Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of Guest Viewpoints from community members ahead of the Aug. 5 visit of author Jamie Vollmer.
We’ve all heard the saying “change is constant.” As the president and CEO of Barium Springs, I’m often asked, “Why isn’t Barium Springs an orphanage any longer?” I then ask them if they know of any institution or organization that is the same as they were 100, 50 or even 20 years ago. The same response can be made in regards to our schools.
It wasn’t until I read the book "Schools Cannot Do It Alone," by Jamie Vollmer, that I began to understand change is constant, but if you are trying to change inside a system that is flawed, your chance for lasting success is unrealistic.
Vollmer is an attorney and very successful businessman who was a sharp critic of the public school system. However, after diving deeper trying to understand schools, he came to understand that schools are still trying to educate within a system that was designed to sort young people into two groups: a small handful of leaders and a great mass of doers.
The school systems were developed to operate as education factories with rigid structuring of time and specific units of knowledge. The selection process became more advanced through the introduction of standardized tests — which worked very well when we were primarily a manufacturing society that relied on a workforce that was mostly made up of doers.
This system can still produce positive results. However, our public schools are increasingly graduating more children in more subjects to higher levels. And, employers are constantly saying that graduates are not prepared to be successful for their environments.
One of the great promises of the public school system is that all children, regardless of race, religion, disability or socio-economic status, are given an opportunity to be educated. Also, because of those differences, children come to the school system at different points in their readiness to be educated. We also need to understand how culture, disability, trauma (physical and emotional) and economics affect a child in their ability to be prepared to be educated.
We need to take a step back and realize the complexities our schools face in understanding the needs of the children who go to them. Then, we need to understand our schools are trying to educate students within a system that has not adapted to what the present and future workforce needs. It is really quite remarkable what success they have been able to accomplish.
Vollmer coined the term “nostesia,” which he defined as a combination of nostalgia and amnesia when folks think about public schools. While putting our “nostesia” aside for what we remember about public schools, we as a community have a responsibility to come together to discuss, debate and change our public school system. Change is constant and the children in our community deserve to have an education system that prepares them for what the world will need to be successful.