Education, gumption, and the ‘welfare state’

James Edmonds | Staff Writer

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I never was able to put my finger on why I didn’t like school until this year. After spending 15 relatively quiet, passive years in North Carolina’s public education system, this last year is when things started to snap. I began to realize that my feelings weren’t related to laziness or lack of drive when my little sister began looking at different universities and I, multiple times, recommended she make alternate post-secondary plans. That was when I knew I had to further analyze my feelings toward education.

The first issue is that the nature of our state-dictated curriculum annihilates any gumption a student approaches their education with. When I was seven years old, I wanted to learn everything about dinosaurs that I could. If second-grade curriculum covered pre-historic zoology, I would have been the head of that class; however, it didn’t, and I learned to write in cursive, memorize addition and subtraction facts, and write acrostic poems.

In fifth grade, after a close friend of mine began to experience a rough set of life changes caused by a divorce between his parents, I wanted to know about the history of family relations. I hadn’t experienced that before and I was curious. Family relations, though, isn’t part of the fifth grade curriculum. That study really isn’t in any curriculum until one is fairly advanced in either psychology or sociology. Odds are quite good that whatever was on the curriculum for the day that I found out that marriage wasn’t forever for every family wasn’t the focus of my gumption that day.

That’s what’s wrong with education in those scenarios. The curriculum should change depending on the topic which inspires the most gumption in a student. That’s where the student is able to learn, anyway. When a student wishes to learn about dinosaurs, he should be able to learn about dinosaurs. When a student’s world suddenly seems a little less black and white because of changes in the family structure of a friend, he should explore the nature and history of those changes. Of course, for curriculums to have that kind of elasticity, the system would have to change drastically. However, that doesn’t seem like a bad thing.

The current system also robs a student of his or her individual agency. A number of politicians like to throw out the term ‘Welfare State’ when referring to the sense of entitlement, laziness and dependency which seems so prevalent in society. That really shouldn’t surprise anyone when public education mandatorily robs children of their sense of independence and agency starting at age five or six. From the beginning of school, children learn that they are incomplete human beings because they aren’t proficient in a number of academic areas. Then they learn that the information they need to be complete belongs to the teacher and will be given to them without any effort on their part. Students just need to, literally, sit there, and they will receive the information they’re so desperately missing. It’s counter-productive to the formation of personal agency at best and enslavement of the mind at worst.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Education must enable a man to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate goals of his life.” To achieve that purpose, our education system must be flexible enough to accommodate different focal points of gumption students wish to study.

The best way to do this would be for the mandatory education system to last only a few years. Each student should learn, first and foremost, to read. One can’t hope to scratch the surface of any topic they wish to illuminate without literacy. Second, every student should be taught how to approach researching a topic. After that, a student should take responsibility for their own education. Federal and state funding that currently goes toward education can go toward providing counties, districts and cities with magnificent libraries full of resources on every topic imaginable. Not only would school be more exciting to attend, but it would be exciting for all the right reasons. Students could smile as they begin to identify what exactly are the “legitimate goals” of their lives, what knowledge they’ll need to reach those goals and how best to attain that knowledge.