On Becoming an Education Reform Vigilante

As a ten or eleven-year old kid, I went on a trip to Colorado’s State Capitol with our school’s PTA to help lobby for education funding. All the kids who went signed up to speak with one of our senators. Nervous, I approached a hard-eyed man who looked down at me, obviously annoyed at having to talk to a child. His attitude said I was clearly wasting his time, and when I asked him why my science class had to share a set of books, I could see he was mentally rolling his eyes. Frowning, he replied, “My dear, we have to build roads, and there just isn’t enough money for you to have your own book.” As a child obsessed with reading, I found his attitude irresponsible and idiotic. My primary and secondary education would’ve been terribly stunted if my mother hadn’t taken us to the library every week.

My experience in the public education system is one of millions, yet almost everyone I know could easily complain about their primary and secondary public educations in some way. Still, this is nothing new. We’ve known that the American education system, while not failing entirely, has not been providing the best tools to younger generations for quite a while. As a country, our young people test somewhere in the middle of the rest of the educated world, and this problem, unless corrected, will continue to affect American economic development negatively.

Everyone likes to talk about education reform, but the conversations never seem to go anywhere. Eric Hanushek discusses this issue briefly in commentary on YouTube. He states that education is a tricky subject to analyze because we don’t really have very much useful data. Data, or lack of data, has become a huge issue in the education debate, and even multinational conglomerates like Pearson, whose curriculum and assessments are currently being used in New York, have begun chanting this mantra. Pearson is simply the best-known example of several corporations interested in making money off education reform worldwide.

Statistical analysis only carries one so far, however. Many dedicated to education reform want more data because education has become a highly politicized topic. We have two strong political parties that won’t be able to actually address the issue in a logical, rational manner without statistics and data. Even then, any true political movement on the issue would probably stall. In essence, Hanushek realizes that information can help depoliticize the issue. Indeed, many hopefuls believe people will put aside political ideas when they see more data. Data will magically allow all of us to work together to create education reform, which of course will be instituted from the top-down.

Instead of buying into this fantasy, we have to see the facts: our educational system won’t change unless the people actually get behind the idea wholeheartedly. Bureaucracy and corruption infest the entire American governmental apparatus, so we, the people, need to be realistic. We must understand that until we institute checks on government officials, we can’t actually expect any useful top-down change to occur. Our politicians answer to the folks who have the kind of money to win elections. Accordingly, the people at the top, the ones with all that money, like our system just fine, I’m sure.

Instead of expecting change from Congress or the President, average American citizens (us) have to mobilize support for education change. We don’t need to actually rise up and take arms as we sing marching songs all the way to the Capitol. We simply need to put enough pressure on local corporations, education bureaucracy, and political leadership to force the issue in our respective areas. Really, proponents need to embark upon an Obama-election-style campaign, but instead of using the system to elect one individual, they could use it to build support for serious education reform nationwide.

Of course, corporations like Pearson are already trying to ramp up the education reform hype on YouTube and other social media. For instance, Henry De Sio discusses one Obama election and how effective it was in a Pearson YouTube interview with Sir Michael Barber. People rushed to support Obama because he made his message real to people who had not yet bought into the political process. Inspired by this model, Pearson seems to be interested in getting the world’s population behind their own educational ideals. While many concepts in their marketing videos seem fun and exciting, they have yet to actually engender much grassroots support for real reform in America.

Indeed, I found many more articles that bash Pearson for compromising testing procedures and propagating the evils of Common Core Standards. In essence, many argue that Pearson desires a monopoly on the education market by controlling testing and curriculum. Those who do want education reform say that Pearson isn’t giving us the right kind of reform. Those against education reform claim that all freedom is slowly being leached from our classrooms via large corporations like Pearson who are commoditizing education.

GrassrootsWhether we agree with these assessments or not, the fact remains. Education reform requires support from the population. Without an engaged population, change rarely occurs. When it comes to any kind of social reform, the first part of any campaign for change begins with a few basic steps. As individuals, we can work to create positive change every day. We can critique the system and work together to find adequate solutions. Those desiring reform need to unite behind a message, communicate that message through multiple mediums, and generate serious grassroots support for the change to occur.

Education reform works as an economic strategy for the future. Investing intelligently and heavily in education freed Finland from looming economic collapse.  As a community, we need to get behind public education reform and demand excellence. As an engaged population, we should value education above all other services our government offers because well-rounded educations naturally lead to long-term economic prosperity.

Several of my next articles will specifically tackle this topic as I analyze many arguments for and against education reform and discuss real, workable strategies that regular citizens can champion and local politicians can legislate. I am not going to discuss large, vague ideas and things that could happen if government officials actually cared because those conversations aren’t useful. Instead, I’m going to discuss ideas that regular people can implement as individuals or small collectives across the nation. I know from experience how frustrating and damaging an unsatisfactory educational system can be. We all do, and we must stand up and create momentum if we truly want change.


This is the best math t-shirt in the world! (I apologize to everyone whose public education was so bad that you don’t even understand the joke.)