Improving public education

As we know, education has become ever more expensive over the last 40 years. Teachers' salaries have declined, and school expenses have risen.

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“Hundreds of years ago, most learning happened at home. Parents taught their children or, if their families could afford it, private tutors did the job. The Puritans were the first in this country to point out the need for some kind of public education. They established schools to teach not just the essentials- reading, writing and math- but also to reinforce their core values.

“After the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson argued that the newly independent nation needed an educational system, and he suggested that tax dollars be used to fund it. His pleas were ignored, however, and the idea for a public school system languished for nearly a century.

“By the 1840s, a few public schools had popped up around the country in the communities that could afford them. However, that smattering of schools wasn’t good enough for education crusaders Horace Mann of Massachusetts and Henry Barnard of Connecticut. They began calling for free, compulsory school for every child in the nation.

“Massachusetts passed the first compulsory school laws in 1852. New York followed the next year, and by 1918, all American children were required to attend at least elementary school.

“Next came the movement to create equal schooling for all American children, no matter what their race. At the turn of the 20th century, schools in the South, and many in the North, were segregated. The 1896 Supreme Court ruling, Plessy v. Ferguson upheld the legality of segregation. Finally, in 1954, the Supreme Court overturned its ruling with the landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, and public schools became open to people of all races.”

As you can see, America has worked hard to establish a system of free public education. But in the past 30 years or so, that tradition has been undermined. Catholic schools have become less common, and the cost of private schools averages $11,000 a year. Higher education costs, whether public or private, have sky-rocketed. Nevertheless, the level of education in the U.S. has continued to climb.

But teacher salaries have declined 4.5% in the past ten years. The average teacher salary is a bit over $60,000, and the average salary for beginning teachers is $40,000. “[The] American educational system needs a rebirth. It needs to be wakened from its slumber and re-modified to the advantage of American citizens.

Here’s a radical suggestion to improve the system. The major disadvantage that teachers have is that many of them have never worked outside the educational system. But there are millions of Americans who have, and many of them have received education as good as teachers or better. These workers know the practical side of work, and they could teach the children what they have learned.

We also know that some of them may be unemployed as they reach the age of 45-50. The ones that have physical jobs may have medical and other conditions which make it harder for them to work. So why not make it possible for them to become teachers? I’m sure that we can estimate the number who would be available, and the schools could leave open jobs for them. Over time, teaching jobs would be filled by these older teachers, leaving the younger graduates available for work employment (and for teaching jobs when they got older).

The older teachers could be offered special pensions so that they would have adequate retirement income, instead of winding up on the street. They could also be put through a six month teaching program so that would know how to handle the administrative and teaching part of their new jobs.

Once these teachers reach retirement age, they can share their jobs with other teachers in the same category. This would permit smaller class sizes and better teaching.

But that’s not the major change in the education system. We should return to a system which is better financed by the society, so that students can receive a free education through college. Moreover, we should borrow from the system in Finland, which permits private schools, but basically makes the schooling requirements the same as for public schools. Under the Finnish system:

1. Private schools are funded only by the public in the same manner as public schools. They must pay teachers and staff on the same scale as public schools.

2. Private schools cannot add fees; they must operate on the same budget as a similar public school.

3. Private schools must accept students in the same manner as public schools.

4. Private schools must provide the same training and classes as public schools.

What these rules mean is that all students get equivalent education. The children of the wealthy cannot get a better education by paying for it.

Therefore, if the wealthy find the education system lacking, they need to help change the system as a whole.

These changes would both improve the education system and bring the skills and experience of the working population into the schools in a practical way.

It should also be pointed out that with the surge in artificial intelligence, the number of jobs available in the economy is likely to decline. “Technology- driven societal changes, like what we’re experiencing with AI and automation, always engender concern and fear—and for good reason. A two-year study from McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2030, intelligent agents and robots could replace as much as 30 percent of the world’s current human labor.” If jobs disappear, then humans need to invent occupations that will better society and use humans to fulfill them. If we don’t do that, then we will have a large population of unoccupied people who will nevertheless need financial support. And unoccupied people are likely to be outraged by their treatment and turn to violence and other destructive behavior to fill their time. Teaching is a good occupation.

We should also bear in mind that automation will increase the income inequality that has beset our society over the past forty years. For both economic and social reasons, we believe that a job is a necessity for every citizen. We need to invent jobs where none exist so that the society can continue to function. The jobs must have meaning; teaching jobs fulfill that requirement. And teaching jobs are traditionally provided by the society to train the next generation. If automation makes the economy improve, then we must be prepared to tax the owners of automation, or else the economy will collapse. It’s as simple as that.

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