Suddenly, An Opportunity to Rethink Government Education

At least 33 states have ordered or recommended that government schools stay shut down through the end of the year. This sweeping decision, like others in the Great Coronavirus Suspension, will cause problems seen and unseen. Many grandparents, for instance, will become childcare providers of last resort, exposing a very vulnerable population to the threat of infection.

Whether or not this is a good strategy for fighting COVID-19 remains to be seen. But parents across the nation have suddenly been left wholly responsible for the education of their children. They have also been thrust, headlong, into a regimented government school system of dictates, procedures, and curriculum. It doesn’t make much sense. Many are waking up, asking: Is this really the best way to teach our children?

Is this an opportunity to have an important conversation about the failures of government schooling? We think so.

Getting education right matters.

That’s why in the United States we spend more money per child on K through 12 education than any other developed country in the world. Yet, year after year, the quality of education outcomes in the US ranks lower than in most other major countries.

Everyone seems to agree on the goals: we want children to grow and flourish. Almost everyone also agrees that we are not doing a very good job, because too many are being left behind. These failings have become all too obvious in the midst of this pandemic and the government response to it.

Our education system may well look dramatically different in the wake of this pandemic, as it did in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. We see an opportunity to rethink the whole system, from the bottom up. Many parents, overwhelmed, have entered the virtual marketplace of ideas, looking for alternative content and alternative ways to educate. They are self-quarantined, managing daily lesson plans, and looking for the ideas and tools to fix their children’s education, right now.

So Free the People has released a special new “teaching” video: “Let’s Talk About… Education.”

“Public” education just sounds so wholesome, doesn’t it? It invokes Norman Rockwell’s image from a bygone era: eager young faces fixed on the teacher, open eyes and ears soaking up knowledge. But is it really? Government, after all, decided to close the schools. It decides what subjects are taught and which books are used to teach them. Government even dictates which school your children are allowed to attend, regardless of how well you think that school provides a learning environment. People, particularly parents, have little say.

Each of us wants “the very best” education for our children, to offer every eager young mind the opportunity to learn, to pursue knowledge, to think critically, and to develop the ability to solve problems. A successful education provides students the freedom, and the tools, they need to grow and develop their personal interests and abilities. You know, those things that they need to succeed in life.

The key to getting education right is understanding that each child is unique and special; each with individual hopes, dreams, interests, and abilities. When talking about education, we are talking about all of the ways that we can help one child at a time discover their path to flourishing in adult life.

Think about the people that make up a thriving community. Each contributing member is unique, with different interests and abilities, even possessing special, personal knowledge that only she knows for sure. Together, the sum total of our individual abilities add up to so much more than any one of us might accomplish alone. When communities tap into these special, personal attributes, beautiful things happen.

By government mandate, every parent is a homeschooler now. And parents are getting a real-time education in a rigid, stressful, one-size-fits-all system that simply cannot serve the individual needs and talents of their children. Is it possible that government schooling (like just about everything else) has been irreparably disrupted?

Defenders of the government school monopoly certainly seem to think so, already lobbying for more regimentation and an extended annual school year to “repair the damage” done by parents during this shutdown. By all means, let’s have that conversation. Parents are focused and looking for something better. So, Let’s Talk About… Education.

Terry Kibbe is co-founder and chief executive officer of Free the People, an educational foundation reaching young people with stories about freedom, community and disruptive innovation. Free the People goes upstream of politics, using pop culture, video, comedy, art and narrative to tell tales of liberty. She is also co-founder and partner at Fight the Power Productions, a strategic communications firm focused on video production, social media branding and distribution, and compelling storytelling. She will be speaking at FreedomFest, “the  world’s largest gathering of free minds,” July 13-16, Paris Resort Las Vegas.