Learning Lessons Our Schools Can’t Teach (from the “Cliff Notes” version of “Healing Our World”)

In the early 1900s, our great-grandparents trudged off to their neighborhood school. For the better part of the day, the teacher stood in front of the class, chalk in hand, to expound on lessons contained in the schoolbooks. Today, our children take cars or buses to school, but once they are there, students listen as the teacher stands in front of the class to expound on the lessons contained in the schoolbooks. The facilities are newer, the chalk has become a white board marker, an occasional video clip is shown, and the curriculum includes some additional subjects, but otherwise our schools are stuck in the horse and buggy days.

The cost of doing things the same old way, however has skyrocketed. The United States, for example spent almost 3 times as much per pupil in 2009 as in 1970 after adjusting for inflation, yet SAT scores have declined. Somewhere between 20 to 30% of U.S. high school students don’t graduate. One out of three graduates don’t have basic reading, writing, and math skills.  Half of the students who go to college have to take remedial courses first.

Our schools are built on aggression. For the most part, children are forced to attend neighborhood schools certain months of the year, for a certain number of years, and take certain subjects with others of the same age group. Flexibility is limited, unless parents are willing to homeschool, or pay tuition for private schooling. Even if parents make these choices, they still are forced to pay taxes to support the failing public schools.

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Poor parents, of course, don’t have these options. Their children must attend neighborhood schools where teachers and administrators often can’t even keep the peace. Many of our schools have become places of violence, and even killing. Children forced into an educational system built on aggression naturally learn to practice it themselves.

When I first wrote Healing Our World in 1992, I described a fictional school called Quest, which took advantage of the many ways that new technologies are able to provide an inexpensive, thorough education when the restrictions of aggression are removed. A number of parents called me asking where this mythical school was so that they could enroll their children. I had to explain to them that the school was simply a prediction of what was possible, not what was.

By the time the 2015 edition of Healing Our World was published, most of the elements that Quest was built on had become reality. For example, while public schools in the United States cost over $10,000 per pupil, the price of a world-class education in the private sector can be virtually free.

Khan Academy, a broad Internet-based school, boasts “you can learn anything for free.” Khan is supported by donations and grants. Any child with an Internet connection and computer can get a self-paced education for virtually nothing.

Of course, even with the best technology, children will still have questions that may require a personal explanation. Internet learning programs can track a student’s progress, and alert a parent or teacher to areas in which a student might need a little extra help. Private Swedish schools utilize such a system today.

Worldwide, students are turning to after school tutoring as their public education fails them. In Japan, afterschool tutors who can communicate subject matter to students efficiently via the web are paid as much as professional athletes. In the United States, Sylvan Learning Centers guarantee a one-year leap with just 36 hours of instruction. At that rate of learning, students could have 12th grade proficiency by the time they turn 13.

Afterschool tutoring is expensive, especially when parents have to pay taxes for public schools on top of tutoring fees. However, if parents could apply their tax dollars to an Internet schooling program, such as Khan Academy, coupled with a tutoring program, children would likely learn faster than they do today at a much lower cost. In such a program, children could go at their own pace and get personalized attention where they needed it the most.

In a schooling system without aggression, advertisers would sponsor television shows like Sesame Street in order to educate children and have an opportunity to pitch their products. While some parents wouldn’t appreciate this trade-off, the poor might benefit greatly from an educational program that costs them nothing more than a cable TV subscription. This would allow them to afford some tutoring, perhaps by older children, for difficult subjects. However, the unfettered Internet appears to be outstripping the regulated television media in terms of offering educational value.

The poor would benefit the most in an educational system free from aggression. Most of the poor rent, rather than own, their residence. The price of their rent includes property taxes for supporting the school system. Without this added cost, the poor would be able to afford economical educational alternatives for their children. Today, such children are often stuck in inner-city schools where the most important lesson is physical survival. Because the classes seem boring compared to the multimedia world they live in today, students lose interest and disrupt the classroom. Learning becomes difficult, if not impossible.

Historically, teachers unions have opposed any deviation from the public school norm. However, good teachers would have nothing to worry about as the pay scale of the Japanese afterschool teachers illustrates. Indeed, even some public school teachers today are quite literally making millions selling their lesson plans on the Internet to other public school teachers. Being Good Neighbors is a win-win proposition!

 

These posts are part of a “Cliff Notes” version of my award-winning international best-selling libertarian primer, Healing Our World. The next post in this series will be “Springing the Poverty Trap.” If you’d like to learn more about schools based on aggression teach aggression before the next post, which will come out after the New Year, check out Chapter 10 of the 1993 edition of Healing Our World, in my Free Library.  
If you want more up-to-date detail, you can purchase the 2015 edition of Healing, with a $5 Christmas discount, here.  Give the gift of liberty this season and show your family and friends how to create peace on earth with goodwill to all! 
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