There are education critics out there who have what some might consider an extreme view on the intentions and damages caused by the public school system -- in both its present and past incantations. They believe that the education system is designed to break down innate creative genius, and replace it with the ability to follow directions, be subservient to authority, and learn to preform boring tasks with little to no complaint or questioning.
I try not to think this way. Instead, I choose to believe that the task of educating billions of children -- all with their different needs, different backgrounds, and different ways of learning -- is so great, and the needs to consider so vast and untamable, that even the best intentions can go awry.
How to best ensure all children receive an equal level of education when some are homeless and some live in mansions? When some speak English and some do not? When some want to learn how to build engines, and some love to read literature? How to homogenize the non-homogenizable so that everyone learns equally, equitably, and thoroughly?
Meetings are held. Arguments are had. Plans are made. Laws are implemented. Panels convene. Experts are consulted. Studies are completed. Money is given. Money is taken away. Libraries are made. Libraries are closed. Libraries open up again. New theories are produced. New buzz words are created. Teachers are re-trained. Class sizes are reduced. Class sizes are blown up again. Teachers are hired. Teachers are laid off. And on, and on.
It takes a herculean show of effort. So I feel bad sometimes, being critical. Like it's wrong of me to judge any of this when it's amazing that it happens at all, that as contentious as we humans are with each other, we manage to pull together an education system for every single child living in the United States -- and provide it to them free of charge.
But I try to teach my students that one of the most important skills they can nurture in themselves is the ability and willingness to question -- and so I live by example, even though it often feels safer not to. Never stop questioning your education, I tell them. Ever. I started questioning mine when I was five years old, the year I started Kindergarten, and I'm not about to stop now. I hope they won't either.