The problem with educational standards

foreheadThe most common criticism of education in America, other than the pervasive calls for "more money", is that very little choice exists. Probably the second most common criticism is lack of enforced standards. I wholeheartedly endorse the first criticism, but do not share the second one.

The state of Illinois has set standards for its science curriculum that do not contain the following words (among others) for any grade level [compiled by Kevin Killion, no primary source link given]:

evaporate

velocity

electron

bacteria

muscle

carbohydrate

telescope

Newton

Einstein

mammal

The common belief among even the staunchest of laissez-faire advocates is that at the very least, some standards have to be set from above, or else chaos ensues. Without a set of 'givens' or some sort of 'consensus', the system becomes mired in disarray, failing to march forward and lagging with inefficiency.

However, standards are an emergent property of individual preferences, and are the outcome of the totality of individual actions. Such standards which result from the bottom-up have the potential to evolve and grow, whereas standards by fiat decree stagnate into obselescence, fail to keep up with an ever-changing society, and often cater to the lowest common denominator. Movable Type has become the de-facto standard for blog publishing because it is powerful, easy-to-use, and free. It emerged among many other choices such as Blogger, pMachine, Greymatter, etc. Nobody made a law. Nobody imposed their choices on everyone else. And in the future, perhaps a different standard will emerge as the nature of blog publishing changes.

My objection to the Illinois Science Standards is not that they seem shockingly deficient based on my own preferences, but that they exist at all. Just as I do not want others' view of 'good education' forced upon me, I do not wish to force my views of what constitutes a 'good education' upon anyone else. Sure, not enough useful skills are being taught from kindergarten to high school, but just as much a problem is the fact that too much useless information is being taught and tested. It is not that the standards linked above are so flawed from my point of view, but that a single one-size-fits-all solution is being forced upon schoolchildren of Illinois after their taxes are being forcibly extracted from their parents.

The only 'standard' for education should be that the parents of a child (and the child itself when it is able to make rational choices) are satisfied with what the child is learning. If they are not satisfied, they should be able to freely take their child elsewhere. Only with free choices for education method and value will standards emerge that best serve the needs of children becoming productive and capable adults while allowing true diversity of educational choices for those whose ends are different from the mainstream.

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