Saturday, June 25, 2005

Education: Deregulate it!

The Jollyblogger has written a fairly extensive posting on Overture at the Presbyterian Church in America to encourage Christian parents to pull their children out of the public school. Rather than respond to what he has said, I would like to bring up an entirely different issue. That is that education is not done by institutions. Education as defined by Will Durant as the passing of culture from one generation to the next. That may not be the only relevant definition but it is a good one. Another definition might be the encouragement of the growth and development of the individual. And there are probably other definitions out there. In the end, they all point us to something that takes place in the mind, will and emotions of people. The assumption that education is something that takes place primarily in one of three systems of education really paints the idea of education much too small. (Those three systems being the public school, the Christian school, and the home school.) Oh by the way, we would be leaving out other systems, such as boarding schools, and military academies, not to say those tutoring services such as Sylvan who are doing a lot of educating. Then again, the church functions as an educational institution as does a library and a museum. I would say that some of my most important parts of my education are the things I taught myself. I sort of think I'm the exception to the rule on this though. It might be that I'm just too hard headed to benefit from schooling the same way others do. Usually I get the most out of a class when I teach myself the material and I go to class to bounce ideas of the teacher and fill in the gaps. I have attended lots of schools and found them very helpful. I am not against institutions of learning, I just realize that those institutions are just a part of the process.

Rather than view education as something an institution does for our children, we should understand that education is a natural part of being a human and there are a lot of factors that help us on that journey. We are continually learning and growing as people, whether we are in a school or not. Some of it is formal and other parts are informal. I love to point out that I have never seen a course in seminary for conducting funeral services or weddings. This is a very important function of a pastor, and yet we depend almost entirely on the informal education process to equip pastors to do this function. There are many parts of life that are entirely built on informal education settings besides funerals and weddings.

In a sense, backing a particular system for all Christians in a particular denomination shows a lack of depth in understanding the variety of situations in America. Does every town really have a Christian school? Is every family equipped to home school their children? Education takes financial resources, and are the normal people in all areas of the country financially able to pay Christian school tuition? As a dedicated home schooling family, we spend quite a bit on materials. Are we really prepared to help the low income families to make a Christian schooling a part of their lifestyle? In the end, the debate over how we should educate our children seems to be tied to an idealization of one choice of middle for the upper middle class. The rich will continue to send their children to private academies which will groom their children for their future lifestyle. The poor will continue to struggle to make ends meet and focus on other things besides this debate. If we are to encourage our parents to raise up a godly generation, we should look much broader than backing a particular system. Deregulation of the telecommunications industry has produced a myriad of informations services. Deregulation of the airlines industry has not brought the same types of competition. Service industries such as education and health care come with a bureaucracy that could continue to stifle any new competition or we could see something happen that would turn the whole thing up side down. Right now I do not have to pick one telecommunications provider, have one company for my land-line phone, another for my Internet service and yet another for my mobile phone. Then even on the Internet, I can have two or three e-mail addresses, two or three Instant messengers, a blog, a photo page, subscribe to music and get news sent to my pager. So why should education mean backing one institution? Backing one system is a sure way to cut down on competition, stifle creativity and make sure we are doing a poor job of educating our youth. Deregulation and change is not a panacea of good things. The airline industry by its nature requires lots of regulation for safety reasons. And while deregulation might be good in the health care industry, it seems that the creative end of the medical spectrum is also the wacky end. (Aroma therapy is not our best bet for beating obesity!) How do we get the same type of creativity and energy in education as we do in the Information Technology and Telecommunications industry? I think first we stop supporting one system fits all thinking and encourage educational services and products. A lot of educators have talked about creativity and change, but usually from within the system. Keep the system but allow for more systems to compete and develop. What should the church do about education?

1. Start after school tutoring for disadvantaged youth.
2. Start English as a Second Language (ESL) classes for immigrants.
3. Start health classes for the elderly.
4. Start engineering clubs and science clubs for children.
5. Sponsor tours of other countries for the purpose of educating the people about other cultures. (Not every trip has to be a missionary trip though those are fantastic too.)
6. More seminars on many more topics.
7. Start a coffee house and ask an author to come talk about their book.
8. Pay a full time staff to maintain a website, part of which would be educational. Sort of like MIT's Open Courseware project.
9. Do stuff that I am not creative enough to think of ....
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