It is not a misstatement to say that education is the equalizer of humanity. If you teach a person the skills to master modern civilization, they stand a much better chance of becoming a contributing, responsible member of the species. All parents wish that their children might someday have a “better” life than they had, whatever their definition of better may be, and most embrace education as the vehicle to reach that goal. Our motivations for educating our youth are both self-serving and altruistic. We want an educated society because it is necessary for a productive, peaceful society, and we want our children to become educated, for their own improvement and for our own fulfillment. Whether you accept one view, the other, or both, the implication is clear: a society that does not educate its youth is destined to stagnancy while a society that values education will thrive and prosper. Obviously, America, along with most other nations of the world, places importance on the value of education for both reasons. At least, that’s what we claim.

But even as we proclaim unwavering support for the goal of education, our practical application of that goal is a mockery of itself. Many of our schools are overcrowded and dilapidating. Teachers unions resist change in curriculum or organization. Special interest groups demand services that degrade the entire systems ability to serve all students equally. State and federal regulations impose mandated achievement levels that measure little in the way of actual achievement. Parents are often apathetical and uninvolved in their children’s educational development. More money is thrown into school budgets that get eaten up by studies that show that graduation rates are increasing while class options are diminishing and extra-curricular programs disappear. The list of hypocrisies goes on and on, but the bottom line is this: when it comes to education, we are speaking out of both sides of our mouths.

At the heart of the issue is the importance we do or do not place on educating our children. If, as I assume, we truly believe that education is an important key to prosperity and peaceful existence, it is time we seriously revamp our education system. Everything from the schoolhouses to the curriculum to the administration must be given a fresh look. Everything…including our expectations and our definitions for what makes a successful education. We must put aside all of the politically correct nonsense to establish a truly efficient and effective educational program that would serve all the citizens of this country.

While everyone can be educated, everyone cannot be educated equally. Accepting this fact is essential to any meaningful education reform. What this means is simply that all people are not equal with regards to mental capacity, intelligence, or practical ability. While some individuals can easily master the concepts of higher mathematics and science, others may excel at artistic endeavors or mechanical tasks. Some will learn quickly while others may not be capable of learning much beyond basic personal skills. Yet in our current climate of promoting self-esteem above actual achievement, we have allowed our schools to neglect this important fact of education. This attitude must be changed if we are ever going to progress beyond what is aptly described as either a babysitting service or a diploma mill. Yes, it’s important for people to have a good self-image, but derailing the entire education system to achieve those means is shortsighted behavior. Self-image should come from values instilled at home and not be tied to ones ability to conquer chemistry or read Latin. Because education serves in part to prepare children for the inevitable day when they will become working, participating adults, more attention should be given to the fact that all jobs are valuable, with the benefit to a smooth society coming from the combined efforts of all.

In this light, equal education is not the goal, but rather equal access to education is what should be strived for. It would be far more efficient and successful to structure our education in such a way that individuals would at some point along the line be pointed in a direction most suited to their natural abilities than to maintain the charade of mental equality. During the early years of public education, students should be measured against their peers to determine what level of performance they might achieve. Once this has been achieved, students of similar learning abilities could be taught together according to their abilities. Success should be measured on the achievement of each student and their ability to master the skills of life and education to their full potential.

Still, even though all can’t achieve an equal level of knowledge through education, we must still strive to impart certain minimum knowledge levels for all students to master. These skills would necessarily include basic reading, writing, and math skills. Practical living skills like personal finance, personal communications, and personal responsibility should also be taught. And so should civic responsibility. These are the basic skills an adult must have for a chance at success in the modern world and should not be ignored in education. A general comprehension of U.S. and world history, a basic knowledge of scientific principals, and an appreciation of art could all be important for a more rounded education, and should be taught as well.

Because education is a public endeavor, it is only fitting that the costs of education be borne by us all. But simply paying the tax collector is not enough. It is our responsibility as citizens to ensure that the taxes collected are used to educate our children and not used to pad the pockets of administrators, consultants, builders, or political committees. The state of our public school buildings is enough to make one wonder where all the dollars are going, because it sure isn’t into maintenance. This too is a problem. While it is true that a willing person can learn as easily in a sandpit as in a lecture hall, the importance we place on education is apparent in the importance we place on our educational building, and the subliminal effects of rundown or overcrowded schools only tells our children that we are less interested in their education than we are in saving a buck. Such messages only serve to diminish the value of education among our youth so we must make a conscious decision to place a priority on safe, well-maintained schools. It is a curious society that spends more money creating lavish prison complexes than it does on schoolhouses.

As a society, we must recognize the need to reform our education system. As parents, we must recognize the need to reform our own ideas about public school. One of the biggest problems in our educational system is the growing distance of thought between teachers and administrators and parents. No longer are teachers looked up to as role models for our children. Instead, parents vilify a teacher who demands accountability from their students as being too hard or too opinionated. On the other hand, teachers view parents as little more than disinterested chauffeurs dropping the kids off for another day of babysitting and socializing. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle and their needs to be some common ground on which to meet. How about this? The task for teachers and parents is to craft an educational plan that meets all the capabilities of the student while defining the responsibilities that are expected of the student, the parent, and the teacher. Children may be like sponges when it comes to obtaining information, but they can also be like sponges in another way. If they are allowed to, they will lie around and do little or nothing to improve themselves, especially if someone comes along to wring them out once in a while. Parents and teachers must come together and form a united front in order for children to excel and master the skills that are expected of them.
In order for our educational efforts to rise beyond the level of today, into a system where costs expended produce a qualified workforce and responsible citizenry, we must rededicate ourselves to the fundamental idea that of all the social services, the ability to provide an equitable education is among the most valuable in terms of sustaining society. We must refuse to continue the ways of power politics and instead focus on the real goal of teaching our children.