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…