It is a disturbing fact that Utah spends less per student in our public schools than any other state, but we spend more than the national average to incarcerate prisoners in jail.
We could reduce the tax burden for prisons and spend more for education, if nearly every child grew up with a firm resolve to be a "contributor" rather than a "burden" to society. Is this possible? The answer is yes, if we have the courage to change the purpose of public education.
At the present time, the main purpose of education is for students to be standardized, uniform or "common," in a limited number of school subjects, mainly reading, writing and math.
Should this be the main purpose of education?
Do we really want students to be alike in knowledge and skills? A typical fifth- or sixth-grade class has students who range all the way from beginning readers, and a few at each grade level, all the way up to one or two who are reading at eleventh- or twelfth-grade level. Why and how would you standardize them?
If we were to change our main purpose, it would open the door to a new system of public education. The following major purpose would jump-start the transformation: Help children find their purposes for existing and develop the powers of human greatness to be special contributors to society.
What changes would be needed in public education for this objective to be exercised?
Visions of greatness
Perhaps the most important thing we can do for children is to help them see a vision of their God-given, unlimited potential -- to help them see their purposes for existing to be joyful contributors to their world. One way to do this is to ask a child, "What do you want to be or do when you grow up?" "Who are your heroes?" "Why?" Later you can ask, "What do you need to do to get ready for your chosen vocation?
These kinds of questions start the wheels turning in the child's mind -- to begin the visioning process. Questions like these also leave the responsibility where it belongs -- with the child.
It's not only wrong, but harmful to hold teachers accountable for standardizing students. Perhaps the most degrading and dehumanizing activity in public schools is what I learned about last week. An elementary school principal told me the school is now starting three weeks of testing to see how well teachers are standardizing students.
He said these tests regulate everything teachers do during the school year. Teachers are angry and frustrated.
It is especially sad to learn the tests are developed to hold teachers accountable for making students alike in knowledge and skills at each grade level.
Being sensitive to each child's unique needs is the highest form of respect and love. It's this relationship that will help students make a commitment to be contributors to society.
When a child respects (loves) a teacher, that teacher's words will often have a life-long impact. Words like, "Charles, I can see you becoming a great scientist some day," or "Becky, you are so good at writing, it gives me goose bumps." When we help children see themselves as contributors, we, ourselves, are then making a valuable contribution.
If we really want to end drop outs, bullying, and restore enthusiasm in teachers, parents and students, we will change the main purpose of education. If Utah continues down the path of standardizing students, education will continue to stagnate. Teachers will stay demoralized and student achievement will remain flat.
On the other hand, if we change the main purpose of education, there will be a renaissance of excitement, enthusiasm and creativity. The group I work with is promoting "educating for human greatness," a concept that fosters positive human diversity, "phd," advanced, different achievement for every child. It's a concept that helps children learn reading, writing and math better, and not according to the conventional time table, but when the time is right for each one.
I urge school boards, teachers and parents to activate their integrity and tool-up for next year with an all-inclusive purpose for public education that honors a child's agency, right and reasons to be unique and different from all others.
Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator, is the author of four books and many articles on how to improve public education. He lives in Farmington and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.