How would you react if your 16-year-old decided to go to a trade school and learn how to be an auto-mechanic rather than completing high school?
I suspect the majority would freak out. Why? Because in the U.S., dropping out of high school is tantamount to committing a crime. Our country did not always have that attitude. According to the U. S. Department of Education 1940 was the first year that 50% of high school students graduated. Rates peaked in 1969 at 77% and have hovered around 70% since then.
The introduction of the computer, space travel, nano-technology, and the Internet, to name but a few, are responsible for much of the focus on formal education in the twentieth century. These new technologies also brought many new opportunities for making money. Our federal government, never known for overlooking a chance to make money, decided we needed a federal agency in charge of education.
President Jimmy Carter signed the U. S. Department of Education into existence in 1972. Apparently the fact that the Constitution specifically leaves education to the states did not concern him or those who voted to approve it. And like all federal agencies, it continues to grow unfettered. This growth continues to gobble up any attempt by locals to exercise individual options.
According to http://mapfight.appspot.com, the size of Finland is just .04 that of the United States (twice the size of Florida). The smaller size and more homogeneous population make it easier to implement programs. Just imagine what might be accomplished if each of our 50 states were still allowed to develop and implement educational programs!
North Dakota might develop a training academy for students interested in fracking as well as one that trained those concerned about preserving the natural habitat. California could become the place to go if one wanted to secure certification in sea life. Like working with cows? Wisconsin is the place for you. Students would receive similar instruction until age 16, and then be able to opt for professional training or high school.
Just imagine 50 different training centers for a wide variety of occupations! Americans are naturally competitive. If we turned lose this competitive nature, we could create the best career training centers anyone has ever seen. At age 16 most students are still eager and want to accomplish something. Why do we think it is better for everyone to learn German and chemistry rather than pursue an area about which they are truly passionate?
At this time our public education is focused on test taking. Our public schools spend at least 25% of the year either preparing for or taking some form of standardized testing. To what end? These scores are used to judge schools and teachers. How are they preparing students to function in the world?
The Superintendent of Public Instruction for Indiana stated a couple of weeks ago that we have students who are “good test takers” but not “good thinkers.” I was reading this in the paper while eating my breakfast and nearly spit cereal across the room! Duh!!! How do you get “good test takers?” Obviously by giving them tests all the time!!!
And sadly, the teachers must teach to the test. If they don’t, and their students do poorly, then the teacher may lose his or her job.
Where are the next thinkers and doers going to come from? Probably Finland!