It’s Not Rocket Science

by Tammy Drennan

Education is critical for many reasons – creating clear thinkers and confident, self-directed individuals, career success, bettering the world.

But guess what? It’s not rocket science.

Theoretically, it is rocket science. Economically, it is rocket science. Politically, it is rocket science. The many-faceted education industry needs education to be rocket science. If it’s not, they’re doomed.

Well, it’s not. But that’s a fact buried so deep and covered in so much unmentionable stuff, that millions of parents are prevented from taking their kids back by sheer, innocent ignorance.

Before Clara Barton made a name for herself taking care of soldiers during the Civil War, she was a teacher – without any training!! Not only was she a teacher, she started schools. She succeeded where everyone said she couldn’t.

Ms. Barton started a school at a factory. Her students – over 70 of them – ranged from 4-year-olds (no they weren’t working in the factory) to adults. They spoke numerous languages. Many didn’t know how to read. Before long, the town folks were coming weekly to listen to the students’ dramatic readings. Clara was the only teacher.

When Clara moved to New Jersey and discovered, in her daily walks, aimless boys hanging out on the streets, she found a building and secured a few basics, including maps, and invited the young men to come learn. She was told she would fail. She did not – she succeeded fabulously. At first, a few boys trickled in and soon word spread – this lady was talking about things that mattered – the world, government, history, literature, and she listened, too. The impromptu school outgrew its building. Clara was the only teacher.

Benjamin Franklin, with two years of schooling under his belt, was reading Plutarch’s Lives at age nine. Thomas Edison’s mom pulled him out of school after just three months and let him blow things up in the basement. Abraham Lincoln learned on his own, with borrowed books, by candlelight after long days of hard labor – he became a lawyer and then president. Black inventor Granville Woods, owner of 50+ patents, quit school at 10 and had to borrow books from friends, because he wasn’t allowed in the public library. Booker T. Washington taught himself to read as a child. Frederick Douglass taught himself to read and at age 12 was teaching other slaves to read. And whatever you might think of him, Malcolm X copied every word and definition from a dictionary when he was in prison in an effort to improve his vocabulary.

The list could go on and on and on. Patrick Henry, Charles Dickens, Andrew Carnegie, Michael Faraday.

Jack London dropped out of school at the age of 14 and educated himself in public libraries. Louis L’Amour left school at 15 and read his way through the classics while riding with hobos in boxcars, traveling from one itinerant job to another. A list of self-educated women would be long, indeed!

I’d like to clarify one thing. While education is not rocket science, it is hard work. It takes discipline. It takes commitment. In compelling students to learn things in twisted, complicated, testable ways, you rob them of the very skills that promote real education – discipline and commitment. Those two key elements of all successful living are replaced with prizes (good grades) and threats (bad grades), and one of the most wonderful, beautiful things about being human is reduced to a game of cats and mice to see who can profit the most from the wholesale theft of children’s minds and lives.

I could do the usual caveat here: So many dedicated teachers, so many people in the system who mean well. You know the drill and you know there’s an element of truth to it. It’s always nice to acknowledge that there are good people in bad systems. But it doesn’t change the fact that the victims of the system are still victims – and it doesn’t have to be that way.

The situation is far beyond reform of the system, and it’s amazing, truly amazing, that reformers can’t see it. A discussion about creating new options is fodder for another post. For now, every parent who can choose a better way for his or her children should. Every person who can help a parent should. Every person who can encourage a parent should. Every person who can create an alternative should. Every person who can plant the idea of a better way in a parent’s mind should.

Not all solutions have to be huge, earth-shaking, high-profile, well-funded programs. Today is the day to free a child to embrace his or her own education and fly with it.


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