What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society. – Carmelite Father Eduardo Agosta Scarel
Although the above quotation is meant to address how we will tackle climate change, it felt quite relevant to how we might, as a society, tackle the issue of a failing educational system. The educational system, whether it be the public schools, charter schools, or higher-education institutions like universities, colleges, and community colleges, is in dire need of reform. Unfortunately, like all problems in pluralist, democratic countries such as the United States, reform is rather cumbersome. Everyone has a voice, including corporate interests. This is a problem. With the twenty-first century here, unfurling its banners of interdependency, globalization, and unrelenting capitalism development, American students aren’t prepared for what is going to take hold of this century. They are not prepared for the dislocations that are likely to take place. They are not prepared to be adaptive, innovation thinkers and pursuers. They are no longer curious about the world around them. Instead, they are simply filling seats, drained of creative energies, seeking the “A” and a “piece of paper,” instead of knowledge and skills that will ensure their future successes.
One of the many solutions to America’s educational problems has been to offer private, sometimes for-profit, alternatives to the public education system. However, as we’ve seen with Corinthian College, and others, the for-profit model is complete garbage. Instead of producing adaptive, innovation thinkers and seekers, who are curious and creative, they have produced students overburdened with student debts. The charters schools in the public education world, which straddle private and public education models, have proven just as bankrupt as the for-profit models.
Another solution that often gets dragged around is disinvestment of colleges and universities, even public schools, within states that need dire educational reform. In fact, the state of New Mexico, prior to the recent election of Michelle Lujan, decided to put higher-education, which had already been on the chopping block budget-wise for nearly a decade, on the sacrificial altar of conservatism’s wet-dream of smaller government, fewer taxes, etc. In the end, the push to completely disinvest colleges and universities failed, because institutions of higher learning had tremendous support amongst the public and members of the state legislature.
The third option is probably the most problematic, as it establishes a system that is beholden to Big Tech interests and forces the colleges, universities, community colleges, and other public schools to spend ungodly amounts of money on technology they just don’t need. This option touts that technology, whether hardware and/or software, is the end-all solution to America’s educational systems’ existential crises.
Technology is touted as a way to ensure teachers can have standardized and personalized lessons for their students. VR and AR promise to offer students more hands-on experiences, especially in those fields where this is a dire need (think: computer repair, art, automotive technology, etc.). Laptops, tablets, and smartphones promise to be a flexible model for learning in environments where students can move, collaborate with one another, and disseminate information among like devices.
Although technology will certainly make teachers’ jobs easier, to a point, technology won’t solve all our educational problems in the United States. How do computers and software solve issues pertaining to sexual assault, sexual abuse, mental health, food insecurity, income insecurity, rising prices in housing, and so (so) much more? The thing is, technology can’t solve all these issues alone. Technology, along with serious structural reforms, are needed to ensure that the educational apocalypse facing the United States’ educational system.
Reforms will need to find way to allocate resources instead of enacting punitive measures against those schools that fail. Reforms will need to address pressures facing students of all ages in the twenty-first century. Reforms will need to take on the very economic incentives that are producing an environment that is no longer conducive to learning. Overall, we will need to challenge the status quo, and we will need to perform some serious reforms on the structural level. The problem is, who will take this on?