Disclaimer: I am the product of k-18 public education, continue to receive federally funded science education experiences, and have been employed was a high school teacher 40 years by a state funded public school system. I now receive a State paid pension. Public Education served me very well!
It is ironic that public education, created four centuries ago by the protestant Christian Reformation, widely believed to be the foundation for Democracy and subsequently creating America's success, should now be in demise at the hands of capitalists allied with pentecostal, born-again Christians. To an insider it appears that public eduction has been wounded beyond any hope of recovery by leaders claiming to preserve American values. (A week ago the regional newspaper used much of a page to print the opinion that public schools should be abolished!) While the collapse of America may be a generation or two away, signs of decline abound. How could this happen with so many vigilant, well-educated Americans?
During much of history formal education was not considered essential for the masses. Children either learned trades from their parents or were apprenticed under tutelage of those who would benefit from assistants. But during the Reformation, protestant Christians proposed that because human leaders often erred, each Christian needed to learn to read the Bible for themselves and thus be responsible for understanding how to live in a manner deserving of heavenly salvation. The free public education that they started provided the education and exchange of ideas that led to democracy and the foundation of the United States system of government of the people, by the people, and for the people. That system of public education coupled with a capitalistic economic system eventually led the United States to it currents supremacy as the most successful country on Earth. While many celebrate this success, others find ominous signs that American society economically and socially peaked roughly between 1955 and 1976 and is now clearly in decline.
Schools are now charged to develop in students skills, attitudes, and understanding needed for adult success. But there has been only limited agreement on what those should be. Without a clear consensus of which skills, attitudes, and understanding are required, governments have provided low salaries for American school employees. While most of the nation's top minds have found other employment, elementary grades have tended to find kind, loving, warm hearted, caring teachers who
like children and secondary schools have attracted coaches who live for team sports. These teachers have been selected to help children to feel good about themselves and become team players. While those are ideals suited for low paying, routine manufacturing jobs now being exported, American k-12 schools and many of their teachers are ill suited to create skills, attitudes, and understanding needed for the intellectually creative tasks envisioned needed for America in the 21st Century. For that schools will need high salaries to attract the brightest minds as teachers, elementary teachers who can teach all students the mathematics, languages, and science needed as a foundation for creativity, and secondary teachers who can impart the latest and most complex understandings while fostering minds that question, challenge, and create.
Originally transportation limitations required many schools to be small, one-room, community-controlled schools. About a century ago transportation improvements made it possible to combine school districts making public education more economical and efficient. John Dewey and others noted the advantages of a large school which could hire teaching experts in many subjects and offer a diverse series of curricula to meet the needs of citizens destined for jobs requiring a large variety of skills. Recently the Gates Foundation has disseminated findings that schools can also be too large. While large schools can develop athletic teams who sometimes bring pride to their communities, large schools have a lower participation rate in extra curricular activities. Many students lost in the anonymity of size do not receive the nurturing and oversight provided in smaller schools. Allowed by the diversity of elective course offerings and the lack of effective guidance, today many students select courses by which are easiest and will be most fun rather than for their ability of provide skills and understanding useful as an adult. This in turn results in teachers offering a variety of easy, entertaining courses rather than a series of progressive educational experiences. Some of the most popular courses are photography, band, chorus, and art: subjects where many will find entertainment, but few will find jobs of the kind which can sustain a new American economy.
The founding fathers of the United States understood that well educated people were needed to successfully govern a democracy and optimize the values they wanted the country to have. Concerned that not all people were then educated sufficiently for that task, they established a representative form of government. As public education advanced, there has been a developing consensus that the United States should closer approach being a true democracy. But a careful study of current United States society and government, and the last 6 decades of foreign policy suggest that the American values of freedom, liberty and democracy have faded. Those values have increasingly become a sham. The government has done much to stifle freedom, liberty and democracy both in the United States and in other countries around the world. There are many examples, including current ones, where the U.S. government has overthrown developing democracies and installed tyrants who supported American business interests. For many peoples of the earth, the U.S. government has repressed liberty and individual pursuit of happiness. Many people have been killed in the process. An much of the liberty and freedom that the founding fathers tried to guarantee for all Americans has become restricted by laws, regulation, and discouraging fees. Americans remain largely oblivious to these changes. So in that sense, American public education has also failed in its mission fulfill the need envisioned by the founding fathers.