American schools have served many functions that are beyond teaching students. They’re day cares, sports training camps, social hang outs and dating sites. But, are our K-12 public schools really the most efficient places, or ways, for all these things to occur?
K-12 schools are also the sites of bullying and countless other social problems, drug abuse and alcohol exposure, mass shootings, and power struggles between youth with addictions, behavioral or emotional problems, parents who have their own similar problems or simply don’t value the service, and teachers too burnt out or ill-equipped to handle the challenges they present.
So, I have a proposal for American schools in the 21st Century.
First, change the ages mandatory public education targets, from youth aged 5-18 (K-12) to those aged 3-15 (preschool-9th grade, the new K-11).
- Young children’s brains are doing the most growth and are open to learning.
- It is easier to keep schools secure and drug free for younger children than it is for teens.
- “School” for young children can focus on things like getting along with others, how to pay attention, having fun and being active. This sort of training prepares youth to both enjoy school and know how to listen and learn so they can later master academic material. Many youth come into kindergarten now without these skills. Head Starts have done a lot of work with this population and could merge with the public school system to include all children.
- Young children and their parents tend to be much more engaged in school than are teens and their families (attend a parent night at a high school and then grade school for comparison). Parent support is a huge factor in school success.
- Working parents need child care when their children are young. Our current age division may work for stay at home moms, but a huge percent of families can’t afford to do that.
- When families are chaotic, young children benefit hugely from being in the safe, securely supervised settings early childhood education programs can provide.
- Older youth want experiences away from adult supervision as they are in the normal developmental process of individuation and are getting ready to emancipate into the adult world. Though many get into trouble on their own, trying to control them through a tax payer funded enterprise also repeatedly exposes those who don’t get in trouble to the dangerous behavior of their peers.
- As mandatory education would end at age 15, no students would be drivers. This saves on parking, cuts down on absentee opportunities, and also increases safety.
- Instead of advanced subject material (which are only of interest to those on a college track), good citizenship classes should be mandatory for all seniors (now 9th graders) including civics, basic parent education, safety skills/risk management, trauma healing skills, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, personal finance, and communication skills.
- Many older teens now are simply holding spaces in classrooms, not learning much of anything, and completely uninterested. The high school experience for these teens is a waste of time and that would be eliminated.
- To keep schools safer and authority lines clear, no older teens should be students in public school settings.
- Many of our youth are graduating now with only middle school, or even grade school, level achievement. No child should continue to advance who doesn’t understand the work they are doing unless they are in a special education program, which would have to expand to accommodate them. Grade school children who are struggling with basic skills would be assigned a community service worker (see next section) for one on one tutoring so that they won’t fall through the cracks.
- Middle schools would use a high school education model in that students would have to repeat acore classes until they pass them, vs move forward based on entire grade. Therefore, students could be in 9th grade English and 6th grade math. Students gifted in some subjects could take online college prep or community college classes early while completing the rest of their mandatory education classes.
- In order to receive free community college, athletics, arts, or trade education, all graduates must complete at least 48 weeks of (24 hours a week perhaps to allow time for some other continued skill development such as music or sports?) community service. (Perhaps those going on to further education after community college graduation could do another year to pay for that as well). This would be an option to keep youth busy and engaged, learning work readiness skills, perform tasks society can’t currently can’t afford, and occur during their (typically) 15 or 16th year. Youth with behavior problems will be dropped from the program though welcome to return to try again the following year. Students placements will include:
- Forest Service (cleaning trails and underbrush to reduce fire danger and improve trails and outdoor recreation)
- Preschool and grade schools: one on one help to provide youth with individualized attention and increase their social skills, reading, etc.
- Beautification projects: City and other clean ups, recycling efforts
- Disaster relief efforts
- Nursing homes: reading to elders, help with feeding and being friendly visitors
- Community agencies, business and trade volunteers: developing other skills in smaller settings.
Free Online School
- Anyone will be able to access online education to supplement their regular schooling or get them to the academic level needed for community college if they didn’t get it in school before aging out.
- Students would visit community colleges well before graduation and know all the options available to them (7th grade?).
- Comprehensive vo-tech options will be offered and need to be treated with as much respect as academic tracks. They wil be readily available and be well promoted.
- Community colleges will have competitive athletic programs for students who have the skills/talent needed to earn spots on teams. Other fitness programs will continue to be offered for those interested in noncompetitive fitness (weights, yoga, spin classes, running clubs, etc).
- Disrespectful behavior, lack of organization, or other problems presented by youth entering the community college system need not be tolerated. Youth will be dropped when not ready and encouraged to return at a later date to try again.
Rights for Graduates: Giving graduates more adult rights is a great incentive.
- All graduates, having passed civics, should be able to vote.
- Emancipation from parental control for any graduate, with or without parental approval, who is doing community service and college or employed. Most youth benefit financially and relationally from living with their parents and this would continue to be the norm for these reasons. But, youth who are in difficult home situations would have a legal way out that could save them from homelessness, abuse, depression, addictions or other troubles that can stem from suffering through difficult or untenable situations at home. Many youth are loyal to their families and would not want to disclose the reasons they want to leave, so this allows both youth and their parents to save face and maintain their connection without the need to go through ugly scenes to separate. Also, facing more adult responsibilities sooner could help the lazy and entitled become more accountable.
- Eliminate age based criminal offenses for graduates such as statutory rape and MIPs. Sexual safety will be taught before youth graduate and should be a focus of parents. Though there are sexual predators who prey on young girls, it is also true that many teen girls pursue young men for relationship purposes themselves. Labeling a 21 year old as a sex offender for being in a relationship with a 16 year old is an overreaction that stigmatizes the young man and shames the girl. Unwanted sexual advances by anyone are already classified sexual harassment or rape, and this is enough protection for 15-16 year olds as well. Though MIPs could be eliminated for graduates, young people still won’t be able to purchase mind altering substances till they are 21.