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How to Fix the U.S. Educational System For Good
April 15, 2003
by Stephan Finch

Everybody's always going on and on about how to fix the U.S. education system. The teachers want to get students to work harder and score higher on tests. Meanwhile, kids hate going to school and complain about how boring it is. Here's my solution: Pay the students.

That's right. Because most of the problem here is that these kids are being asked to work their asses off without any compensation. And working without pay sucks. Every minute you're working for free is one spent sinking into the quagmire of debt and defeat. You're just that much farther away from those happy places we call record stores.

Think school isn't work? You and I must have gone to different schools. All I remember is being forced out the door under threat of punishment, the dreary 15 minute walks in the rain, then the seemingly endless series of inane, 45-minute "lectures."

Lectures! Let's set aside for a moment the matter of a few teachers being, let's face it, people who weren't clever enough to become doctors or entertaining enough to become game show hosts. Let's just focus on the matter of lectures. Lectures suck, and yet we expect our children to sit in hilariously uncomfortable wooden chairs and endure lectures smilingly, without pay.

"Nobody likes being lectured." I'll bet that in all the arguments you've ever had with your wife, boss, barber or state-mandated therapist, you've said that at least once. You spoke the truth. The fact is, people abhor being lectured so much that, outside of school, the lecture doesn't exist as a learning tool. PBS is "educational." But how often do you see a guy just standing there on the television talking in front of a blackboard, yammering away?

I'm a journalist. And what I don't know could fill a library. Dozens of them, in fact. Just about every day, somebody has to teach me something. Never once has somebody said, "Do you mind if I lecture you on this?" And what about you? Have you ever gone to your local bookstore and dashed excitedly past the literature and new nonfiction and personal health sections to see what was new in the "lectures" section?

Yes, the necessary evil of the schoolroom lecture seems to be here with us to stay. But let's recognize it for the horror that it is. One definition of a job is anything that you wouldn't agree to do without being paid, and almost nobody is willing to pay for a lecture. Oh sure, a lot of people pay to go to college. And some people take a few classes after they've graduated, learn a thing or two about pottery or finger-picking guitar or even medieval history. But have you ever noticed how people tend only to sign up for classes in subjects that actually interest them or that they think will lead to higher-paying jobs? Bad enough the subject is boring or useless in the marketplace, but add the burden of having to have it presented in lecture form. Ugh!

So how would paying students work? It could be simple. Every kid would get paid, with high-scoring kids getting higher salaries. No more after-school jobs, so more time for homework, family, hockey and violin lessons. Kids who weren't book-smart wouldn't be left behind: They could earn small bonuses for staying out of detention, serving on student council and joining the Key Club. (By the way, there's be no pay for sports. Sports are fun. Key Club, student council and good behavior aren't.)

Don't think we can afford it? Fine, revert to a more draconian system, where low-scoring kids are forced to pay fines and those go to fund the salaries of the high-scoring kids. That would be a revenue-neutral system. Or better yet, use the revenues from the forced-labor goods made in prisons to pay off all the kids going to high school.

Because let's face it, right now it's the other way around: Schools feel like a forced-labor prisons and turn out to many bored, unlearned kids. No wonder so many of them end up in real prisons, where nobody gets paid but everybody spends a lot of time making cheap furniture or license plates or watching television, reading and lifting weights.

Which brings up another idea: Maybe the way to keep people out of prison is to lecture them all day.

(Stephan Finch is a volunteer staff writer for 2 Walls Webzine)

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