As a libertarian, there are a lot of areas that I wish government would get their fingers out of, but education is not one of them. Based on my reading of the founding fathers, I would say they placed a high responsibility on government to support education for the purpose of maintaining a free and reasoning society. The idea that education was both the door and keeper of freedom and opportunity cannot be denied as you read them.
I would note, that I said support education, not control it. I believe that local control is necessary for education to be truly effective. Maybe that is because I am currently the vice president of my local school board, but it also my deepest conviction that the more centralized control is, the more things are likely to get screwed up on a grander scale.
Science fiction addresses the subject of education in many ways but one of the most notable to me was in Space Cadet one of Robert Heinlein’s novels. In that novel education for the cadets is multifaceted. First there is one person who acts almost as a counselor and controller of the cadets education while the on the school ship. Things are controlled so that the basics are given to everyone, but the counselor also works individually to educate along the person’s strengths. There is, of course, the fact that even as cadets they receive on the job training. Then of course there is the hypnotic educator device that implants knowledge into the brain of the subject. This seems to have limited use but is extremely helpful in overcoming certain elements of time constraints and individual hurdles in learning.
As much as I would like such a device in the here and now, I know it is probably not immediately forthcoming. What has become more available is computers, online learning, global communications, etc. The fact is technology is already giving us more opportunities to be educated but the fact is that we are not taking them or are misusing them. The fact is that what we need is not the technology of science fiction to help education, but the philosophy.
The idea that everyone has certain basics to learn but then their education needs to be specialized to that student’s strengths has great merit. The current system of education in United States does not allow this. Most students, particularly in public eduction K-12, maybe meet with such a counselor once or twice a year. They are placed on tracks of learning and no thought is given to them later that they may change or grow in such a way as to merit change in how they are educated. My personal thoughts are such track education needs to be abolished and each individual student given more attention. In the science fiction model, the students meet with their mentor/counselor on a weekly basis to discuss educational strategy and motivation. Advancement is not based on the passage of time, but on the ability of the teacher and student to move to the next level of learning. The main key then becomes: Expectations are very high for everyone.
The teacher’s role is completely changed in many respects. Picture the future classroom. It may not actually be a place at all although I firmly believe that there is something positive psychologically about having a place of learning. The main teacher is not a specialist in a certain type of knowledge. There may be other teachers that are a part of the team that specialize, but the main teacher is not a specialist in anything except education and educational psychology. His role is to be mentor and guide. He talks regularly with the students and connects them with the other teachers they will need to move forward. His job is to know the students, help them establish goals and connect them with the people, tools nad resources they need to learn in the way that is most effective to them. He then gauges real progress and moves the students on when they have met the criteria of actually having learned the subject at hand. I think this idea is worth a try.
The one other thing from the same model that needs to be implemented is the open forum where everything and I mean everything can be discussed and argued. The one thing modern education does not do very well is teach critical thinking and this needs to change. In my own life, it was the hall way bull sessions of high school and college that probably did more along this line than any class. In Space Cadet, this took the form of the hall way bull session, but in Starship Troopers it was an actual class called History and Moral Philosophy. What is needed is a place where anything can be discussed and challenged from the existence of God to the merits of mommy’s love. You will not see this in current education in the public schools because at that level the more important thing is control not thinking skills. Such groups and classes tend to have an element of chaos to them that modern educators do not like. This needs to change.
Of course we could all wait for the hypnotic educator machine, but I have my misgivings about that about that based on other science fiction that speaks of using such things for control and mental manipulation. the truth is much could be improved simply by changing philosophy and motivation. The politicians always talk about changing policy, but ultimately that will only do so much. There is much talk, but no real action that actually help students learn more or in better ways. Perhaps a little less rhetoric and a little more science fiction would help.