As we get ready for the 93rd year of universal public education…

September 5th, 2011

Seth Godin has a post today that echoes the core theme of Shift Ed – namely, that our approach to schooling is out of synch with the world in which we now live.  “As we get ready for the 93rd year of universal public education,” Seth says,

…here’s the question every parent and taxpayer needs to wrestle with: Are we going to applaud, push or even permit our schools (including most of the private ones) to continue the safe but ultimately doomed strategy of churning out predictable, testable and mediocre factory-workers?

As we suggest in Shift Ed, too few parents seem to be asking themselves this question where it counts most and where they are most likely to take action: with their own children. While most parents indicate that they are dissatisfied with the quality of education in the U.S. in general, most will also say that they are satisfied with the education their own children are receiving. No doubt part of this complacency is due to the fact that the kids are receiving an education that looks much the same as the one the parents received. And, hey, if it worked okay for mom and dad…

Another factor is the well-established earnings premium that comes from higher levels of education. Understandably, it is hard for most parents to see beyond this one – every parent wants to make sure their kid will be able to thrive out in the world. But Seth is on to something when he writes:

If you do a job where someone tells you exactly what to do, they will find someone cheaper than you to do it. And yet our schools are churning out kids who are stuck looking for jobs where the boss tells them exactly what to do.

That, of course, is if the kid can find a job at all. With educational attainment continually on the rise in developing economies, the level of job that can done cheaper elsewhere is rising quickly as well. More education may offer a salary premium currently, but we shouldn’t let that lull us into a false sense of security about our systems of education. Ultimately test scores and degrees don’t matter anywhere near as much as what our kids are actually capable of thinking and doing when they get out into the world. That will drive any salary premiums over the long haul.

So, as we get ready for the 93rd year of universal public education, let’s see if we can get transformation fully under way.