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Philosophy of Education

Why Education Reform Never Works

Education reform never works because when people talk about education they think they mean "education," but actually they mean "school." Education and school are not the same thing. It is school reform that never works; education reform never gets tried. The reason school reform never works is that schools are an obsolete institution. The difference between the best schools and the worst schools is very little.* It is time to replace them with something else entirely.

Schools were invented by the Sumerians thousands of years ago, to educate the children of the elite. They have changed practically not at all. The world has changed greatly since then, the needs of children have changed since then, the needs of society have changed since then, but schools have not changed since then.

Why have schools not changed? Because they are unchangeable, except in very minor respects. Every school is the same: a few adults in charge of a large number of children. That determines what schools must necessarily do: protect the children, maintain order, keep track of things. Those three duties are so all-consuming that what is taught and how it is taught are such a minor part of the school day that they don't matter much.

Think of schools as being like an iceberg: one-sixth showing above the waterline, five-sixths hidden below the surface. The one-sixth that shows represents the curriculum and all the things that reformers talk about. The five-sixths that doesn't show is the dominant part. This five-sixths is what schooling really is.

Schools really teach this: Be careful. Stay in line. Obey. Be quiet. Sit still. Tolerate boredom. Let the authorities decide. Let others do the thinking.

So what do we have to do? Quit talking about schools and start talking about education. Not, "How do we change the schools?" but "How shall we educate the people?"

Suppose we had no way set up to educate people. Suppose schools had not been invented. Start from scratch. How shall we educate the people? What technologies shall we use? Where shall we do it? Who should do it? Who should be in control of educating the people?

Those are the questions that need to be answered.

—Donald L. Mark

*A few years back, to the amazement of the education establishment, the school in Oregon which spent the least per student scored better on tests than the school which spent the most.

If you are interested in homeschooling or unschooling (also called deschooling), the Web has a great deal of information. Here is a good place to start:

Free Homeschooling Resources


Education Fails the Test

Who benefits from school testing programs?


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