childhood, motherhood, parenting, School

Review: The New School

new schoolThis book comes too late for me. But it might be in time for my kids, and I plan to present my eldest with a copy soon, as she heads into her sophmore year of high school. But as I enter my Junior year as a college student, pursuing a dual degree in Microbiology and Forensic Science, I already know what Glenn Reynolds is talking about far better than I would like to.

When I was eighteen and marching blithely off to college because that was what I was supposed to do, I had no thought about the subjects he brings up in this book. “Higher education in the late 20th century gradually became something of a bubble, in which prices – tuition – rose faster than their likely return in the form of graduate’s wages, something that had really come to a head since the onset of harder economic times.” However, when I returned to complete my education after a long hiatus to have children, I was acutely aware that I needed to be careful what I sought a degree in. I needed to be sure there would be a return on my investment.

Reynold’s trenchant observations about higher education, the inflated administration, the classes required for social purposes rather than skills… I see all these in my daily routine. I watch the young students who are here in class because that is where they are supposed to be, struggling to understand what they really want to do, and pursuing degrees that make me internally flinch when I hear them. I also see earnest, bright young people who really do want to be engineers, geologists, or doctors, and I know some will go far. I also know that as Reynolds points out, they will be walking down the path of life with a very heavy burden on their back, and no way to roll it off any time soon.

As I blogged about the other day, there are beginning to be alternatives. You certainly don’t need to enter the hallowed halls of an august school to get a good education. Reynolds points out that strivers at cheaper, or online schools, actually come out better than those who had it easier at a ‘better’ school with a meaningless degree like gender studies or some diversity program. He recommends a book by Anya Kamenetz, DIY U, and sums it up that “The real pioneering will be in online education and the work of ‘edupunks’ who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.” Reynolds continues with “I’m betting on the latter.” And I would join him in that. As a child who was homeschooled before that movement really had momentum, I have watched it come to maturity in a generation, and I applaud those edupioneers who are now seeking to tumble the walls of higher education, as well.

But what about lower education? Reynolds points out something I knew as a child of a homeschooling family whose parents spent a lot of time thinking about her education and what was wrong with public schools. “When our public education system was created in the 19th century, its goal, quite explicitly, was to produce obedient and orderly factory workers to fulfill the new jobs being created by the Industrial Revolution.” And here we are, post-industrial era, and stuck with schools that are endless money pits but not producing educated children.

I’ve seen the graphs over and over, and I know what the problems are, because I’m looking in from the outside, always have been. Reynolds points out that more and more money is being sunk into lower education, thousands of dollars per pupil, and yet… “In fact, Wisconsin spends more money per pupil than any other state in the Midwest. Nonetheless, two-thirds of Wisconsin eighth-graders can’t read proficiently.”

So what to do? “The truth is that nobody knows exactly what is coming next,” Reynolds admits. He sees that perhaps there will be a coming education more tailored to the individual child, whether that be through online education, charter schools, flipped schools (like Khan Academy that I linked to earlier this week) or… who knows? Whatever it is, though, I can predict two things. One, there is going to be a lot of push-back. I know from personal experience just how vindictive a public school administrator can get when he feels threatened. And two, there will be kids who fall through the cracks. There are now, but the press will be looking for them in the future outside the system, so the system can be kept as it is. Change is hard for the establishment to embrace, and they get nasty about it.

The New School? Buy a copy and read it. It’s excellently done, and I haven’t touched on a fraction of the useful information in it, whether you are a prospective student, the parents of a student, or even new parents who aren’t quite to school yet.

And in the last word for today… I’m offering a chance to win a signed print copy of The God’s Wolfling! I’ll even do a little sketch in it if the winner wants. Comment on this blog post for your chance to win, and the winner will be chosen randomly and announced August 2, the day after the book release. If you’ve been reading snippets, you know Linnea is homeschooled at the beginning of the book, and this review suits her later prospects, too… 


0 thoughts on “Review: The New School

  1. As an unreformed rugged individualist, I tend to think the core problem with schools is the idea of a school — the notion that you can collect 3,000 kids together in an industrial building and answer their natural curiosity and desire to learn by directing them in groups of 20 or 30 toward a mutually satisfactory conclusion. I more agree with the ancient Greek (was it Aristotle, perhaps?) who said, the ideal scola is a student on one end of a log and a teacher on the other.


    1. I agree with you, in the most part. That might be why I do well with things like Khan Academy, where I can control the pace of my learning. But then, I was homeschooled and did well with it. My sister on the other hand preferred classrooms and a bit more interaction with others. So finding a way to meet every child’s needs can be daunting.

  2. I’ve long thought an inherent problem with the American education system is that it has two contradictory goals: It wants tough, rigorous standards AND everyone to graduate. Unfortunately, you can really only achieve one of those goals at the expense of the other.

    1. It says it wants a rigorous education. I haven’t actually seen that practically pursued, though. My eldest daughter is a very bright girl, but in middle school I was told that all three tracks (special needs, average, and gifted) would share a classroom and the teacher’s attention. How can one person possibly handle 20+ kids with that diverse of a group? It can’t be done, and she was often bored and I supplemented outside school as much as I could. But it was a waste of time, as I’ve blogged about before. Eight or more hours a day to get done 2-3 hours worth of work.

  3. I was home schooled until I graduated high school, at which point I entered the work force in lieu of college. Five years later, I’m thinking about going to school…but I don’t want an empty degree. I’ve been warned colleges stifle creative writing, and I don’t think Theater is really a lucrative major. Any advice, Cedar?

    In other news, if I ever have kids, I’ll home school them.

  4. OK, my “schooling” experiences are far in the past, but a couple of observations, if I may. First up, my father was proud of the fact that he could read before he started elementary school (no kindergarten, then), in roughly 1915. Second, I could read when I started school (half-day kindergarten) in 1943. Third, both of my children could read before they started school (with kindergarten) in 1970 and 1973, respectively. My grandchildren have carried on that family “tradition.”

    Being able to read has served me very well over a long and what many would call a misspent life. And I didn’t get that skill in “school.” I learned to read by watching my parents do it, and by having stories read to me. Not just “kiddie” books, either: try “Once and Future King” for one example, or Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” at Christmas every year, for another. Not formal homeschooling, of course, but much to same idea.

    Sure, I went through the process: grade school-high school-college-grad school, and have the paper to prove I attended. (It was warm in the winter and kept the rain off.) Heck, I even taught school for a couple of years. (shudder)

    After all that “education,” you’d think I’d have gotten me a nice, clean, indoor job, right? Nope. The last several years before I retired, I drove a delivery track for an auto parts store. Paid the bills. Fancy diplomas didn’t.

    I think if one change could be made that would eventually solve many problems, although it would cause a few at first, it would be to strike the word “mandatory” from the notion of “mandatory, publicly-funded education.”

    Ben Hartley
    (I write it, I sign it)

    1. Reynolds points out that at the time of the American Revolutionary War, we were a very literate nation, and at the time, learning to read took place at the parent’s knee, not a school. Now, parent’s send their kids off to kindergarten without even a thought of being able to teach their children on their own.

  5. Industrialized schooling is a crime, and not a victimless one either.

    “I know from personal experience just how vindictive a public school administrator can get when he feels threatened. ”

    Therein, lies a tale for another days blog.
    One can hope anyway.

      1. Ah! Too bad! My mother was a high school teacher, one of the better ones I think. At any rate, Admin- in whatever school I happened to be at the time- only messed with me one time each. After that, they lived in fear that she would come back in to see them. I was lucky that way.

  6. Industrialized schooling is a crime, and not a victimless one either.

    “I know from personal experience just how vindictive a public school administrator can get when he feels threatened. ”

    Therein, lies a tale for another days blog.
    One can hope anyway.

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