Why are we blind to our education system?

Published 9:44 pm Friday, July 11, 2014

By Clay Scott

It is easy to pick on our education system. With the vast majority of the power centrally located in Richmond, the rest of us, even teachers, become little more than spectators. Richmond decides what is taught and by whom it may be taught. They also decide who is taught and set parameters on when, and where lessons may occur. Teachers, principals and even superintendents are left to carry out the work of educating young people according to the vision and ideals that come from the Central Authority. And those are the insiders! What is left for parents? Indeed the state of Virginia has fully supplanted parents in at least this one component of child-rearing. To be perfectly fair, those with adequate knowledge and/or resources can educate their children at home or pay tuition for private schools. The remaining 90 percent of us are left to either accept our roles or speak out against an oppressive system.

The bureaucracy of our system would have made any autocrat proud. Hitler, Mao and many others over the years went to great lengths to condition the general populace with hopes of having 90 percent of the population learning exactly what the Central Authority dictates. The genius is in the illusion of local control. By making us believe that a school board, superintendent or principal can make a major difference, they have successfully averted attention. Lest I be branded as a heretic, though it might be too late for that, consider that the people holding positions within our system do not have the ability to alter the ideals of the system. The answer to the central philosophical question, “What does it mean to be an educated person?” is reserved for the Central Authority.

To illustrate our current condition, follow me through a thought exercise. Think of the ideal cheeseburger. Now think of a place that sets very strict rules on the creation of cheeseburgers such that the only ones that qualify come from McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s. How would the people of this place describe the ideal cheeseburger? It would likely be very different from yours. Would they have any understanding of your ideal cheeseburger, even when explained in great detail? In fact, many people so conditioned would be unable to recognize a truly great cheeseburger.

We can talk about quality cheeseburgers because we live in a society that allows for freedom of cheeseburger creation. In discussing educational ideals, however, we find that most people are just as blind as the cheeseburger-deprived people in the analogy. Superficial matters are easily debated, but truly substantive topics are rarely breached. Using our best Mr. Magoo impersonations, we look at SOL scores, accept state-mandated curricula, request only fully licensed teachers, and believe everything else that the Central Authority tells us matters.

I feel the need to remind you of something. You are the parents. These are your children. Despite the doctrine of in loco parentis, they do not belong to the state. As a parent you make decisions regarding physical, emotional, religious and other vital components of your children’s development — then why blindly trust the alleged specialists when it comes to education?

Furthermore, you teach your children considerably more than their school does. Their academic success depends far more on you than it does on the school.

The secret to American greatness is separation of powers, yet in education we consolidate it. While most of the world looks to their respective governments to “do what is best” for citizens, Americans only want their government to protect their rights to gain or lose according to individual industry. We are represented by the most noble and brave Bald Eagle because, in every aspect of life, we want to act for ourselves — but when it comes to education we forget who we are and act like socialist sheep, eager to fall behind whichever expert happens to be most popular at the moment. It can be dangerous to venture beyond the sheepfold. If we open our eyes it becomes plain that the safety of our current system is little more than a prison for our understanding. We know what a free system with distributed power looks like. Our Founding Fathers gave us that template many generations ago. My invitation is simple. Virginians — be free.

CLAY SCOTT is a former teacher from Southampton Academy and Franklin High School, and he was also an administrator at SA. He is the co-founder of Telios Academy and doctoral candidate at The George Washington University. He can be reached at barroescot@gmail.com.