socol on schools

Ira Socol has written some great posts and I want to look at one called Counting the Origins of Failure.  I agree that real system change means understanding the roots of our educational institutions.
If education in the United States of the 21st Century is failing, that failure has been built over a very long time. And I do not think that it can be “fixed” in any meaningful way unless people understand that the failures we see today are our system working exactly as it was intended to. 
Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Our American public education system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. It is separating “winners” from “losers” and it is reinforcing our economic gap. The system was designed in the 1840s and at the turn of the 20th Century to separate society into a vast majority of minimally trained industrial workers and a small, educated elite. ....

But if you want different results you will not get there through changing teachers, or changing managers, or expecting more from students. You can only change the results by changing the system itself. ....
 
Yes, that’s what I’m saying. Our American public education system is doing exactly what it was designed to do. It is separating “winners” from “losers” and it is reinforcing our economic gap. The system was designed in the 1840s and at the turn of the 20th Century to separate society into a vast majority of minimally trained industrial workers and a small, educated elite. .... 
But if you want different results you will not get there through changing teachers, or changing managers, or expecting more from students. You can only change the results by changing the system itself. .... 
Age-based grades were the perfect fit for the new industrial age. The raw material (students) would be pulled in at one end, and through repeated “stampings” would emerge eight years later as compliant workers and citizens. Quality checks at the end of each year would assess whether that raw material was defective or not. If detective, a stamping would be repeated, if that did not work, the student would be discarded. This filtered the population effectively for the employment needs of the 19th Century. Most never made it through the whole process, and very, very few would emerge at the end of eight years considered ready for further polishing (high school completion was rare well into the 20th Century). 
Socol aptly captures the industrialists elite attitude and the worship of the new industrial techniques. But, from the viewpoint of many Americans, it is worth noting that the bulk of jobs were not tied to this process of education. Most jobs were still agricultural and in truly small, local businesses. Whatever the challenges, and they were fierce, an overgrown education establishment wasn't one of them.  The schools often provided more resources for hard working families.

The Morrill Act and land-grant colleges were coming into being, providing new resources for citizens  After the Civil War, there would be an extension of the Morrill Act:
A second Morrill Act in 1890 was also aimed at the former Confederate states. This act required each state to show that race was not an admissions criterion, or else to designate a separate land-grant institution for persons of color.[9] Among the seventy colleges and universities which eventually evolved from the Morrill Acts are several of today's historically Black colleges and universities. Though the 1890 Act granted cash instead of land, it granted colleges under that act the same legal standing as the 1862 Act colleges; hence the term "land-grant college" properly applies to both groups. 
Later on, other colleges such as the University of the District of Columbia and the "1994 land-grant colleges" for Native Americans were also awarded cash by Congress in lieu of land to achieve "land-grant" status. 
In imitation of the land-grant colleges' focus on agricultural and mechanical research, Congress later established programs of sea grant colleges (aquatic research, in 1966), urban grant colleges (urban research, in 1985), space grant colleges (space research, in 1988), and sun grant colleges (sustainable energy research, in 2003).
The culling of an elite was present but was not as big a factor in everyday life for the majority of people as it is now, when the entire framework of agricultural work is gone.  And the factory work that would replace agricultural work after WWII, was unionized and provided a living wage. And that is gone, too.  Schools, the places where the culling, ranking and sorting are the mechanisms of hierarchy and which relied on the fact that the excluded were able to get work and participate in society, now just drop whomever doesn't fit into prison, the debt of community college and low wages for life. 

Today, the underlying work that sustained most people is gone and only big institutions remain.  Now a citizen needs to spend far more time within an institution in order to get another job within a big institution and change is negotiated between these institutions as each guards its income stream.
  • big school systems
  • agribusiness 
  • multinational corporations 
  • prisons
  • universities and medical centers
  • hospital complexes
  • chains and franchises
  • government agencies
  • permanent war
These large institutions are not democratic in design:  corporations are currently being looted by their own boards.  Huge bonuses are not just too much money for one person:  they also drain resources from the business itself.  There is no democracy within the schools or the corporations but we are all trying to live within these institutions now with fewer rights than ever and many old tyrannies replacing the opportunities we once had.  Prisons, for example, are the new Jim Crow institutions and the Pentagon engages in permanent war.

That is why fundamental change means opening ways out of large institutions to create more small and local work where citizens own the business and can make a living. Change also means democratizing institutions to work better internally. For schools, the homeschool movement has focused on changing compulsory attendance laws to enable families to educate their children outside the system. It's a start on moving toward voluntary, citizen-focused learning services that allow citizens to drive the design, from the bottom up, instead of top-down control.

This pattern of change is necessary across the board to decentralize, democratize and strengthen the control and input of citizens.  Our food depends on the smallest micro-organisms within healthy soil.  And our democracy and stability as a nation depends on the access, participation and effective control by citizens at the lowest levels.

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