Core Problems in Education

The Hilton Head Institute is focusing on ways to communicate that identify the core underlying problems, explore and understand the full set of issues associated with those problems, and only then focus on solutions.  As Einstein said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.” Without a shared understanding of the problem, there can be no agreement on a workable solution. Without clarity of the issues, there is argument, polarization, and ineffectual communication.

The Hilton Head Institute Method sets forth a step-by-step process for addressing complex problems, looking at the myriad of conflicting needs, ideals, beliefs, facts, and most importantly, values, that underpin the difficult decisions and topics we discuss.

The first Salon on September 14th set the stage for identifying the underlying problems in Education in America today. Through robust and interactive engagement amongst participants, a few core problems and issues emerged.  We started the process with initial questions such as

  • Why do we educate our children?
  • Why do we need a strong education?
  • America is losing power/standing in the world, should we or can we resist? Does education assure our place in the world?
  • Is there malaise in education in our country?

Our discussions identified two complex problems that need to be addressed:

Problem # 1: Education is not providing what we need in public K-12 schools.

  • What constitutes an ‘equal’ education?
  • Every child deserves equal education but for multiple reasons is not receiving it.
  • The Public School System needs to work for every child.

Issue:  We observe that ‘equal education’ constitutes an underlying de facto assumption that each student has a home/family base that supports the child’s education by providing 1) adequate basic needs (food, clothing, shelter, support) for the child to thrive and attend school, and 2) basic adult supervision/assistance in completing homework and supporting school activities. In effect, there is an implied social contract with a) a child’s home/family, b) government (public school) and c) the child to work together to provide a basic educational outcome. Currently, we do not have universal agreement that this social contract exists or should exist. However, our education system acts as if this contract exists, whether it in fact exists or not.

Thus, the discussion needs to be broken down into two parts:

1.    Is it fair and right that a social contract among a) home/family, b) government (public school) and c) child exists?

2.    What, if anything, should be done if one party to the social contract does not fulfill its duties?

a.    If the home/family base does not provide the support necessary for a child to receive the ‘equal’ education provided

b.    If the public school does not provide ‘equal’ education even if the home/family base and child are supportive and willing

c.    If the child has individual issues that preclude him/her from receiving the education even if the child has support from home/family base and school

While is it clear it is the role of public schools to provide ‘equal’ education, whose role is it to ensure the child receives the education if the child cannot because

a.     The home/family base (often community based) to support the child is insufficient, or

b.    The child has individual issues that preclude him/her from receiving the education?

c.    The public school is not providing an ‘equal’ education for a multitude of reasons

Only once these three questions are answered can we identify and find possible solutions as to how to design, develop and provide ‘equal’ education by our public schools.

Problem #2: Do we need to restructure our approach to education?

  • Our world is rapidly changing; many traditional educational outcomes seem no longer needed. Automation replaces rote work, the Internet and social media replace rote knowledge; we need to constantly re-evaluate what is needed to teach our children to keep up with our changing world.
  • Our educational solutions should encompass different socio-economic perspectives as we define what we want from our education system
  • Do we want the same educational outcomes from the K-12 public education system as we do from our college public education system?

Issue: What is the shared vision for a minimal or standard of education in America?

Some examples of what a public educational system could provide are the following:

1.    Allows each child to explore his or her own potential

2.    Provides a ‘basic’ education that utilizes current standards of excellence in education that allows each child to:

a.    Leading a fulfilling life

b.    Understanding and thriving in our society

c.    Being productive in the workforce

d.    Beginning in an ‘equal playing field’

e.    Receiving comparative advantages that enable them to prosper in an interlinked international world

f.     Learning and learning to apply the collective wisdom from previous generations

Issue: What resources and sacrifices are we willing to make to ensure our shared vision is learned by our students?

Until we agree on a common set of problems, we cannot begin to determine and resolve the needed solutions.  Until we decide to educate all children and not just our own, how can we move forward?