Friday, June 22, 2007



As progressives, we will aim for steadily rising levels of knowledge, understanding, and skills in all fields for all people. In some ways, this objective is not too different from the current goals of most people concerned with public education. But we need to make huge reforms in the school system.

1. Don't expect the schools to solve the problem of poverty. That has to be done through restructuring the whole economic system. Everyone has the right to a good job, regardless of whether they go to school or get good grades or learn anything. The more they know, the better a job they should get, but we have to demolish the current system by which if a student fails to pass the "high stakes" test they don't get a diploma and are kicked out of the system without anyone asking or answering the question of how they are supposed to earn a living without a high-school diploma, let alone a good living which is their right and their due.

2. School should be fun for everyone. It is, of course, fun already for those kids who are smart, popular, or good at sports, and the slow, lonely, or weak and clumsy are obviously going to be destined to have some less fun but even they should still have more joy than pain from their school years, so different from today.

There is a lot that must be said about this objective, but let me elaborate here on just the first aspect, which is that today some kids are so smart that they're are bored in the classroom; others, not such geniuses, are just smart enough to find their classes interesting and enjoyable; others still less bright find them a mixture of interesting and challenging to frustrating and depressing, often a grind; and others less bright still find any academic classes merely destructive of enjoyment and self-esteem.

We want all the pupils to be in that second category (assuming that the classes are substantive, intellectually meaty and well-taught--and that the first class students are allowed to quickly move on to university, independent study guided by experts, careers or whatever), at least for most of their classes, like 2/3--I mean we're not trying to make everyone perfectly well-rounded and equally proficient in all subjects but to allow for substantial diversity and a bunch of rough edges. This can be achieved through medical and surgical treatments that will become increasingly available in the future that will effectively raise people's intelligence and IQs, their capacity to learn and retain memory and access their memory quickly and correctly. It should also be possible to enhance people's creativity, perhaps with the same medical/surgical techniques although it is also possible that, given a reasonably high IQ, plain educational and instructional techniques will work.

Meanwhile, textbooks and lessons should be made more interesting, fun, and enjoyable, which I think should be possible because we should stop relying on schools to end poverty. This should take a lot of pressure off teachers and texts, allowing them to be more free and creative, because our objective is a good life for all, including the life of the mind, with poverty to be solved by other means, outside the schools.

3. The minimax principle with regard to raising intelligence. Where we, as mentioned in the above paragraphs, seek to raise children's intelligence by medical and surgical methods in the future, in order to improve their educations, our goal must be defined as setting a floor, such as along the lines of establishing a mimimum IQ of 100 to which all children or all people should be entitled. Those with the naturally lowest IQs must be at the front of the line for such treatments. Of course also people must have the right to refuse such treatments. Those who do so refuse, if they are experiencing low incomes or unhappiness due to their low IQs, should be offered financial and other help so as to lift them up to a high and rising minimum standard of income and happiness.

4. Pay kids to go to school and to learn. To affluent, educated families, the child is supposed to be motivated in school by the sheer enjoyment of learning, while to less affluent and less academically-inclined families, the child is supposed to be motivated to study by the hope of someday landing a better job and by the fear (which as I said, we need to remove) of winding up poor and unemployed if they don't crack the books and study hard.

Without lessening these positive motivations, I would like to introduce another, which is that kids should be paid for attending classes and for learning, that is, paid according to how well they do on tests. This pay could be like somewhere between a dollar a day and a dollar an hour, plus the potential to earn say $10-$100 a month by scoring high on tests; while the test scores and payments must be set such that even the slowest or least interested kids can get about half the average. (Note though too that some of the tests will be "power" tests that give the best students a chance to shine, by scoring well above the average on them.)

The purposes of this pay are to make school more fun for everyone, especially kids from lower-income families (which you're always going to have even in a highly socialistic regime) and the less academically-inclined or capable; and to provide an extra incentive to replace the one we're getting rid of (the fear of future poverty and unemployment for poor students). It's also because school should not be compulsory, and kids should always have lots of other things they could be doing, so that we need to offer them something additional to entice them to come to school. The payments would serve as a light positive incentive to replace today's harsh negative incentives, the punishments for truancy. I wouldn't be surprised if many kids wound up coming to school only an average of 3.5 to 4 days a week, which is fine as long as make-up work and study help is easily available and as long as there are good things for them to do on their out-of-school days (including work, arts and crafts and musical practice and instruction, volunteering for various community service projects, etc., etc.).

5. School choice. Vouchers should make it possible for children to go to any school of their choice, even though it is imperative to maintain high-quality public schools everywhere. As I see it, the parochial and private schools can be beneficial in offering different alternatives to the methods and environments of the public schools, that might serve the needs or desires of some students better. Home-schooling also should be an available choice. I think each child, if interested, should spend some time in each type of school in order to find out what makes them happiest or which enables them to learn best. For example, a pupil might go to public schools Monday and Thursday, a Catholic school Tuesdays, another private school Wednesdays, and home-school Fridays. Only then would they be able to decide which type suits them best--or perhaps that very variety is best. This would seem to require that all schools follow the same instructional plan; I don't think that would be much of a problem to arrange although I'm sure there will be some disagreements and reasonable compromises should be made.

There are also major questions of accountability that will have to be followed up on. One obvious problem is that some private schools and home schools may be selective, rather than being open to any and all applicants. This means they will receive less public support than the public schools will, but how much less remains a good question.

6. Variable class sizes. Some students may do well (at least in some subjects) in very large classes, which might be taught in auditoriums holding hundreds of students; others may do fine just by watching videos or reading textbooks. A great deal of money could be saved by allowing these students to learn in these ways rather than putting them all in all regular-sized classes. This money could then be put to better use in more individualized instruction or smaller class sizes for other students, or expanding educational opportunities for the underserved students in poorer countries.

7. Financing. Our present school financing arrangements are highly unfair. First, we need to move towards greater equality of spending per pupil both within and between nations, which will require huge foreign aid as well as more federal funding within the United States. Second, we need to use more progressive income and wealth taxation to replace the regressive property tax that now finances much of the cost. Third, rich families should pay more of the costs of their own children's education.

8. Integration. Our ideal would be the complete (racial) integration of all schools. I think our main motivation for this should be that we like to see people of all races getting along well together. (I know that other motivations have sometimes been given, such as the alleged impossibility of the "separate but equal" doctrine, but I think this will just require more work because in so many cases it's too difficult to completely integrate all schools, and so much more important than equal schooling is the goal of equality of incomes, which, as noted above, must be achieved through wholesale economic system restructuring and reform, not through educational reforms.) The more troubling current problem of economic segregation, where poor kids go to different schools than rich kids do, must be solved by working for greater equality (see my blog on Solving Unemployment ... etc.) In order to achieve better school racial integration, we must achieve residential integration. This will be made possible first through achieving greater economic equality. Beyond that, we will need government planning for integrated neighborhoods, because this is a structural problem, like many whites would like to live in an integrated neighborhood (as long as the minorities are all middle-class, well-behaved and employed) as long as the ratio of nonwhites to whites is not too high. It may be necessary, and if so would be a good idea, to offer people economic incentives to move to the planned integrated neighborhoods.

9. Open admissions to higher education. We first need to eliminate the differential in pay between jobs that require college degrees and those that don't. Then higher education will be for those who want to learn, instead of those who just want to make more money. This should bring the costs way down, so that it can be financed like the elementary and secondary schools, everyone who wants to go to college will be admitted, and students won't have to go into debt. During the transition period, however, more government financing will be needed for such critical sectors as medicine, in order to induce today's highly-paid practitioners to teach so many new doctors that salaries in that field will fall to equality with the average.

10. Utopian? It occ urs to me that some people may object that this is all way to good to be possible--like where I speak of school being fun for all and of non-college-grads making as much money as college grads. But I must point out to you that these ideals are already in effect for the children of the rich. It is just a matter of redistributing the wealth to make them available to all. I mean, the rich don't have enough wealth to make everyone an instant millionaire upon redistribution, but they do have enough wealth to enable us to solve the problem of poverty and raise the masses' living standards with wise investment and hard work. It is not as if I were saying that we can all prosper without anyone having to do any work, this would be a blatant utopian lie. What I am saying is more like starting in the Great Depression, huge jobs programs were able to rescue millions from poverty and contribute to national economic development and growth.

What I am saying is that the increasingly severe concentration of wealth is making life continually harder and meaner for the bottom 3/4 of the population, and that our lives can be brightened, enlightened and enriched by taking the excess wealth from the excessively rich.

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