By: David Harris
We have a problem with education. Scratch that. We have a host of problems with education. It would not be in the interest of practicality to belabor all the various issues, concerns and outright crises within our education system– except the underlying one. Constitutionality. There is no framework for a federally funded education system found in the American Constitution. Any education system, constitutionally speaking, should fall under the broad umbrella of the 10th Amendment (any power not delegated to the Federal Government is delegated to the States/People). This means local, community and if desired, State governments bear the responsibility for administering education among their peoples. Sadly, most citizens of the United States, both on the right and left, incorrectly assume that all children (and people in general for that matter) are entitled to a free education as a necessary right, despite the absence of this principle every really appearing in any tangible way throughout history.
The informed conservative may groan at the constitutional abuses suffered under the implementation and administering our modern educational system (among others) that we now think of as integral to the fabric of our nation. The liberal will bemoan that schools are “not working for our children.” Ironically, both sides of the ideological aisle will come to the same place in regards to the way education is administered today, best summed up in this declarative statement: “We must stop teaching to the test!” Indeed, you will rarely encounter an individual on political, philosophical or even occupational level within or outside of the field of education that supports the idea of “teaching to the test,” that is, instructing for the sole purpose of passing a standardized test that supposedly proves the absorption and retention of knowledge. While there are varying reasons why specific perspective points arrive at this conclusion (for example, educational pragmatists would prescribe more “real life” education, while educational progressives tend to think of education as a medium for people, young and old, to self-discovery and self-expression), it is most important to note that many of the prime shortcomings of our education system are agreed upon almost universally, “teaching to the test” being the prime example.
Let us take a step back for a moment and take note of a couple of critical truisms. There may be no abolishing the Department Education, at least in our lifetimes. Various conservative leaders have tried and failed to do so (Ronald Reagan, for example took steps to defund it). We may be stuck with it for quite some time to come. For the liberal in a similar quandary about what to do about education, it is highly unrealistic to think that “teaching for the test” will be abolished in any reasonable timeframe – it’s been here and will probably be here to stay as it represents the most bureaucratic, machine-like way of administering education that is supposed to be “free and available” to all children in America. Thus the dreaded “c-word” must be invoked: compromise. We must find ways to improve our education system while simultaneously lessening the tax burden (and it is indeed, a monumental one; for example: New York dedicates more than a quarter of its budget to education).
This leads to the inevitable purpose of this brief contemplation: hypothesizing a way of accomplishing 1) educational reform, and 2) making the reform work for all parties involved. An effective way of achieving these ends is to abolish 11th and 12th grade. Over the past several years there have been a number of voices calling for not an abolition, but an extension of high school. The opposite is needed for reasons that will now be laid out:
1) The first two years of college are essentially a repeat of high school
While the above axiom is especially true in reference to public colleges, there is a widespread reality in college that those who have not stacked up credits in high school and pass with only average marks end up spending thousands of dollars and up to two years of their lives taking prerequisite or entrance level “101” classes. Most of these classes are only meant to establish a framework for academic grammar, form and convention, something that is already explicitly expressed in standards like Common Core. The idea of sending 16 year olds into college would no doubt be met with a chorus of objections. “How can you possibly think that a 16 year old is ready for college!” The response is simple: Because they are if standards are being followed. Historically speaking, it was not rare in the slightest to have even 14 year olds beginning their university studies. Additionally, students who are paying for an education are far more likely to put time and energy into their studies – this is the reason that the behavioral issues
2) The most useful of academic skills culminate at about 10th grade
For math, science, English and history, the 10th grade represents the summit of what students will actually use in their lifetime. The image of a student asking “Why do I have to learn this? I’m never going to use it!” is painful for teachers who know that the question rings with truth – they will not use much of what they will have to sit through in school, and furthermore, much of what they learn is causing them to miss out on learning things that will be far more useful once they leave school (i.e., practical life skills). If academic standards are actually being met, students will reach the basic level of needed academic skills in 10th grade – higher achieving students could be placed in advanced classes, and struggling students in lower ones, just as is already done in public schools.
3) Less time in school will result in a more mature populace
Students who have every need supplied to them from kindergarten through college are often shocked when they are thrown out into the world. This is why we have a crisis of unemployed, or at least underemployed, young people throughout our nation – when they finally get out of college they have not developed practical life skills and lack work experience. If parents and children both understand the impending end of school, they will be much more likely to invest in their futures earlier. Young people, as has been proven over and over, will rise to level of expectation – if faced with the real world, they will adapt and not lean on the State for their livelihoods, but instead contribute to society at large.
4) Telling students that they need to go to college to be successful hurts them and damages the economy
One of the greatest fibs told to students in the US through the education system is that they need to go to college to be successful in life. This is one of the underlying fallacies with the movement to make college tuition free. There is no guarantee of a job at the end of a college degree, and many majors actually damage a student’s chances of getting a job after college in a timely manner (for example: ethnic studies, art history, etc.). Additionally, there are many careers that pay well and are very fulfilling, but are grossly understaffed because young people are not encouraged to attend tech school or enter a trade, despite the fact that trades often represent fulfilling and stable work (carpentry, welding, metalwork, etc.).
5) The shrinking of the education system would provide a lessened tax burden and more investment into other educational venues
Private education, home education, expanded university programs, increased tech fields and schools, the K-10 public school system – these are just some of the areas that would be stimulated by dropping the burden of 11th and 12th grade, not to mention the increased investment into the economy at large because of the tax break.
This is a short list of ways that the US could benefit from abolishing the 11th and 12th grades. There would be, no doubt, a laundry list of issues that would arise from implementing a change such as this, and it would have to be done progressively, but could lend itself to great benefit for individual families, communities, states and the Nation at large.