively carry on our democratic ways.
Unfortunately, we are faced with an unacceptably low turn out on election day and the even lower level of public involvement in day-to-day government processes. This is a chief factor in government's lack of responsiveness to public issues and has made it easily for the system to be manipulated by vested interests. The low level of public involvement risks the viability of our system of government, and it necessitates specific steps to not only educate our future adults about the democratic process, but to "get their feet wet" so they do not view participation as an alien activity.
Example: A high school requirement to participate in the democratic process
(an issue primarily for school board candidates)
The most effective way to get future adults involved is to give them hands-on experience; after all, we don't expect driver training to only take place in the classroom and we don't teach swimming without having the students go in the water. A number of districts across the country require students to perform 40 hours of community service activity as a graduation requirement. Therefore, it is reasonable that our schools could require high school students to participate in the political process as a means of preparing them for their adulthood responsibilities.
As general suggestions, such a potential program might require:
- Students work with any legitimate political campaign of their own choosing for a minimum of ten hours in each school year (grades 11 & 12 minimum, possibly even 10 & 9). If a student is 18, he/she might even organize their own campaign for public office.
- Students have an approved adult sponsor who is working with the campaign and is responsible for time keeping and an evaluation of performance.
- Students prepare a report of their activities and what they learned.
- An activity that could be set up in conjunction with any of the students classes — e.g.
- Art class — making posters and signs, designing materials, photography, etc. used with a campaign;
- Civics, history, or social studies class — preparing a position paper about an issue in the particular campaign, making a presentation about the student's involvement, etc.;
- English or speech class — writing or giving a report about the student's campaign activities;
Math class — e.g. helping with a statistical analysis in a small campaign.
3 — Educational innovation
- Should be encouraged in small projects first
We are constantly told that other countries are doing better with the education of their children than we are in the U.S. We have tried changes, but we have tended to implement new approaches across the board without first fully testing the impact of the changes on smaller groups. When we have discovered that something being done is not as effective as before, it has been too late to avoid having hurt the entire educational system. We need to take a smaller approach to new changes first and then, after it has proven itself, expand it to the larger group.
- Give the Charter School experiment a chance to be fully tested before opening discussion on vouchers
The charter school concept was first proposed as an experiment that would offer more choice to parents for their children's education, and it was designed to open opportunities for citizens to develop alternative approaches to education. The experiment has only just begun and should be allowed to have time to be fully tested before creating a new variable such as vouchers. Without the benefit of a reasonable test period, we risk not identifying any mistakes that we may be making, or, worse, we risk compounding and building upon them. An adequate test will enable us to sort out the best and leave the things that don't work aside as we decide the next step in restructuring our educational system.
An innovative example: A pilot program for non-age-segregated education —
The following is an example of an innovative structural approach that could be tried through one or more charter schools. It would probably be most effective if pursued in association with an institution of higher education, either CCAC or other of the region's colleges and universities.
Background: The artificial segregation of children into tightly delineated age groups can have a number of negative impacts upon the individual child and the society at large. By creating and enforcing a peer group defined by age, our schools alienate children from the rest of society and lead children to look for guidance and leadership, first and foremost, among their own age group (and in many cases exclusively). Peer pressure is a significant factor in negative behaviors such as smoking, alcohol and other drugs, delinquency, and other anti-social activity. Yet the peer associations which underlie peer pressures are not only effectively sanctioned by our schools, they are enforced by a society that insists children of a given age be herded through the educational system in mass, according to their calendar age.
This age segregation and its associated, packaged approach to education is an outgrowth of the industrial revolution and the age of mass production. It ignores the individual differences that can make it necessary for some people to take longer learning a particular thing than someone else, not necessarily as a matter of intellegence, but often as a matter of the other influences and experiences in a person's life. Clearly, everybody is different. Some people take longer to learn one thing, but they may also learn another thing faster. As the educational machine moves along, those who miss out on a key understanding may be out of step from then on, and those who must bide their time can become bored and may either be turned off to education or venture into distractions that get them into trouble.
Nonetheless, the basic system continues to treat children more or less as commodities which can be mass produced in a given time into similar units. Then we give them diplomas in lieu of pasting labels on their packing boxes and send them on their way.
Potential models: There are alternatives to the manufacturing approach to education that have been tried and tested through years of use. One of these is the Montessori education system, and it has been applied in the Netherlands from the preschool through the University levels. This provides an initial model that could be applied to a non-age segregated charter school, but it is not the only choice. Work in Venezuela has developed individualized, independent study at the University level. Distance learning techniques developed in this country and abroad could also be employed to provide an opportunity for children of various ages to learn together in a natural, mixed age environment. If the facility is a lifetime learning center, they might even be joined by their parents (the most effective way to stimulate good learning attitudes in children).
Potetial benefits: Such an approach might be anticipated to:
These benefits have been demonstrated by one room schools in America within this century, and in certain situations of special education they have shown themselves to be beneficial in recent years.
- Reduce peer pressure and create more ownership of our society at a young age.
- Improve the effectiveness of education with an approach that is "understanding-based" rather than "eat and repeat."
- Encourage and support greater maturity and individual growth among youth.
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