Educational Reform? Really?

With all of the focus on education reform — no approaches of which seem to be pleasing anyone — what about this for a consideration: we don’t need reform.

I’m not saying the current system is perfect, and I’m not saying to become complacent or apathetic, but in most school systems have we simply come to that end of the rope where the amount of effort necessary to make the system better becomes, well, implausible?

My consideration on giving up on the “all hands on deck, our schools are on the precipice of falling into the crapper” is not, however, based on the feeling that the extra effort is not worth it; it’s based on looking at an even bigger picture than education across the US.

Most of the argument that we require massive educational reform is based on the global references: the US has fallen in the ranks of the educational elite when measured by certain tests. These tests indicate that the US — which for decades was at the top of the math scales — has fallen to as low as 28th (by some rankings) when measured against other countries.

So what’s really at stake here?  The future well being of our children?

The abstract of an academic article I think states the real issue: “ the growing interest in public education in the developed world in general and in the United States in particular is grounded in a fear of losing global hegemony.Ref. In other words, the US is afraid of losing its power over the rest of the world: militarily, economically, and educationally. That’s a much bigger issue than raising the SAT scores of little Johnny in Poughkeepsie, NY, and no wonder there are people who think education reform is such huge issue; there’s a lot riding on this in the minds of some.

What would be fascinating, however, would be to see where the US ranked just before World War I, and where it ranked post- World War II. Did the fact that we were the last man standing after the decimation of lands that had been intellectual power-houses for decades before, have any effect? Did the fact that many of the best and brightest of many lands fled their countries for fear of persecution, bound for  the US, have any effect? Is it necessarily that we’ve fallen behind, or have we always maintained a high level of education — the highest you can do with a reasonable amount of effort — and now everyone else has finally caught back up, after having their societies ravaged by horrific wars?

And there’s another interesting dynamic at play within the US. If you look at the arc of the rise of our country, we have rarely celebrated our intellectual class. If anything, there’s always been a certain animosity towards the egg-heads, the geeks, and the book worms: either putting them down as societally inept, or distancing them as aloof and condescending. While pop-culture cinema of the past decades has sometimes raised the pedestal for the intellectuals, it’s often been done through comedy, and when it’s been seriously addressed the stories almost always end with the understanding that the ridicule will return for yet another day.

So when we live in a culture that applauds the entrepreneur and not the scientist, the football team and not the debate team, how are we to think that any educational reform measures are really going to make a difference?

Maybe it’s time to stop, sit back, and make a collective agreement on what that difference should be in education, then figure out if it’s possible, and even figure out if it’s necessary.