While there is much controversy around education reform today, it is generally assumed by all parties that the education of the younger generation plays an instrumental role in determining what people are capable of thinking, feeling, and doing as individuals, a society, a nation, and a human race. Controversy ensues when considering not only what and how children should learn, but just as importantly, who should be determining education policy.

With the push for uniform common core learning standards and associated high stakes testing, the federal and state governments have begun to treat education as a business enterprise. In the process, these two levels of government, led by their executive branches, have assumed the authority to determine for every child what is most worth learning and doing in life.

Practically speaking, this has led not only to uniform learning standards and tests but also to the narrowing and standardizing of thinking itself, as exhibited by the types of questions that are asked on the Common Core aligned tests in math and English language arts tests. Even the scoring method requires all students to learn and think in the same way in order to succeed in the tests.

The justification and motivation for this unprecedented government intervention in education, which received a major boost by 1983 Nation at Risk report,(1) was the view that the mediocre state of American education is the main reason America is in danger of losing its position as the most powerful economic force in the global economy. This in turn poses a threat to American domestic security and way of life.

Beginning with George H.W. Bush’s presidential administration and his America 2000 education reform proposals, federal and state executives have openly sought financial support and strategic guidance for education policy reforms from the business sector, primarily from the CEOs who are members of the national Business Roundtable, the most powerful business lobby group in the U.S.(2) Not surprisingly, economic thinking, methods, and goals have become the foundation for government education reform efforts. Competition, for-profit privatization, and an appeal to self-interested behavior and personal profit all figure in the reform strategies.

The Common Core Standards Initiative mission statement asserts that nationally aligned standards will ensure American students’ success in college and careers, and that they will be “fully prepared for the future,” which in turn will enable our communities “to best compete in the global economy.”(3) This is a problematic statement on two levels. The first is that the economy is changing at a rate never experienced before in human history. It is unreasonable to think that we can fully prepare students by beginning to train them in kindergarten for jobs ten to fifteen years later.

Second, common core education reforms treat the economy and its requirements as more important than our democratic institutions and cultural life. This is deeply troubling when considering the fact that our current economic system, even acknowledging its many benefits to humanity, is now a major contributor to crises in virtually every aspect of modern life, including financial, political, and environmental. Collectively, these crises suggest that we are headed toward even more challenging times if we do not make systemic societal changes based on new ways of thinking.

If nothing else, these rapidly-changing conditions and multiple crises call for a well-rounded education that fosters a child’s innate capacities not just to face and fit into the conditions created by previous generations, but to create something new, different, and better than what we have now. There are many indications that the younger generation is already working toward a more caring, just, and regenerative society through thousands of social movements throughout the world, although mainstream media gives them little attention.(4)

This regeneration of society by the younger generations is what Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. president, and Rudolf Steiner, founder of Waldorf education, advocated. In his letter to James Madison quoted above, (5) Jefferson explained why each generation should not be burdened with political structures and financial debts created by previous generations. Jefferson did not present these ideas as mere philosophical beliefs, but used them to suggest practical ways to work with money, debt, and the forming of new constitutions.

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, also quoted above, extends these thoughts to the field of education, by suggesting that we adults have an obligation to provide all children an equal opportunity to an education that supports the development of their innate capacities to the fullest. (6) In addition to educating the rising generation to the practical realities of life, we need to help them develop faculties to determine for themselves as individuals and as a generation what thoughts and social structures are worth keeping, and not simply train them to conform to the status quo. Furthermore, we need to stimulate their imagination and an innovative capacity that can bring perpetually renewing social forces to all aspects of society: cultural, political, and economic.

“What does the human being need to know and be able to do for the social order that now exists, but rather; What capacities are latent in this human being, and what lies within that can be developed? Then it will be possible to bring ever new forces into the social order from the rising generations.” (7)

One way to start doing this is to stop blaming teachers for all the problems in our education system. Rather, we need to elevate the best educators to a position of having the determinative say in education policy, and empower them to develop ways to access the combined wisdom and good will of all dedicated teachers on an ongoing basis. These teachers will then be in an optimum position to instill the rising generation of children with the necessary capacities to change the world for the better, not just fit into it.

1  For more on the Nation at Risk report, go to https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/risk.html
2  For more on the Business Roundtable, visit: http://businessroundtable.org/.
3  See: Common Core Mission Statement at:
http://www.uwosh.edu/coehs/cmagproject/common_core/documents/CC_Standards_Myths.pdf.
4  See: Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being, and Why No One Saw It Coming by Paul Hawkens. Published by Viking Press, 2007.
5 “Letter to James Madison,” September 6, 1789. Available from http://teachingamericanhistory.org/
6 Rudolf Steiner, “The Threefold Social Order and Educational Freedom,” 1921. From The Renewal of the Social Organism, Anthroposophic Press, 1985.
7 Rudolf Steiner, same as the previous endnote.

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