Beth Ann Krier's report of Jerry Brown's "Schools of the Future" conference (Dec. 28) suggests we are still a long way from getting at the core of our national "education problem." While such groups and events can focus much-needed attention on the need to reorient our notions of learning, education and the environments in which these processes take place, they tend to focus attention on the wrong things first.
For example, attention usually focuses on the dazzle and promise of computers and new high-tech schools. While these tools can certainly bring about needed improvements, their proposed applications aren't guided by a clear, comprehensible master plan for making best use of our greatest national resource--ourselves.
One of the reasons that education (meaning the formalized system for causing learning to happen) has failed to evolve to meet the challenges of a fast-changing environment is that there has been no regular and systematic rethinking of the needs for learning in our society. The kinds of knowledge and skills required to be a successful participant in the fast-moving civilization we can envision for the future are different than those of the machine age, when our current concepts of formal education were institutionalized. This alone would seem to suggest the need for vastly different kinds of learning--an emphasis on the process and tools of learning, for example, and the development of skill in applying these to many different kinds of situations.
For high-powered groups such as Brown's Commission on Industrial Innovation to be truly effective at "redefining the modern concept of education," they must begin at the beginning. Otherwise they will continue to add more patches to the already ragged crazy-quilt of structured education in this country.
Where to start? Reality may be a good place. As a business owner, I have hired and trained many so-called "well-educated" graduates of our educational system who were successful in school but grossly unprepared for the complex realities of working for a living. This suggests a lack of "user-orientation" (business is certainly the largest user of our education system's product). If this education was like other products and performed so poorly, we would all demand our money back. I am convinced we can and must do much better, but we must begin at the beginning for a change.
Let's encourage Brown's beribboned commission to roll up their sleeves and dig a little deeper before launching a full barrage of half-solutions at only part of the complex "education problem." Nothing less than the future of the nation is at stake. And with stakes so high, let's also encourage private enterprise involvement: Expecting government to successfully design a new high-performance educational system runs contrary to reality. After all, bureaucracy built the one we've got.
E. TODD ELLISON