Education That Serves Society

This is going to be a sensitive topic, but examining uncomfortable truths is sufficiently worthwhile to risk being misunderstood. Recently I watched an address by acting Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., discussing his priorities for the department. I couldn’t help noticing that it concentrated almost entirely on plans for improving and increasing opportunities for those who are either struggling or are badly served by our current education system. He also spoke about his goals for better integrating the handicapped into mainstream education. These are laudable goals but they seem badly out of balance to me.

Where do good students, and in particular the gifted, fit into these plans? Even given tight funding constraints, shouldn’t our system try to get the most out of all of its students, including high achievers? I believe that education leaders are more interested in raising the minimum level of educational achievement than in raising either the average or maximum levels. They would like to accomplish both, of course, but since resources are limited the former takes strong precedence. I believe that is wrong-headed. Working to the least common denominator stunts the potential for the rest, and society will eventually suffer the consequences. Exclusively “no child left behind” has come to mean “few children achieve their potential.”

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This is a philosophical issue that spans more than the field of education. It is a natural impulse to seek to aid those who struggle in our society, but not if this means impoverished attention to those upon whom we will eventually depend for improving life for all of us. We should deploy our resources more judiciously for the greater good. I am not arguing for ending our helping hand for the needy, only that it should not be the dominant goal.

When did you last hear an education leader focus on cooperative activities between high schools and local colleges or on deploying more advanced and higher quality AP courses? Some high school students could profitably forgo their senior year, spending time in college or junior college instead, if the needed funds could be diverted from K-12 to scholarships. This is just an example, but such ideas would likely provoke solid opposition from the education establishment.

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