COMMENTARY: At a recent meeting someone said in frustration, “I wish schools would just educate kids.” The person was vague as to specifics. I asked, “So you think educating is simple?”
“Yes, you get a teacher and some children and let the teacher teach. It’s no big deal.”
Perhaps that notion is both right and wrong. Simply put: Education is when there is something you want to learn and you listen to someone or read something. But there’s an entire public education industrial complex in our society.
That system of education is incredibly complex and fraught with dysfunction. Paul Simon wrote in a 1973 song, “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”
There is a chaos theory in weather prediction stating when a butterfly flaps its wings in Beijing the weather changes ever so slightly in New York City. We know it will rain but not when. No matter how much money goes into weather prediction, it is limited to perhaps a week.
In education, we know some children will learn, but not how much each will learn at any given time. Despite the industrial mania for testing, we don’t have the ability to say that if a teacher does something, students are guaranteed to learn.
It is very complex. There are so many factors that it is impossible to name them all. Some major factors are: interaction with parents, student age in months, brain development in the child, the child’s nutrition, eyesight, allergies and other physical issues.
Some minor factors are: the latitude of the school. The northern schools have more coughing, making it harder to hear. If we research the many thousands we might see school lunches are a 1.3 percent factor and the school having a winning football season is a 0.0001 percent factor.
What the Chaos Theory of Education illuminates is that despite the assurances that our educational leaders “know” what they are doing, they are as good as the weather service is at making one-year weather predictions.
In weather and public education, the plan has been that if the endeavor could be broken into a large enough number of measurable steps we would be able to rely upon the prediction. In education, every year there are more and more measures, more and more new strategies, and pretty much the same percentage of children doing well or not doing well.
The all-knowing expression many educational leaders wear should no longer cause us to be silent. That these leaders have impressive credentials or impressive titles or ornate offices does not matter.
Perhaps the factory model of education we use in America, where all children are similar enough to educate in the same way, will finally be proven to be false. Perhaps in the coming years children will spend less time in institutions and more time learning individually.
Each student learns differently in so many ways. Public education can never function satisfactorily using a factory model.
Michael Swickard is a former radio talk show host and has been a columnist for 30 years in a number of New Mexico newspapers. Swickard’s new novel, Hideaway Hills, is now available at Amazon.com.