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Reform Public Education: Classically

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Message Anthony J. Gerst
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Plato teaching by the heuristic method.
Plato teaching by the heuristic method.
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Plato using the heuristic teaching method.

I'm sure most people would agree: today's scholastic system needs to be revamped. However, in my opinion not everyone deserves a college education.

The United States still maintains the best postgraduate programs in the world but standards in our Pre K-12 public schools have declined and we should stand aghast at dropout rates across this nation. Many instructors from community colleges complain about having to teach incoming students the basics, not high school, but grade school basics. I repeat, not everyone deserves a college education.

We must admit for whatever reasons from social-environmental to intellectual capacity some people do not possess the marks to pursue a higher academic degree. We used to have something called academic excellence in education. This should still be the marker for collegiate acceptance. Do we truly wish to have a professional society that barely makes the grade?

In order to gain university acceptance we should administer a more academically challenging test, not have it based on tuition checks clearing the bank. We should also create pathways for those failing the exam to regain college admittance. A credit tutorial system in which scholars could help individuals, receiving three credits toward their scholastic degree by succeeding in advancing three applicants through the exam in one semester. (Of course, limits on these credits would have to be set and the number of times a person could take a university exam limited.)

Those students failing college acceptance could be offered technical or vocational training. Students passing the test could still opt for vocational occupations. The above-mentioned changes, easy to make, would start raising the standard of academic excellence in the United States.

We need to address a major overhaul of the current Pre K-12 public educational system. We must reduce dropout rates and raise the standard of excellence across the board. While math and sciences are central to our society, we have abandoned the concept of training in classical liberal arts, a crucial element for civic leadership, honored and respected throughout the ages.

Here is my idea for revamping our educational system by changing it to a Pre K-14 base. Change the hours, the curriculum and the duration of the academic year. Instead of five eight-hour days go to five ten-hour days, using the fifth day for extracurricular activities, health and life studies, community volunteer programs, one-on-one tutorial help for struggling students, and holding sporting events on this day. (Note: Physical education is part of classical liberal art training.) It should be easy enough for an astute reader to see the benefits of such a program, particularly how day five would help create a more civic-minded community. Bear in mind, Pre K-3 should advance in time duration so that by the fourth grade students are ready for the longer days.

Instead of the traditional long summer interval off, why not cut breaks back to six weeks: two at the end of December, two weeks at the beginning of July, and two one-week intervals mixed in throughout the year, one in early spring and the other in early fall. The objective here is to maintain the knowledge obtained by not allowing long intervals between school years.

It should be obvious I stress the emphasis of liberal arts for the creation of a civic-minded society. First, we would need to create a K-10 academic year based on our current K-12 curriculum, returning focus however, to teaching the basics. Beginning in grade 11, we should focus our young student's minds on the classical liberal arts. The 11-14 part of a new educational system would be 75 percent classical training and 25 percent math and sciences. Those percentages being just a suggestion; however classical training should be the dominant factor at this point. By changing to this model, we would instill within students a more open minded and balanced perspective in analysis, teaching critical thinking by the heuristic method.

Over all I see this as an opportunity to raise community involvement and academic excellence in the United States. This approach, I believe, would better prepare students with varied skills for their collegiate and postgraduate studies. How many years do we have to stand by and watch the educational system of our nation slip downhill? We can do better. We owe it to our nation, to our children--to our world.

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Anthony J. Gerst, is an author/columnist and activist. He resides near the confluence of the Iowa and Mississippi Rivers. His favorite author, Mark Twain, was an editor for the Muscatine Journal near where he lives. Mr. Gerst has offered (more...)

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