Still, for the millions of students, billions of dollars, and countless hours of effort devoted, there is no shortage of criticism for our American educational system. Students are maligned for poor communication, math and decision making skills, the inability to creatively solve problems, and a host of other inadequacies. Teachers and administrators alike are criticized for failing to impart the knowledge, know-how, and wisdom students need to not only survive, but to flourish in modern society. Uniformly expectations for education are high and the demands are great, but unfortunately the results do not always measure up.
The culture and political system of the United States act increasingly to concentrate power, particularly in the hands of government. The unstated, but irresistibly attractive advantage to relying on government for any task is that we get to divorce ourselves from the bane of human existence: personal responsibility, and the work such responsibility demands.
Given to contrivance and convenience we convince ourselves education can be reduced to an equation of inputs and outputs – dollars committed to productivity achieved. Taxpayers need only contribute their apportioned tolls and they can then make performance demands. Every rational assessment of our system however, identifies a bankrupt enterprise. We search for superman and race to nowhere, but now it is time we focus on the only viable solution to our educational dilemma: personal responsibility.
In our immaturity, we loath the very notion of taking on responsibility. The reality is, however, every human life is a unique journey of self-discovery – our educational system should advance, not inhibit, the voyage. Each individual is responsible for the quality, intensity and depth of their experience. Until an individual accepts full responsibility for developing his or her talents, exploring this world and contributing to society, that individual will never be fully free or fully alive. We ignore this truth at our own peril.
We cling to the promise of “industrialized education” when instead we should transform the system to promote two ends: establish a base level of intellectual (communication, calculating, reasoning) and social skills; and help each individual uncover and develop his or her unique gifts and talents. Assuming personal responsibility must be at the forefront of any effort to revise the education equation.
While students and parents still bear the lion’s share of responsibility for outcomes, teachers can and do play a critical role in formal educational. To begin the transformation here is one idea, amongst literally hundreds, to raise the bar on responsibility for teachers: Make a part of every teacher’s compensation the future earnings of his or her students. Allocate a portion of every working individual’s taxes (a few percent) amongst his or her teachers from grades one through twelve as deferred compensation. Students and parents could refine apportionment through performance criteria established over the course of the student’s formal educational career – better teachers would warrant greater consideration.
This proposal would not require additional taxation; just a reallocation of taxes with priority given to teachers. In the long run, a teacher’s economic viability would depend on the working contributions of their students. A teacher would have a vested interest in the long-term physical and intellectual well-being of every student.