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It's our turn: If you can't fix it, break it

You can always depend on your car to get you where you are going – that is until it breaks down. When it does break down, getting it back on the road is usually a fairly simple process, requiring only that you find the problem and get it fixed.

However, repairing a vehicle that’s been sitting out in a pasture for 20 years is a different matter; the process becomes much more difficult. Do you start with the engine, or the tires, or the gas tank? No matter what one thing you fix, it still won’t be drivable.

Our public education system is a lot like that old car. Nearly everyone agrees that the old system is broken and is not getting us where we want to go. But how do you go about fixing it? Where do you start?

Because everyone believes education is important, there’s no shortage of talk - as well as both good and bad ideas - for how to accomplish this. Mostly, these ideas consist of the same old things: more money, new schools, smaller classes, better teachers, earlier education, more testing, more technology and more regulation.

Although all of these and more have been tried, our quality of education seems to only keep sinking farther and farther into the mud.

Rather than join the crowd in discussing how to fix the old rust-bucket, maybe it’s time to consider a new perspective: Maybe public education can’t be fixed; maybe it isn’t broken at all and is doing just what it was designed to do.

Consider this: Our public education system is for the most part based on the Prussian (German) model of schooling, which began in the early 1800s. This system of forced and highly-structured schooling was admired and copied by many of the founders of compulsory schools in the United States.

With the help of wealthy industrialists, who wanted to create a source of workers for their factories, as well as consumers for their products, the system grew and took hold in America.

To be fair, this system did probably have an economic benefit for America. But the problem is that the main goals of the Prussian system were to create obedient soldiers and workers, and to create people who all thought alike. These might be good qualities for creating strong armies, but are probably not what most people see as good educational goals today.

Take some time to look through educational documents throughout U.S. history, and you will see a strong pattern of social control, worker creation, and conformity being primary educational goals. I don’t have room to list quotes here, but they are truly frightening and also explain why education is as it is.

If all this is true, as the evidence strongly suggests, maybe the solution is not to fix, but to break the system.

Maybe we should break the ever-growing educational bureaucracy which feeds on money and control, while promising us “free” education.

Maybe we should break the assembly line mentality that seeks to make all students the same, especially things like Common Core, the latest attempt to force students nationwide to all learn the same things.

Maybe we should break our obsession with science and technology and instead focus on building a foundation of liberal arts, communication and thinking, which have always been the mark of any truly educated person.

And maybe we should break the idea that school is only about preparing for a career, and instead focus on preparing students for living well and being successful in any career.

Although most teachers and school leaders are good people who genuinely want to help kids learn, they are shackled by a system that is too big, too full of bureaucracy and too resistant to change. For the most part, their efforts are like putting GPS and new paint on the old, broken down clunker: It looks impressive, but still won’t drive well.

We already know what works for effective education. It’s the same methods that trained the ancient Greeks, medieval scholars and Americans like Thomas Jefferson and Abe Lincoln. It even worked fairly well in the one-room schoolhouses in our not-too-distant past.

The problem is not that the old ways didn’t work, but that they don’t fit our philosophical beliefs, obsession with technology, and worship of anything new and modern.

Admitting that our hi-tech but broken down car can’t ever be effective would be like going back to a horse and buggy. But at least it would get us where we want to go.

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“It’s Our Turn” is a weekly column that rotates among members of the Echo Press editorial staff.