Why Reform Is Necessary

Consider the development of the existing education systems in the United States. Today, most youth still learn within educational frameworks designed during and for the industrial era. It was an era of technological progress that created a need for people who were smart enough to operate the machines but lacked the skills and scope necessary to climb the proverbial ladder. A scope of public education intended to funnel labor into the industries of the day. Limited by technologies available, the majority of our population had few alternatives regarding productivity and participation. Creativity and the development of the individual capacity to reason was a secondary concern to prioritizing a specific form of human capacity able to support the productive agenda of an era. It is a form of education that binds the individual to the past instead of equipping them with the capacity to transcend it. The relatively slow pace of past progress allowed a generation or two to achieve material success. No longer. Today's education systems develop youth for a universe that doesn’t exist.

Consider the hierarchical structure of primary education. The teacher teaches, students memorize and regurgitate, and tests determine rank, which expands or limits access. Students who struggle to fit the mold suffer the consequences for the entirety of their academic career instead of being directed toward alternatives to maximize their strengths and interests. This style of teaching is inadequate because it fails to capture the totality of potential lying dormant in every child, instead demanding that they become a particular kind of human being. It is a way of thinking and learning frozen in a time experience no longer accessible, one that continues influencing our behaviors well after our full-time academic careers are complete. In the immediate present, memorizing a wide array of facts is not relevant to the work and thought patterns necessary to succeed. This is especially accurate in the most advanced sectors of productivity but applicable to all verticals. 

Many knowledge economy professionals today share a vital skill: a strong ability to research and learn quickly. Remember math teachers who used to proclaim that we wouldn’t always have a calculator with us? It is illogical to structure education in a way that denies our present and future circumstances. Beyond knowledge, the most significant focus of our present learning systems is obedience. Do it this way, or else. Students failing to adapt to the available frameworks of learning are penalized, further distancing them from an engaging and productive educational atmosphere. The obedience reinforced in our primary education seeps deep into the fibers of our being, encouraging subservience to others and our systems.

Albert Einstein wrote, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” The diversity and richness of humanity are observable in nearly every imaginable direction. Genius comes in many forms, but within our present educational institutions, grades are the currency by which all progress is measured. They make education competitive and manipulatable, encouraging success at all costs while failing to encourage the core objective of developing analytical capability. For the student who excels, grades become a reason not to challenge themselves. Why take on a risky or challenging project or class when the result could diminish your GPA and directly impact your ability to get into an elite higher education institution? Instead, just game the system. For the middle-of-the-road student, the importance of grades makes cheating a direct path toward progress. The risk is minimal considering how a GPA drop might impact their continuing education or employment opportunities. For the student struggling with existing education formats, grades become a deterrent. Why try when the situation is already hopeless? 

The problem with the competitive education model is that it doesn’t reflect the most advanced forms of work available today. Competitive learning environments prioritize individualism over cooperation and collaboration, a perplexing arrangement given our understanding of the single truth and the relational universe. Although personal autonomy is a positive trait and a core aspect of individual actualization, systems that make it the central theme of a child’s worldview fail that individual. Now more than ever, human beings are an interconnected matrix. We need an education agenda that reflects that.

Our system of grading is also a burden on the educator. The focus of teaching becomes divided, with learning and test prepping competing against each other in the classroom. Instead of being used to gauge student progress, subject matter tests combine to form performance reviews for the teacher. To further complicate matters, many educational institutions expect their students to fall on a bell curve. If a professor teaches an excellent class and their students excel, they are met with suspicion; why aren’t more of your students performing poorly? When too many students perform poorly, there is pressure to pass them. It becomes especially difficult for those educators without the career security of tenure, who risk the most by refusing to conform to institutional standards. Systemic actualization requires educators with the passion and freedom to teach dynamic groups of students without the burden of persistent measurements, free to explore and evaluate the controversial, question the sacred, and push the boundaries of discussion and debate amongst students without fear of risking their careers. 

Perhaps the most significant burden of the United States education systems is standardized testing—not because some standard measure of progress is bad, but because it has been delegated to conglomerates who leverage their monopoly to extract absurd amounts of wealth. The idea behind a standard test is that they are an objective and analytic way of comparing knowledge across a wide range of students. Many students and teachers know them to be stressful time wasters that take the focus off of learning and redirect it to teaching the tests. What really makes standardized testing a net negative for society is that they are political; they are often used to supply or deny funds to schools. It is a formula that often harms historically disadvantaged communities. 

Unsurprisingly, the companies who produce the tests and the textbooks used to prepare and execute standardized tests funnel millions into political donations. These companies continually promote new “standards” so schools must repurchase materials and consistently order new tests. The capitalization of education in the United States is the root cause of its consistent decrease in international rankings. Simply put, our education systems prioritize the continuation of revenue streams for private companies over developing capable human beings. 

The organization of funding for public schooling is another reason that education requires reform. Today, education across the United States is funded through local municipal (property) taxes. Children who live in towns with high wealth concentrations gain access to more materials, smaller classrooms, better facilities, and the benefit of a safer and more secure atmosphere to learn in. Those born into poverty attend schools that are overcrowded and chronically underfunded. On average, students in school districts with the highest rates of poverty receive about one thousand dollars less per student.44 These gaps in support compound throughout their educational career, ensuring that birth lottery is the most important factor in determining the quality of education the individual receives. 

There is an ongoing conflict in the United States surrounding charter and private religious schools. These independent organizations are selective in their admission but often receive some form of public funding. The concept behind these schools is that students will perform better through unique teaching and lesson structures. In theory, it’s a great idea—we want experimental education programs to exist worldwide. In reality, multiple studies have confirmed that our existing charter schools do not perform as advertised. A 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) study of grades four and eight demonstrated no measurable differences in average reading and mathematics scores between students in public traditional and public charter schools.45 Additionally, as of 2015, 76 percent of the 5.8 million private school students in the United States are attending religious school,46 and in 2020 the US Supreme Court ruled the state of Montana could not exclude religious schools from inclusion in a publicly funded private school scholarship. This blurring of the lines seems to reject the fundamental principle of the separation of church and state, which is intended to protect individuals against coercion. Many religious schools intend to sacrifice scientific accuracy for theological correctness, tying their students to a spiritual past they had no say in crafting at the expense of a genuine understanding of the universe. Supporters of charter and religious schools will claim that good and bad charter schools exist, just like public schools, but if there is no discernible difference, why would we split public funding?

Supporters may argue that, given their average performance, private educational institutions specialize in customization. There are merits to this. When I ran for New Jersey State Assembly in 2018, I had the opportunity to speak with thousands of residents in my community. One evening I had a conversation with a parent whose son with disabilities struggled at the local public school due to a lack of accommodations. A local charter school did have the necessary facilities, so their perspective was firmly rooted in the idea that charter schools were necessary. Situations like these beg the question of why the public system was unable to accommodate the student. In this specific example, there were eight private schools within a fifteen-mile radius of her home, leading to the inevitable lack of funding and resources. Under a more unified school system, these custom needs can be met within the existing institutions. The existing models of two categories of education dilute that possibility, focusing on benefits that, according to the data, simply do not exist. 

When we consider education through the lens of systemic actualization, it’s not a matter of denying custom solutions. Even under an ideal funding model, certain educational institutions will likely be better catered to meet specific needs. What must be revised about our current approach is how experimental educations subtract resources from the existing institutions serving the majority. Unfortunately, our present trajectory is moving in the opposite direction. In 2020, the US Supreme Court ruled against the state of Montana in a case that reinforced the requiring of states to give religious schools the same access to public funding that other private schools receive. It leaves states two possibilities: fund no private education with public monies or fund all of it. Considering that the transformation of education must occur within the immediate present, it presents the self-actualizer with a difficult choice. Ideally, we would seek to eliminate public funding for all private educational institutions, instead providing ample pathways for experimentation within our public schools. This way, when alternative needs arise, they can be met with the full attention necessary without sacrificing the quality of service to those unaffected. 

Alternatively, we might seek to leverage these laws for our advantage as the hierarchical religions do, setting up our own religious schools in communities forced to subsidize them. We build better schools that develop more capable human beings while encouraging vigorous debate about the merits of the models we take advantage of. Private religious schools spreading a hierarchical vision of the universe and human divinity are incompatible with self-actualization in the age of crisis. They reinforce a static worldview and shape perspectives ill-equipped to embrace the true nature of the universe as guided by the single truth. Harmful to students and communities alike, the private religious schools’ primary purpose is to reinforce the parents' ideologies onto an unsuspecting generation. We reject them in all forms while also recognizing that their tactics may be used against them.

Consider also the expenses of running a school. Our present educational financing schemes prevent the streamlining of procurement and process, failing to take advantage of our advanced analytical capabilities. When we view education as a single institution, we immediately increase our bargaining power by orders of magnitude. An alternative approach of funding schools beyond municipality taxes streamlines administrative costs, resource distribution, and educator collaboration, encouraging a customizable public experience without sacrificing the educational well-being of the student. 

A more robust public education system untethered to localized funding presents a variety of ways to ensure that our youth are better resourced in their educational journeys. Funding alternatives also allow us to address the abysmal compensation we provide educators. Schools and educators make easy political targets, always under the threat of budget cuts and abuse. The reimagination of education as an essential human dignity frees it from the whims of the political actor who would diminish the capacity of their constituents to win an election. The development of a more expansive humanity begins early in the individual’s life. So long as the institutions guiding education are subject to the whims of political actors, public finance, and spiritual institutions, there is a great risk that we may fail the child. 

Our reimagination of education as a sacred dignity doesn’t stop after primary schooling and university. We develop the infrastructure to support deep learning throughout the individual’s lifetime. The exponential trends of progress we observe suggest the technological disruption we have seen to date will be insignificant compared to what is coming. If we do not choose an alternative to our present forms of organization, the significant majority will suffer. Systemic actualization requires that we develop educational systems that empower any person at any stage in life to reenter the educational and training process, overcoming the existing barriers of high-cost colleges and non-standardized alternatives. It recognizes the individual in extreme alignment with the single truth. We must respect the dignity of an ever-changing entity by ensuring that they possess the access and agency necessary to redirect themselves and the course of their lives at any moment.

Next Section:
Education: Cooperation, Collaboration, and Analysis
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