Economics Online Tutor
|The ABCs of
A. What are the goals of the education system in the United States?
Think about that question for a little bit. The question actually is very important. How do we know
what we are doing right? How do we know what we are doing wrong? How do we know if we are
moving in the right direction? How do we know what would be the best way to fix any problems?
Without knowing what the goals are, these other questions simply do not have a valid answer. The
answer to the question of what the goals are provides us with a road map. Without a road map, the
chances of stumbling upon the proper course of action are very slim.
By using the term 'goals', I'm not talking about specific outcomes. I'm not talking about anybody's
personal wish list. I'm just asking, in a general sense, what are the overall goals, what is it that we are
trying to achieve by even having an education system? What are the benefits that we expect from an
education system? Who receives the benefits? What is the best method for achieving those benefits?
What are the costs of achieving the benefits, and what cost are we willing to pay for the benefits? Who
pays the costs? The answers to those questions are a bit more specific than simply stating the overall
goals, but are part of the thinking process that determines what the goals are. For this question, I don't
even mean limiting the answer to a 'public' education system, but rather the system as a whole. 'Public'
is a method, not a goal, at least in terms of the question asked.
Based on comments that I have heard from many people, education professionals and non-educators
alike, I would say that opinions vary widely on the answer to the question of what the overall goals are.
Perhaps we are just trying to put our children into a position where they will be able to fend for
themselves when they are "released" from the system. Perhaps we are simply trying to teach students
to think for themselves. Perhaps we are trying to create "well-rounded" members of society. Perhaps
El-hi should simply be thought of as a college prep course. Perhaps we are trying to fill the needs of the
businesses who will be looking for new employees. Perhaps education should be geared towards job
training, or perhaps emphasize learning a trade. Perhaps we are trying to promote the arts. Perhaps
education should emphasize somebody's idea of what the current needs of society are. Maybe we
simply want a better system than other countries have. Perhaps promoting equal opportunity and a
chance at the American dream is a goal.
A lot of ideas; maybe you will find that some are very good while others are questionable. But that
involves personal judgement only. What is needed is something that people can come to a consensus
about. Without a consensus, the result would be a power play, with those in power dictating personal
preferences to everybody else. For a consensus to be reached, and the goals understood, these goals
should be stated collectively in simple terms that are general enough for a consensus to be reached,
yet specific enough for them to actually provide the necessary road map. I don't have the answer, but
then again my personal opinion wouldn't matter much anyway. I believe that one approach that would
work would be to gather many diverse ideas together, and then putting the collective results into the
form of a summary. This approach should yield an answer to the question (what are the goals) that
meets the requirements (consensus, general yet provides a road map).
B. What things can and should be improved about our education system?
The answer to this question would be a list of the problems that we have, and any negative trends that
we have, along with actual methods available for making improvements. In order to answer this
question properly, the first question requires an answer. The answer to (A) is a prerequisite for the
answer to (B). Otherwise, the road map will not be followed, and the changes that are made will not be
actual improvements. Somebody might ask "what if we cannot reach a consensus on every point"? I
would answer by saying that by having this debate first, and at least asking the right questions, a
consensus will be reached on more points than if the questions aren't asked in the first place. If any
points remain that no consensus can be reached on, at least there will be fewer unsettled issues. It is
better to eliminate as many hot issues as possible, instead of creating more hot issues by not asking the
right questions in the first place. Accept whatever disagreements might exist after every attempt to
eliminate them, but don't set a course of action that creates disagreements. The main point here is this:
any proposed changes should be evaluated according to how they fit in with the stated overall goals.
That should be the ONLY basis for proposing changes.
C. What things are we doing right?
This question should be answered very carefully. It goes along with the previous question. This
question also depends on what the overall goals are. Any changes resulting from trying to fix what is
wrong should take into consideration what is right. We do not want to undo what is working, as a
byproduct of trying to fix what is not working. Again, the need to stick to the road map.
Follow the plan as laid out above: (A) set the overall goals; (B) recognize what the
problems are according to the goals; and (C) recognize what is already working. Do
all of these things before rushing headlong into any plan to "fix" the system. This is the only
way to ensure that any changes that are made are improvements, and are not creating problems
instead. Again, the road map is needed for the proper course.
Perhaps we will find out that the system needs a little fine-tuning. Perhaps it needs a complete
overhaul. In order to find out exactly what is needed, the answers to these three questions: A, B,
and C above, are required first.
Such a plan is NOT the same thing as "defending the status quo". It is NOT an attempt to avoid
responsibility. But it IS an attempt to proceed intelligently towards common goals. It may
involve a change in the national debate about reform; changing the talking points towards
something that would be positive, with positive results being the expectation. My suggestion
would be the three questions above: A, B, and C.
The ABCs of American Education.