I was writing newspaper columns all the way in the 1960s about how the college undergraduate curriculum of four years was basically what wealthy people decided arbitrarily centuries ago was the length of time they wanted their son (in those days) to be at school. And as we know, the summers off schedule was originally intended to allow students to work the fields during the busiest farm season.
One of the big disappointments for me in every administration, including the Obama one, is that no president or prominent political "leader" has presented a vision of an educational system based on present realities, not ones over a century old. From my own observations, as well as studies done more scientifically, it's clear that our public school system is failing too many students.
The pressures of testing that the No Child Left Behind law brought to schools, and their teachers and students, just added to what already was a growing problem. Some students are able to sit still at desks or do work that's fitted to tests that are also outmoded (as several experts have pointed out, the old education system we're still trying to somehow improve is based on the reality of governments and corporations needing people who could write clearly (i.e. good penmanship) do basic math and conform to a single idea of behavior and citizenship (basically compliant) but more and more cannot (and the pressure leads them to cutting, classes and in some cases themselves, and other behavior indicating a deep resistance to this outmoded system).
Why any student would have to lug a backpack full of books that give them backaches and posture problems when all the information in those books is online is not just a rhetorical question or an expression of my own frustration. It is a question so obviously answerable—they shouldn't—that all you can conclude is that textbook companies have an undue influence on school systems. (We all know the reality of a few of the most conservative school boards in Texas dictating the basic content of science textbooks used throughout the country etc.).
There's way too much information available to anyone nowadays, and we know how overwhelming that can be for young minds especially (all kinds of figures get thrown around, like a five-year-old pre-schooler has been exposed to more information in his life than all of humanity up until the 18th Century, etc. and even if not totally accurate they generally express the reality). What students need is ways to interpret and sort so much information into categories including what may be useful information and what may not, etc.
I would love it if President Obama had the vision to state clearly that our educational system is outmoded and should be entirely revised not just tinkered with to make it relevant to not just contemporary realities but future ones as far as they can be projected. And yes I know it would face opposition from every side, but that would at least lead to an open and serious debate about what measures to take to totally alter a centuries old system that is not working for too many students and is not helping any student prepare for present realities let alone future ones.
The opposition of so-called conservative Republicans to anything that threatens almost any corporate interest has made these times petty in terms of grand political visions, universal healthcare reduced to a way too complicated set of laws that incrementally alter some of the worst features of a for-profit health system, etc. The president can't even get a small tax raise for the wealthy that would still be much smaller than what the conservatives' supposed idol Reagan proposed, so how could he get passed anything on a grand scale?
Well, that's my point. Aim for the "best we know" is the idea, offer proposals that envision huge changes that will drag a centuries old system into the present, at least, and leave those reactionaries who cannot envision a present or future that goes against not just corporate interests but past realities that no longer exist, leave them scrambling to catch up as they are right now with non-white, female and younger citizens in so many areas.
Wouldn't it be great if Obama pulled a JFK and outlined a vision for a future educational system based on how children really learn in the internet age and called for the country to achieve it within the next decade as Kennedy did with his land-a-man-on-the-moon speech?