There was a time in American history when cultural exchanges between the Europeans and the First Nations' peoples took place on a regular basis. One anecdotal story is summarized thusly: The European father was delighted when his son came back from his year abroad in great health and full of vim and vigor and was ready to continue his "formal" education. The First Nations' father was horrified that his son did not know how to hunt for food, kept complaining about the weather and told his father that to be a "good human," one must learn how to read and write.
You see, the Europeans thought that any learning worth anything was done in a building and notes were taken and lectures given and reading of books written by others was the norm. While this is good, it is not the only way to learn. Yes, learning about history and civics and science and mathematics is important. Reading and writing are dying arts, but they are not the only ways people can learn.
First Nations' peoples also had their own systems of learning and educating. Education came from observing the world around you. Learning was the practical application of the educational aspect. Interacting in a positive manner with one's environment was held in the highest regard. Being able to read weather patterns was essential for basic survival, as was the ability to track prey for food and discern between inedible and edible plants. Building shelters was another treasured skill, as was the ability to make fire.
The European father was obviously delighted that his son had gotten into good physical shape and had learned to use good common sense when approaching problems that arise in every day life. This man also remarked at how much better his son seemed to be learning his lessons at school.
The First Nations' father was horrified at what his son had turned into while he was away. The son had become inactive, forgotten that reading a book is not the only kind of reading one must do and that he preferred the incredibly easy life in the city where shelter is provided and food can be bought from the store. Needless to say, the First Nations' father complained bitterly to the European father, saying, essentially that the European father had completely neglected to properly educate the First Nations' son.
Education is important. How we define education and how we foster the next generations' education needs to be re-examined and evolved to fit the changing needs of our societies.
Our current system of education is completely adequate for the Industrial Revolution, when humans had to run machines and there were still a majority of labor-intensive jobs that needed, well, humans. We were acclimated to responding to a bell at school and then at the factories. We were taught what to think, but not necessarily how to think: we relied heavily on philosophers to reveal how to think until very recently. We also abhorred thinkers who dared to challenge societal beliefs or who strove to improve the human condition.
As our societies continue to evolve, our systems of education must also evolve to ensure that the next generations are well-equipped to handle the world we are making for them.
This country (the United States of America) is no longer reliant upon manufacturing or textiles. But, we still have a workforce that is best suited for these ever-diminishing jobs. How can we move forward as a society when so many of our workers are ill-prepared for the major shift in our economic engines?
We need to shift ourselves away from the factory mentality and into much more creative pursuits. All of our children need access to technology just as our former manufacturing sector needs access to education in trades that deal with technology. And, I do not mean the for-profit schools that are only interested in profits, but actual trade schools set up as alternatives to four-year colleges.
Our educational system also needs to evolve beyond the 3 months of summer break. We did this when our society relied heavily on small farmers who needed their children to help out on the farm during the busiest parts of the harvest. Most kids do not live in an agrarian family. Yes, we do need some breaks throughout the summer, but we do not need to have kids out of school for three months at a time. It is counterproductive to their academic progress and it is simply a vestigial remnant of a by-gone era.
Rather than cutting educational funding or forcing teachers to constantly prepare students for standardized tests (the ancient Chinese did this, too, and every time they relied more heavily upon testing, their educational systems would collapse -- perhaps we can learn from this?), why can't we sit down and discuss the best way to change our educational system for the improvement of our society? Why are our schools suffering but endless billions are given away in subsidies to the most profitable industry in the world? Why do we neglect our future with tax loopholes that only fund the present and an extreme minority? Why have we forgotten that we do not own this world, we have only borrowed it from our children?