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Rethinking Education: Part 1

I’m just going to say it. This is going to raise some hairs, and some will applaud. I fully expect some hate mail, I am going full force against the status quo.

Education is a mechanism for inequity. The original purpose, or intent of free public education was supposed to level the playing fields for all citizens. Education should equal freedom. We have long held that education is important to a healthy society, however we in the US have consistently struggled to meet the ideals set forth by policy aimed at eliminating the gaps that still exist.

America has a real problem overcoming our colonial past, our superiority complexes and bully techniques that have won this nation at the expense of others. Our nation seems to still be equally split between those who would have us rectify and heal that past and those that refuse to acknowledge there is an issue and would rather maintain the status quo than allow “others” the same privileges and access to power.

The pandemics of 2020 exploded onto the scene and the gaps in privilege were highlighted for all to see...again. This is nothing new. We saw the same struggles in the 1960’s, as “Other than White men” Americans struggled for civil rights, women struggled for equality, and young men were drafted by their country to fight a war the country was divided on and came home to their fellow citizens shunning them, shutting them out, and sending them into mental health crises.

A hundred years earlier, abolitionists and women’s rights activists worked hand in hand to bring about equality for all. While the civil war tore through this nation as southern states refused to let their slaves go without a fight, the 14th amendment was ratified, giving all former male slaves US citizenship, leaving the woman’s right to vote not realized for another 50 years.

After each of these moments in history where progress beckons and equality is demanded, there is a pendulum swing which brings about violence, propaganda, anger, and fear. It's one step forward and 3 steps back. Those at the bully pulpit have shouted that socialism is taking over our country! Welfare queens will ruin this country! Immigrants are stealing your tax dollars! Blacks in our schools will ruin our communities and our kids’ education! If they can get you to hate the “others”, you won’t look at what's really happening. If they can shift the gaze to something else, those in power can continue to maintain that power.

There isn’t an institution that is saved from such hatred and fear-mongering, but that’s not the whole story. There are narratives we repeat over and over, and because of that we’ve embedded systemic racism into our very fiber of this country, the only way out is to stop the narrative and remake the tapestry of our country. In order to do so, I believe we have to take a real hard look at our education system, not just as a mechanism of systemic racism, but more broadly as one for inequality and continued division.

Competition and comparison are the bedrock of the education system. From grades and test scores to athletics to clothes and social media likes, everything is a competition to both conform and stand out, which is in fact the anecdote to creativity. While competition in itself is not a bad thing, it can be healthy and a driving force to do greater things, it also can tear down others. While comparison is a natural human mental process, comparing oneself to others usually ends up in unhappiness and self-hatred. We have for too long placed too much importance on these, leading to mental health issues in kids younger and younger because kids are not naturally wired to be against another kid. They are not naturally able to determine the difference between “this is good” and “I am good”, self worth is immediately tied to the values. Imagine the scene; a child who needs to move around and talk in order to focus is told to sit down and be quiet. This happens over and over, the teacher says “why can’t you be like so and so?” “you need to pay attention”, etc. Report card says “kid can’t sit still, not a good student”. Is that true? Has the child learned anything that year? Did the teacher try to find out or is their grade based on behavior not matching expectations of what a “good student” is? The kid gets the message that they are a bad student, they believe they are a bad student because an adult told them so. They equate that message to “I’m bad”, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not enough”.

There are not enough anti-bullying or self-esteem curricula in the world that will repair the damage done by the adults, modeling for the students, perpetuating the problem. That needs to be addressed, as do so many other things inherently amiss in the system. In the following series I will focus on specific pieces of the system that need reforming and provide evidence as well as qualitative research throughout. It's time we reevaluate our next steps. We are witnessing a time in our history when we can rise to something greater, or dissolve into the pages of history as dot on the timeline.

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