“All men who have turned out worth anything have had a chief hand in their own education.”– Sir Walter Scott
Here we are, almost half way through the 2020 Legislative session and all is calm at our state capitol. It’s easy to find parking, lines through security are short, and the building is pretty quiet, which is something considering how a simple whisper can echo off all the gorgeous interior marble. I appreciate this time for I know it is all about to change. Soon, the halls will be filled with homeschooling parents advocating for their children alongside other parents fighting for more school choice options. And both groups will have to face the teachers’ union as they tighten their grasp on the status quo. Preparing for this portion of the session reminded me of a book I read numerous years ago. I was drawn to the back cover which talked about a new educational vision based off proven methods that prepares future leaders for our nation. It encourages a different approach to education. One our founding fathers experienced and helped them produce the “freest and most powerful nation on earth.”
In his book, A Thomas Jefferson Education, Oliver DeMille writes, “Almost everyone agrees modern American education needs to be improved, but almost nobody agrees on what the ‘fixes’ should be or how they should be implemented.” He goes on to include a list of diverse problems that plague our education system including low test scores, illiteracy, violence, racial tension, moral ambiguity, children raising children, parental non-involvement or neglect, oppressive regulation of teachers, the large divide between schools in affluent areas and those in poverty, art and music programs that are cut due to lack of funding, and teaching being at the bottom of the professional pay scale. I’m sure this list could go on and on.
DeMille believes our education will never be fixed. In fact, he states, “It doesn’t need to be fixed. Any effort to ‘fix education’ will fail…” Why? Because our education problems are rooted in the misconception about education and educators. We have bought into the myth that it is possible for one human being to educate another. But the truth is, only the student can fix education. DeMille explains, “The more popular options – increased funding, bigger schools, vouchers, the proliferation of private or charter schools, more homeschooling, a new initiative by a U.S. President, tougher mandates by Congress – will not and cannot fix education. They may improve it, perhaps even significantly, but only to the extent that individual students determine to educate themselves and follow through.”
So what’s the solution? We need to shift gears and make teaching, not education, our focus. “Great teaching inspires students to educate themselves. Great teaching will solve our educational problems – in public, private, and home schools, and at the pre-school, primary, secondary, university, and even corporate training and professional levels. Find a great teacher, in any of these settings, and you will find a group of students diligently, enthusiastically and effectively educating themselves.” When students experience great teachers, they become excited about learning.
Where do we find these great teachers who faithfully spur students to own their education? In mentors and in the classics. Washington.edu describes the role of a mentor as providing guidance, motivation, emotional support and role modeling. A mentor will inspire as they share their knowledge and attention. According to Meriam Webster, classic serves as a standard of excellence. Students are exposed to excellence in literature, art, music and other media when they experience the great works of Shakespeare, Picasso, and Mozart. Students who spend time with the likes of Plato, Jefferson, and Gandhi as well as an involved, encouraging parent or mentor are “almost guaranteed a superb education.”
In A Thomas Jefferson Education, DeMille shares, “A generation of students have, like Shakespeare’s Ophelia, turned education over to others: ‘I do not know, my lord, what I should think,’ and a generation of so-called educators have responded like Polonius: ‘I’ll teach you: think yourself a baby…’ In this environment, ‘teach me’ has become to mean entertain me,’ ‘tell me what to think and I’ll parrot it back to you,’ or ‘hand it to me on a silver platter’ But none of these are teaching – or learning.”
How do we begin to correct the current status quo? I believe it starts with us parents. We need to learn ourselves and then empower teachers with resources and support. Unfortunately, neither public nor private teachers are in a position to enact change. And I don’t foresee legislatures or school boards jumping to implement the classics or mentor model into our school systems. Parents need to lay the first stone. I believe DeMille sums it up best. “…all types of education will change if parents lead the charge. The resultant educational renaissance will empower and reward great teachers, and their children and students will be the only true educators that exist – self-educators.”
by Carolyn Hawley