Structural & Systemic Reform: Four Issues of Education

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499A1 Bart Binning

“Structural & Systemic Reform: Four Issues of Education”

This article is a continuation of the theme of “Education Reform.” As background, see the two previous Rotary Reflections Articles: Education Reform: Part 1 — Reflections and Analysis ( and Education Reform: Part 2 – Suggestions to the Legislature (

Since the time of the 1990 Oklahoma Education Reform Act (HB 1017 – landmark legislation that was supposed to fix and fund the Oklahoma System of Education) and today’s SQ 779 (a constitutional amendment to dedicate a 1 cent sales tax to education) it would seem that we have been addressing symptoms rather than problems, as evidenced by Oklahoma’s continuing to be at the bottom of the states in terms of education achievement. Before dedicating additional funding to education, it is suggested that the Oklahoma System of Education needs structural and systemic reform; there are at least 4 issues to be discussed.

The first issue – it was suggested in the previous articles that the first step in the reform process is a re-evaluation of the purposes of education. As a beginning discussion point, it was suggested:

• for children: to create independent, self-reliant adults that have the knowledge and skills to sustain themselves and their families in a democratic society.
• for adults: to aid in the adult’s personal growth and development as well as their occupational and career preparedness, with the knowledge and skills to challenge and improve society’s social structure.
• for society: the purpose of graduate higher education is to “expand the body of knowledge.” Faculty are expected to do “research” as one mechanism for professional growth that seeks to ensure that faculty knows the “leading edge of knowledge” in their field.

In light of current events, especially recent terrorist attacks, it is suggested that we add another purpose of education:
 for society: the purpose of common education is to inculcate society’s values with our children.

I would submit that the education systems’ teaching of American values, civility, and morality was a major factor in the development of the American “melting-pot” – the molding of a dispirit group of immigrants from different countries with different cultures and languages.

During the previous millennium, most people received their education, first in the home, and then through apprenticeship programs. In Europe, the church was responsible for the common education all were expected to learn. The focus was reading, so that people could read the bible, and arithmetic, so that farmers could manage their farms. At puberty, around 13, children became small adults, leaving the home and entering apprentice programs to learn a trade. Only the nobility, and later the landed gentry, could afford a more formalized education.

The second issue involves life-time employment. The first European research universities, dating from the founding of the University of Bologna in 1088, were created, in part, to educate the clergy, and teach philosophy and the sciences. The original English universities, Oxford and Cambridge, started as an association of professors who were paid by their students for each lecture. By the 18th Century, the Germans’ had a bifurcated education profession, one for the nobility & clergy and the other for commerce (applied science). The princes of the German speaking states recognized that expanding the frontiers of knowledge (research) were the keys to economic prosperity. They also recognized that for the frontiers of knowledge to be expanded, a questioning of the status quo was needed – hense tenure was born. In exchange for lifetime employment, the best professors would be free to question the status quo which was necessary to expand the body of knowledge, resulting in a competitive advantage to the German Princes who were patrons of the education system.

In 1902, Arthur Haley noted in an article in The School Review that the American educational system was based on the German model. In that day, only primary education was compulsory and its aim was to furnish all its citizens, a universal foundation for their callings in life; technical education aimed to secure the necessary level of professional intelligence historically obtained in an apprentice program; secondary education aimed at something in excess of these necessary minima; with only a minority of the populace going to college afterward. To maintain academic freedom, which was considered essential to expand the body of knowledge, tenure was granted to the best and the brightest of the university professors, not all levels of the teaching profession.

The third issue involves education as a profession. I would submit that the activity of teaching today is not a classic profession. A true profession would have an ethics committee to enforce a code of ethics (this seems to be accomplished by a union contract and the “Standards of Performance and Conduct for Teachers”, which is part of the Department of Education’s Administrative Code ). A true profession has a duty to know the body of knowledge, and expand it (this is accomplished by legislatively mandated state certification, payroll bonuses, and accreditation standards for institutions and programs.) A true profession has a duty to protect the public (which is accomplished not by a professional organization, but by the State Department of Education and other elected school boards.) While there are many teachers who are great in the classroom, there are also many teachers who are not so great – and that is the problem. I would submit that without the development of a recognized teaching professional organization, similar to the legal, medical, accounting, real estate, etc., the properties of advancing an argument to remove legislature’s medling on the education process are slim. And electing educators to the legislature will not solve the problem.

Which brings us full circle to the purpose of education and what should be taught? – the fourth issue. Historically, there were things expected to be taught at home and through apprenticeships programs, taught by the church (later, public educating), and taught and universities. Our current education system is based on the needs of the Industrial Revolution which are different from our current Technological Revolution. In the Industrial Revolution model:

Taught at Home and through apprenticeship programs:
• Problem Solving / Conflict Resolution Skills (teaches how to behave, act, interact, follow rules, responsibility, etc.)
• Fairness vs. Justice
• Trust
• Skills of a trade, used to support a family for life

Taught by the Church (or later, public education)
• Reading, writing, mathematics
• Basic foundational knowledge
• History
• Rule of Law
• Local Language

Taught by Formalized Education (ex. University)
• Scientific method of discovery
• Foreign Languages
• Specialized knowledge (physics, chemistry, biology, music and the arts, economics/ sociology/ psychology, etc.)

Issues with the historic, traditional structure of education:
1. Today, not much is “taught at home and through apprenticeship programs,” which are almost non-existent; in general, institutions have not filled this void.
2. Western European civilizations tend to be based on individualism and individual ownership of property, especially the land. However, there is another group of civilizations based not on the individual or the Nation-State, but rather on tribes or clans.

It is arguable that the conflicts around cultures that are based on the individual, vs. the tribe or clan, are sources of significant problems today between American Indians, Tribes of South Sudan, Middle East, Africa, and other hot spots in the world today. For example, in the Middle East we see conflicts between Shea and Sunni branches of Islam, and between Islam and Christianity. However, it is suggested that tribal bonds between clans and tribes are stronger than religious ties.

Any thoughts? For the conclusion of this article, it would be nice if we could encourage discussion that would transform education in Oklahoma.

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