It cannot be doubted that public education in this country is at a crossroads. Whether it's at the primary, secondary or post-secondary level, students, teachers and institutions are under fire. Schools doesn't have enough money, teachers are either grossly over or underpaid depending on who you ask, and students appear to be woefully unprepared for their next level of education or the job market. And that's not even taking into account how they perform in comparison to their counterparts in other countries.
Everyone from Diane Ravitch to Arne Duncan has a solution. More testing, less testing, vouchers, charter schools. Some people are "Waiting for Superman" while others believe we're all just involved in a "Race to Nowhere." No one can seem to agree on the causes of these issues, or on a potential solution, but everyone seems to be united in the belief that something needs to change.
Could now be the time for a complete educational reform? Should students, parents, educators and community members be looking outside of traditional educational models for the solution?
What if, instead of looking for the future of education, we looked at what worked in the past? Students going to different teachers for different subjects after elementary school is a comparatively new idea. Students used to go to school in a one-room schoolhouse, where one teacher would be responsible for multiple subjects and multiple grades. One teacher could be fluent in French, well-versed in Hamlet and competent in geometry.
While this may not seem like a great solution to current educational problems, this kind of schoolhouse existed during a time when students and families took more responsibility for education. Students were expected to study at home, read books on their own, and pursue outside hobbies. In Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck's family tells him that he needs to go to school and learn to read so that he can study his Bible and get into heaven. That's how important literacy was in his family; they believed that their afterlives depended on it.
Oftentimes these days, education is seen as a means to an end, and not valuable on its own. Students are studying in high school to get in to college, to pass their CAHSEE, to get their parents off their backs. They're going to college to get good job (or any job at all), but they don't necessarily have a true joy in learning. Granted, education for education's sake might be a luxury only afforded to the wealthy, but a love of learning can be instilled in any student, even one who knows she's going to school to be able to help support her family.
If the past doesn't hold the solution to our education problems, maybe the world of fiction does. What could American schools learn from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or the Wayside School? Sure, those schools aren't real, but the ideas that inspired their authors could possibly inspire teachers, students and, hopefully, someone with the power to affect change.