Our Schools Really Are Failing, but Not How You Think

Over the last several years, the efforts of most education reformers have been largely focused on opposition to Common Core standards. This is indeed a worthy goal, but sometimes it pays to take a step back to avoid missing the forest for the trees. Common Core is a symptom of a larger disease, a disease that affects the way we think about education as a whole. Let us not delude ourselves by thinking that ending Common Core alone will suddenly solve all the problems with American schooling.

Too often, we get locked into accepting the premise we are presented with, feeling no need to question it. The problem, we are told, is that test scores are too low; the solution is smaller class size, more money, better curricula. In fact, the common understanding of both the problems and the solutions in American education is badly flawed.

The mantra of education policy is well known, even to those who don’t really follow politics or the news. “Our schools are failing.” This phrase has been repeated so often and for so long that one is forced to wonder whether there was ever a time when they weren’t failing, or if we even have a clear vision of what success would look like. Or we might wonder whether schools are really failing at all, or if this is just a talking point used as an excuse to secure more funding and a greater role in national policy conversations. There’s some degree of truth in both statements, but not in the way you might think.

Schools are failing, failing to recognize and encourage creativity, individualism, self-direction, independence, and basic curiosity. Where schools succeed, it is in instilling conformity, boredom, indifference, and obedience into the population. There has to be a better way.