There is a meme that education is a type of enforced ignorance, especially in America. There are two separate areas of the problem 1) what are the goals of education and 2) what is the best system to put in place to achieve those goals.
I agree with Noam Chomsky that the goal of education is to “provide the opportunities for self-fulfillment; it can at best provide a rich and challenging environment for the individual to explore, in his own way.” The opposing view is that the goal of education is to fill people with certain basic facts. The larger context is whether we want people to believe or do we want people to think.
Belief ultimately means accepting authority, thinking means constantly questioning authority. What we are actually discussing is the foundation of our society, should it be authoritarian, democratic, or something in between?
If we go the democratic route, the most important aspects of an education is how does one go about achieving voluntary consensus? This means exploring why and how disagreements arise, rating of arguments, debating, collecting evidence and experimentation. Topics such as those in “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” would be covered a central part of education. The point is not to just argue and debate, but rather build a consensus based on evidence and discussion. Although individual achievement is important, interacting with peers to share knowledge and reach agreement is just as essential. We want individuals to participate in their own and their peer’s education, and the fact that traditional bandwidth is limited between teacher and pupil is a primary inefficiency. Students must be taught how to recognize and correct bad information on their own. Education is a life-long experience, and students need to know more about logical fallacies than the date of the Battle of New Orleans.
Given that these are the goals, what system should we put in place to achieve those goals? I believe everyone in a democracy should have an education. It follows that it would be publicly funded and progressively taxed. I don’t see a fundamental shift in an organization of the school system, but rather the methods used inside the classroom. However, there needs to be a corresponding cultural shift in understanding: one does not get an education by going to school, but rather, one goes to school to get an education. There is a key distinction between the two scenarios which is the active participation and expectation of the pupil. Until the consumerist philosophy of “one gets an education by going to school” is changed America will continue to be mediocre in international academic rankings and democracy will continue to weaken.
(Note: A brief overview of Chomsky’s view on education is here.)