Now is the time for the fundamental restructuring of schools. Competent, committed and conscious teachers are the people, most in a position, to lead this process. No educational model is any stronger than its teachers. Alternative teacher education academies, in association with successful master teachers, and master teacher educators, should be established. These institutes could operate in a fashion similar to programs that, in recent history, were called Teacher Corps projects.

As the United States and its economy continue to change, so too must schools.  It should by now be obvious, even to the casual observer, that millions of youth, who have come through impersonal, worksheet filled, behavior-oriented, factory/prison-like schools, have generally come out without specific marketable skills and with limited academic and social understanding. This renders even the 50%, or so, of the students, who do graduate, barely trained and hardly educated.

When many, over the years, offered constructive criticism concerning America’s failing educational system, the suggestions fell upon deaf ears. Then, there were plenty of “good” industrial jobs that would last virtually a lifetime, that didn’t require many predetermined skills, nor much social awareness. This is no longer the case. But most schools continue to turn out wave after wave of citizens prepared to work in factories that no longer exist. Schools, regardless of where they’re located, and whether they be public, private, charter, independent, community-based, or home-based, that don’t give up ineffective models of learning, will not be able to compete with learning environments that provide, for young people and adults, the type of intellectual experience and instruction that is suited for now and the future and not for 70 years ago. Schools that can’t change, or refuse to change, to meet the needs of today’s learners, should and will go out of business. In this context, many schools and school districts, will end up having the same relationship to education that many public hospitals have to healthcare, destinations of last resort.

So now that the handwriting is on the wall, among many, there’s a mad scramble to return to the so-called basics. The scramblers define the basics, of course, as Reading, Riting, and Rithmatic, the 3Rs. But they predictably leave out the 4th and most important R, Reasoning, the ability to analyze, think critically, and apply that which you know. It’s the 4th R that allows useful training to exist within the broader, deeper and so desperately needed concept of education.

Hammering our youth into boring and irrelevant classes, often taught by teachers who underestimate student potential, generally believe in the system, and in teaching the way they were taught, is no solution, but is at the root of the problem. Most educational circumstances, defined as problems, are actually symptoms of the incorrect way most schools are structured. Far too much time is being spent blaming students, parents, teachers, administrators, and others, while a system out of sync with the needs of the people, the true villain in the process, goes unindicted.

Schools and legislative/administrative bodies, alike, should get over the knee jerk presumption that standardized test scores, alone, constitute the be all and end all in the determination of intellectual achievement. The argument is fallacious and must be defeated, along with the overemphasis on force, as opposed to motivation, on externalized discipline, as opposed to self-discipline and on rote memorization and behavior, as opposed to knowledge of self, comprehension, entrepreneurism,
“education is production too”, and empowerment.

What’s called for is mass education “with a human face”. As after America’s Civil War, teachers and teacher educators must become, not defenders and perpetuators of the status quo, but leaders, enlightened change agents, and active intellectuals, prepared to challenge local and global systems which continue to miseducate and enable the oppression of working people.

The ultimate purpose of education is not a grade, nor a credential. The ultimate purpose of education is to change the world, starting with the world between ones ears. Education is never value-free or neutral. It’s always filled with a given set of assumptions and directions. There’s no reason to pretend otherwise. The challenge, for those who are prepared to become “new teachers for a new nation”, is not to produce students who are well-behaved, institutionalized clones for short-sighted and brutal systems, but it is to help nurture critical thinkers, with marketable skills, including a command of standard English, who know themselves, feel good about themselves, take responsibility for their own learning, understand the world and can take self-directed action in it. “From the cradle to the grave”, learning how to learn, while becoming more adept at manipulating, to a principled advantage, that which you have learned, is the essential characteristic of a truly educated citizen. Schools which hope to intellectually propel people regardless of their age, race, gender, nationality, or class can only do so if they proceed in a manner that is thoughtful, bold, democratic, futuristic and liberating. Training is important, but it mainly domesticates. You can train a dog. Humans need more. Humans need liberation. Humans need “liberation education”.

¬†power.The home and other segments of communities must be involved in this bottom up reorganization of America’s educational system. But the process must also, necessarily, include students in an active role. Students do and will continue to constitute education’s primary customers, but they have proportionately the most limited voice in actual decision making processes. As students are encouraged to take greater responsibility for their learning, they should also be allowed and encouraged to more actively influence the nature and texture of their schooling. If you don’t want to learn, the most gifted, and caring teacher can’t make you. But, if you feel you must learn, if you believe you have a future and that your future depends upon you learning, the most ignorant, negative and backward teacher cannot stop you. With this understanding we will be more able to build institutions that accelerate communities’ acquisition of cultural/economic/political justice and power.

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