Complaining about Systems of Education (Part 2)

The previous post was a basic analysis of why systems of mass education always lead to mass complaints. John Gatto calls such systems ‘weapons of mass instruction’. This post is about the real situation that some think is a problem.

The point is not that such systems are bad, but that even if the system is good, the components that execute it can’t all be good — and the larger the system the more likely that critical components will be bad or go bad. That’s because no matter how selective you make the choosing and accumulation of teachers, principals, and experts, the curse of the normal distribution will always win.

There just aren’t enough good components for a good system of mass instruction to work well. In any school, the percentage of good teachers hovers around 5% at most. Really good teachers, that is. Even if you started out with 10% good teachers, or 20%, regression towards a typical ‘normal’ distribution would begin to occur without a perceptive, dynamic leader who managed to escape his own egocentricity and keep the teachers from the normal regression.

This is another reason why one should appraise the system first, and then its effects. Most systems actually would work reasonably well without the problem of bad teachers, stakeholders who see things in terms of economic criteria, indifferent boards of management, and parents who suffer the same ‘10% maximum’ problem in an educational context.

The best thing for any system’s fair appraisal is for its goals to be set out in full and then its performance checked as objectively as possible against these goals. Such appraisal works better without pointless statements like ‘we need better teachers’ (yes, but you won’t get them), ‘we must prepare students for the world of work’ (yes, but only working life really teaches this), ‘grades are inflated’ (or ‘grades are unimportant’ or anything else about grades — all pointless without a good research base, which is lacking), or ‘my kids get less of a life than I used to have’ (- do they think so too? – are you doing it to them? – and so on).

In particular, the curse in high-density, high-competitivity urban locations is that parents (the clients of the system) compete too much. It becomes a game of snakes and ladders (or any number of MMORPGs which I can’t mention here) where children are virtual proxies for personal gladiatorial contests. There is no way to avoid this, because it is human nature — the only way out is not to have anything to do with the system in the first place.

But remember — the system is only as bad as the society that allows it. If you can change it for something clearly better, do so. Else stop complaining that it doesn’t work. I sincerely wish you all the best, if you can indeed make positive change happen.


Original post here.

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