2.7. Why Our Educational System Is Set up to Fail

At a very time when more investment is needed, to cope with greater, more diverse needs…we’ve instead had massive disinvestment.

What’s the point of an education?

What’s the point of our mass education system?

Ask a teacher, and they’ll tell you it’s to teach kids how to think. To help all children, regardless of their background, fulfill their potential and acquire the skills they need to succeed.

But that’s not really what our educational system is set up to do.

Mass education came about in the Industrial Revolution, to give kids something better to do while their parents went to work than running around on the streets…or going to work with them, and getting their hand cut off in a factory.

It was set up like an assembly line, as if every kid will have the same needs at the same time, and respond in the same way to the same kinds of instruction.

It was pretty modest at first. But it’s grown enormously, thanks to our booming population and the problem of credential inflation.

Credential inflation works just like inflation does with money. The same way prices go up over time, the credentials you need to get a good job are getting greater and more complicated.

Jobs that used to only require a high school degree now require a college degree. Jobs that used to require a college degree now require a graduate degree.

So people need to spend more time and more money in the educational system, just to be able to make a decent living when they’re done.

The more people you have, and the longer they have to stay in the system…the more challenges you’re going to have to deal with, if you want to achieve the goal of getting every kid through successfully, without leaving any behind.

What do you do with immigrants who don’t speak English well? What do you do with people who have disabilities? What do you do with a divorced mother of three in her 40s, who works full time as she’s trying to get her degree?

Education is like a magnet for all our social hopes, needs, demands, and dreams.

Whatever we can’t provide or fix in the rest of our society, we expect the schools to do for us. And then we become upset and critical when these overwhelmed, underresourced places can’t live up to those impossible expectations.

Unfortunately, at the very time when more investment is needed, to cope with these diverse needs…we’ve instead had massive disinvestment.

We’ve set up a vicious cycle, where funding has been slashed, and then performance suffers…and then that declining performance is used as justification for slashing funds even further.

This isn’t a sustainable system. Credential inflation isn’t going to stop. And impoverished kids and people with unique needs are still going to be left behind, as long as schools are set up like assembly lines.

If the goal of an education is to give kids something to do while their parents go to work, and give employers some arbitrary numbers and pieces of paper to help them determine who to hire…then this system works fine.

But if the real goal is to give everyone a fair shot at success, and help everyone reach their potential…there needs to be some big changes.


This is the 35th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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