Are your kids back in school? Time to apologize to them

Nearly 50 million students are now returning to classrooms—from kindergarten through 12th grade. They will spend approximately eight hours a day at school and additional hours doing homework. They will be educated, in public schools alone, by the equivalent of over 3 million full-time teachers.  And they will, with rare exception, learn a dismal fraction of what they ought to be learning to be creative, confident and critical thinkers about themselves and the world around them.

As a parent myself, I literally apologized to each of my children—and not just once—for the fact that so much of their time as grade school and junior high school and high school students (even at private school) was being spent on memorization, regurgitation and rote learning that amounted to busy work and the warehousing of them, physically and mentally.

I openly admitted to them that eight hours a day of their time, for about 180 days a year, should be yielding a lot more in the way of opportunities to learn to think on their feet, to take action in service to their ideas and to understand the world around them in political, religious, economic and scientific ways that would contribute to their personal growth, success and capacity to improve the lives of those around them.

I would suggest that other parents follow my lead and apologize to their kids for what passes as primary and secondary education in America, too. 

I would suggest that other parents follow my lead and apologize to their kids for what passes as primary and secondary education in America, too.

Why?  Because, otherwise, their kids might start to think that their instinctive distaste for regurgitating inert information means that there is something wrong with the way they think, not something wrong with the way the educational system dehumanizes them. They might start to distrust themselves, instead of the adults around them (including most of their parents and most of their teachers) who pretend to be wholly committed to nurturing them and educating them, when the truth is that they could reach deeper and kindle, in them, far more intellectual and personal growth.

While many of the ways we have failed our children in their educations come from not insisting that their current teachers and schools try harder, some of the ways we have failed them are matters of policy.

We have killed off competition between teachers for their jobs, by maintaining antiquated systems of tenure that protect them from being fired -- even if they are failing our kids.

As a nation, despite the obvious revolution in educational programming that would result, we have resisted school choice, wherein families are given vouchers to use at whichever schools they believe will best prepare their children for productive and powerful lives.

Here’s one bold possibility:  What if we fired 50 percent of the teachers, doubled the salaries of those who remained and split the day into 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. for half the students, and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. for the other half?  My guess is that we would have teachers twice as good, working twice as fast, teaching just as much, in far less time.  And all our kids would have more time to think and create, because they wouldn’t be sitting so long in class.

America’s schools only get passing grades because we’re grading them on a curve. The best of them aren’t really good enough.  And that really does mean we should at least tell our children that we’re sorry.