Articles are available for reprint as long as the author is acknowledged: Domenick J. Maglio Ph.D.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Free School" Mentality is Corrupting Public Education

Kids love to “do their own thing.” It may be studying to be a movie director in the sixth grade, talking or entertaining their friends, playing video games or chess, watching horror movies, reading Harry Potter or pretending to be an actress or the next “American Idol.” It has again become fashionable for educators to believe that students should be given the power to create part of or their entire curriculum to maximize their motivation. These notions date back to the “Free School” movement of the 1960s.

Free Schools have been encouraging children over the past 40 years to pursue their own interests. According to the proponents of this approach, by children doing what they desire, following their momentary passions, a high level of learning takes place. These schools empower students to have decision making powers on an equal level with administration to set policy through democratic meetings. Increasing student’s involvement in the administration of the school is supposed to create school harmony. Traditional grading cannot and does not have a purpose in this fluid learning environment. Students are the evaluators of their progress pleasing them and their parents.

These Utopian concepts have been accepted into the public school sector. In the Soviet Union children were placed in specific areas of study for the good of the state. Now in Florida and other states children in middle school are being required to choose actual majors of study before reaching any particular level of competency. This is done to try to increase student motivation.

Students are often encouraged by teachers to go in front of their local school boards to demand a relaxation of already pathetic dress codes or to support teachers who have been disciplined for their lack of fulfilling teaching obligations. Too many times students are informing their teachers what and how to teach with the tacit approval of the administration. Students have more power now than they have ever had in the public schools.

Appeasement of students and parents seems to be a guiding principle of many public schools. Since grades are difficult to assess and thought to be a means of motivation, schools have elevated them to make students and parents happy. Parent’s complaints of homework being a burden on their free time has resulted in schools cutting back on homework requirements.

Academic standards in reading, writing, spelling and math have been diluted. The milestones of memorizing times tables, grammar and historical facts have been ignored or postponed because it is difficult for children to endure the work of rote memorization.

Instead of focusing on skill development children are encouraged to live in their fantasy world. Required courses in history, geography and civics, knowledge required of citizens in a republic, have been dropped. This is to allow time for impressionable students to choose their latest fad career majors like those highlighted on TV such as CSI.

Educators have a primary responsibility to prepare students to be successful adults who are able to contribute to society. This means they have to have the necessary skills to compete successfully in life. Many necessary skills are not learned from natural fun seeking behavior of children but through tedious concentrated effort.

Success breeds success. As students master a certain level of competency in a certain area they are motivated by their success to go on to the next level. Reading, writing and arithmetic are basic skills that are not optional. They must be learned before one can realistically go on to higher education. Possessing these basic skills is necessary to continue the process of life long self-education.

In the short run children may be happy “doing their own thing” or being allowed to run the asylum (school). Although in the long run helping delay their instant gratification urge will enable them to function in a modern complex society. Students learning material that they cannot immediately appreciate is the antidote for young adults suffering the depression of dysfunction.

America needs strong, solid citizens who have the strength of character to face the challenges and sacrifices of life while contributing to others. It is the responsibility of our educational leaders to develop school environments fostering student competencies for the good of the individual as well as the good of a strong, honorable nation.

Public schools pandering to students by encouraging them to “do their own thing” is a prescription for a weak, pleasure-seeking and declining nation.



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