Education in the US is broken. Public kindergarten through high school graduation (K-12) as well as colleges and universities do very little to prepare students for adult life in the modern world. We can’t even get the basics down: 54% of American adults do not meet the minimum literacy level for coping with everyday demands and 64% of American adults do not meet the minimum numeracy level for coping with everyday demands. I have some big ideas about how education should transform, but let’s start with the immediate reforms we need to keep America from dropping below the average global literacy score.
The federal government needs to divest huge sums of money into public K-12 schools with a disproportionate focus on low-income districts. Provisions must be in place to ensure that money is kept in classrooms and extracurricular programs instead of being sucked up by administration. This includes teacher salaries and benefits, teacher budgets, student equipment, and reducing classroom sizes. However, money alone cannot solve every issue. Standardized testing needs to be abolished as it only serves a few companies that profit massively off it, leaving unquantifiable amounts of student anxiety and time wasted in its wake. This is generally in line with the theme that public K-12 has become mostly a game of trivial pursuit in an age when most children and teens can instantly search the entirety of human knowledge to find the answer to almost any question. While graduation requirements for basic skills need to be better enforced, advanced skills should be left to electives. A prime example is lowering graduating requirements for math to basic algebra rather than a certain number of high school credits so all students have time to really grasp necessary math skills without forcing them to waste their childhood fumbling through precalculus before they even understand how to tell which of a pair of fractions is greater. This also leaves room to add in oft-missing soft skills like relational communication, conflict management, patience, and self care. However, given the general need for these foundational skills, curriculum needs to be decentralized. Teachers and students should ultimately have the power to decide what to learn in the classroom. When that power is given, as we’ve seen in countless alternative education programs, many of those necessary skills are gained without mandate. A more holistic approach of giving teachers the tools and resources they need to work these lessons into a more organic teaching environment by paying them to attend additional professional development outside of the school day can help ensure students learn the basic skills they need. Additionally, the federal government could provide further opportunities for teachers by boosting their salaries as they gain additional certifications in cross-disciplinary areas like teaching students with disabilities or learning sign language.
Of course, students only spend about a third of their time in school. Children need extra support at home as well, which is another reason the Freedom Dividend is a pillar of my platform. Despite that, there’s still more we can do to help. Student breakfast and lunch should be made free for all K-12 students simply because we can and should feed all of our children without stigma. Meal programs should also be extended through weekends and breaks, including the summer. There are a variety of creative ways to make that a reality and each school district should be free to decide what works best for their communities. I simply want to provide districts with the funds and resources they need to make it happen. Extracurricular activities like sports and theatre are also a powerful way to give students a productive outlet for their energy and creativity outside of school while giving parents peace of mind that their children are safe and active. Many schools simply don’t have the funds for comprehensive after-school programs, but the federal government can cover those gaps.
Education is an incredibly important public investment like infrastructure and basic science research. The private sector won’t directly fund these investments, but without them, we all struggle, the private sector included. It’s difficult to quantify the return on investment for education, but when handled well, it’s always worth it. We can find all the money we need for the reforms I’ve described if we choose to prioritize education for the sake of the students instead of private prisons, standardized testing companies, university administrators, and the military. For example, there’s plenty of money wasted on unnecessary military contractors every year that can be redirected toward education. And with enough investment over time, we can rethink education entirely.
I spent a great deal of time thinking about education and its role in society when initially building my platform. It started to feel like we all just internalized this “fact” that education is important but without any justification. That led me to ask why education is important. Upon failing to quickly come up with a concise answer, I decided to rephrase the question: “What is the goal of education?” Pondering this is how I came upon the mission statement of this campaign:
To empower every individual to become the best version of themself.
It’s a bit wordy, but it’s carefully crafted. Not only is that statement the mission of my campaign, it’s also what I believe should be the mission of education. Now, I don’t believe that I have some godly insight above mortals, so I’m not adamant that this should be the sentence everyone agrees on. However, I want to get the wheels turning in people’s heads; this is a discussion we need to have collectively. Once we’ve decided on the mission of education, we can activate the resources and technology needed to make education a lifelong journey. Education shouldn’t end at 18 or 22 or 25. All American adults have “catching up” to do, and we need to ensure that we’re meeting people where they are. That can include the internet of course, but many folks need face-to-face, personal interaction for real engagement. Others prefer demonstrations or lectures. All of us are students and all of us can be teachers, too. Connecting the right people together to achieve this somewhat amorphous goal is not a simple task, but we’ve entered a time when that appears to at least be a possibility, and it’s worth trying. This isn’t about giving adults homework or increasing Americans’ daily load of labor. This is about…well…empowering every individual to become the best version of themself.