Youth Futures: When Public Education Fails
Guest post by J. Z. Colby
About 150 years ago, 200 in some places, our civilization was starting to feel so rich that it decided to try to educate everyone. That’s never been done before in history. It went pretty well until 2 or 3 decades ago, then money started tightening up. That’s about when our energy supplies began to show signs of not lasting forever (1972 in the USA).
Public education limped along for a few more decades, with budgets tightening more and more almost every year. The tightening process switched into high gear about three years ago with the financial crisis of 2008. Today, states and counties all over the USA are running out of ways to make ends meet. Schools are not our lowest priority, but they’re not our highest either. If it comes to a choice between police protection and education, schools will probably lose.
Education won’t go away completely for a while. Classes will get bigger and bigger, and teachers (already low-paid) will lose benefits, and have to provide all their own materials. Private schools will remain for rich people, of course.
Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
It’s actually not a huge problem. Public education began at a time when most adults were not educated in even basic skills like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Today most adults, in most countries, are. Almost any community can easily find the people to teach the basics, and most communities can even scrape up teachers for trigonometry, foreign languages, art history, and other less-common subjects. Even most young adults would make perfectly good teachers for children in the basic subjects.
So why is it so hard to imagine?
It’s been drilled into us that education must take place in big, ugly buildings by professional teachers. It’s even illegal, in most countries, to do your own educating. We have chosen to empower our governments to decide who and what will be taught, by whom, and to pay for it with our tax money.
It appears that all that is about to change. As public education begins to fail, there will be a period of confusion, but the solution is simple and obvious. Any family, neighborhood, or community who wants to educate its young people, is completely capable of doing so. They may be acting “illegally” at first, but eventually those laws will be changed, or just forgotten.
Educating hundreds or thousands of youth in one place requires big buildings with security and alarm systems, offices, janitors, repairmen, and gardeners. Educating a half dozen kids in a local neighborhood requires a kid-proofed room in a house.
Managing a class of 30 or 40 kids, few of whom want to be there, requires a professional teacher who has studied disciplinary techniques and structured learning programs. Teaching 3 or 4 kids to read just needs a literate thirteen-year-old and a shelf of good story books.
Of course, if public education fails, the subjects we will need to teach our young people will probably change a little. They will need more do-it-yourself skills like auto mechanics, sewing, and carpentry. Gardening, animal husbandry, and food preservation will become very important if prices in our grocery stores keep going up. Public schools are not, in most places, ready to teach these things. The community is.
As our economy fails because it needs cheap energy, and our governments shrink because they can no longer tax, borrow, or print money, we will begin a process called “re-localization.” Education will be one of the easiest things to re-localize. We already have everything we need.
Can you imagine it now?
J. Z. Colby is the author of the Nebador series, young-adult science fiction stories filled with wit-sharpening and skill-honing challenges, mental, emotional, and spiritual, for 21st century youth: http://www.nebador.com
Born in the Mojave Desert, J. Z. Colby now lives and writes deep in a forest of the Pacific Northwest. He has studied many subjects, formally and informally, including psychology, philosophy, education, and performing arts, but remains a generalist. His primary profession as a mental health counselor, specializing with families and young adults, gives him many stories of personal growth, and the motivation to develop his team of young critiquers and readers. All his life, he has been drawn toward a broad understanding of human nature, especially those physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual situations in which our capacity to function seems to reach its limits. He finds fascinating those few individuals who can transcend the limits of our common human nature and the dictates of our cultures. In his spare time, he flies helicopters and airplanes.