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Future American Schools

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I believe the days of our present educational system are numbered.

This system unwittingly promotes values of wealth and status that separate our society from its founding principles of equality and uniqueness, contributing instead to rich vs. poor, racial inequality, and other stratification conflicts.

Even more troubling, is the internal turmoil these wealth/status values are contributing to the health and welfare of Americans:

  • Nearly 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness every year.
  • A major study on the long term effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) was so shocking in its correlation between ACE and ultimate drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, personal and medical problems, etc., it called ACE: "the main determinant of the health and social well-being of the nation.
  • Brené Brown, indicating that 85% of the people in her studies have felt shame, gave a featured TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability, saying most people fear being vulnerable because they feel shame. 24M people have viewed the talk.
  • The signature Torrance test of creative thinking reveals creativity has remained static or decreased in our schools since 1974.

Concerns like these indicate education's wealth/status values are failing to address our deeper emotional and spiritual needs.

This system does not respect our uniqueness. It simply sets high expectations for all, leaving us feeling imperfect, with negative -anxiety, shame, lack of confidence, etc.--feelings.

A growing number of professionals call this system unworkable --like Paul Tough in his best-selling book How Children Succeed, now in its 4th year, and Steve Jobs' widow Laurene, who seeks to fund five revolutionary high schools at $10M each.

This system is different from the more passive pre-1945 education we experienced, which made parents our primary teachers, supported by an extended family-neighborhood-school-community upbringing.

Our focus was much more on individual development and relationships. I remember as a 6th grader forming a neighborhood baseball team, getting the local paper to publish a challenge--accepted by the "Chevy Chase Chasers." Mom picked them up in our Ford to play us on a vacant lot. That experience inspired hope in very unconfident little kid.

I was in that mass of WWII Americans brought together by our founding principles, whose creative "can do" spirit resoundingly defeated the Nazi-Japanese threat of world domination and then built America into a great world power.

However, I think we "GIs" were actually guilty of initiating today's flawed educational system. We came back from WWII intent on "getting ahead," and the GI Bill gave us the means to go to college to do it.

This materialistic drive to succeed led to intense school competition that ultimately created an assembly-line purpose for student lives:

Better grades = better colleges = better jobs = more money = happiness.

Our economic concerns today seem to generate anxiety, anger, and division. But the pre-1945 America I experienced was far more unified, in spite of roughly 50% classified as poor, compared to today's 12% poor.

I make these comparisons to emphasize that our system's failure to address the deeper needs, character, and spirit of Americans may well be limiting our fulfillment in life.

Whereas I grew up when parents were our primary teachers, schools have since taken control over children's preparation for life, as the purpose of education has become getting kids in the best college possible.

While studies show parents believe in the development of character, they don't want their children to lose out in the college competition, so they opt to support the school's competitive emphasis.

Hence, given parents' support, schools have replaced the parent as the primary teacher. However, since parents are the major influence in children's lives, this often causes family conflicts: parents are primarily supporting the drive for the best college, but their deepest concern is character.

Example: Daughter cuts honors English class a third time, which would mean an automatic failure, so she simply asks her mother to write a note excusing her. She does, violating her integrity.

A college education is important, but the larger concern should be the foundation we gain from those who raise us. Our first priority is dealing with character issues.

At Hyde schools, we seek to develop parents as our primary teachers and their homes as our primary classrooms. This is quite a challenge in our present society, but a very rewarding one.

And I believe it will once again describe American schools--perhaps by year 2030.