The gasoline combustion engine that powers our automobiles offers a perfect analogy for education in America. On the one hand, we have an engine that was designed more than a century ago that, simply, is unable to meet the demands and specifications of the Twenty-first Century. Even in perfect condition, however, the engine’s performance is dependent on the quality of the fuel that powers it. No matter how much we might tinker with the engine, it will sputter and fail if the quality of fuel is poor. The fuel that powers education in America is the level of motivation of children to learn and the commitment of their parents to the educational process. In the current reality, as we face the unprecedented challenges of the Twenty-first Century, we are dependent on an obsolete engine powered by what may be the lowest level of motivation to learn in the history of education in America.
Given the challenges presented by the dynamic international marketplace of this new century, we need to elevate both the engine that represents the educational system and fuel that powers it. If we hope to seriously compete with China, India, Europe, and the other developing economies we need a ferocious commitment from parents and an equally ferocious level of motivation on the part of our children. We also need to reinvent an educational system utilizing state-of-the-art technology that can unleash the full power of that fuel, with optimal efficiency, and without the nasty by-products of failure and humiliation for our children and burn out for our teachers. The outcome we are seeking is a system in which teaching is as much fun for teachers as learning will be for our children.
We begin our recommendations for reinventing education, hope, and the American dream with the educational process. In Part II, we will make our argument that the greatest problems with education in the U.S. is a growing cultural disdain for education manifested by minimal motivation to learn on the part of far too many children and a corresponding lack of commitment to the importance of education on the part of the parents of those children. That being said, addressing the issue of a cultural devaluation of education is a monumental challenge that will require that we take the time to lay down a philosophical foundation for our point of view. In the interim, the educational process, itself, is fundamentally flawed and until we fix it, nothing else we say or do will be believed by those who are disenfranchised.
We choose to start with the educational process partly because it is the lesser of the two challenges. Fixing the educational process is a formidable challenge but, clearly, policy makers and legislators have the power to bring about any and all of the changes that we will be recommending. The things that make this particular challenge so difficult are not the issues themselves but the fact that it requires that we change the way we think about education. We must ask people to challenge their basic assumptions about the way we educate our children. The changes that need to be made are structural and systemic and they cannot be accomplished through incremental change. We will walk the reader through the logical framework behind these proposals and then will introduce the specific proposals in the form of action items that require only that policy makers and decision makers make a commitment to act.