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What would happen if we reinvented and reinvested in our system of public education?

When Wilbur and Orville Wright launched their homemade airplane, they ushered in a new era of transportation. At the time, few people could envision what would happen in a relatively few short years — thousands of expensive airliners carrying millions of people all over the world. Transportation was reinvented and transformed.

What would happen if we reinvented and reinvested in our system of public education? In 1892, a committee of 10 scholars decided what all students should know and be able to do to be successful in life at that time. They established curriculum-controlled education, an obsolete system that is still being followed by virtually every school in America to this day. The Committee of Ten established schools to standardize students with a fixed, narrow curriculum.

Public and private education can be reinvented by changing to a student-oriented system wherein curriculum is determined by the needs and interests of students, not by school boards, legislators or special committees. With guidance from parents and teachers, each child decides what he or she wants to study, learn and become. Student-oriented education is a system wherein students develop their unique talents and discover the joy of using them to be contributors to society.

Another difference between the two systems is the kind of learning that takes place in each system. Curriculum-controlled education is usually teacher-assigned, required learning or learning to pass tests. The student learning that takes place in this system is often shallow and temporary, forgotten soon after the tests are taken.

In sharp contrast is the deep and enduring learning that takes place in a student-oriented system. Students learn much more when searching for answers to their own questions. It is much more interesting and enriching than finding answers to teacher-assigned work or textbook questions. In student-oriented systems, teachers perform the valuable role of helping students learn how to ask strong questions and love learning.

Inasmuch as students are distinct from each other, each has a personality and intuition about what curriculum is needed to help them develop their own unique talents and gifts. Each has agency, a strong intrinsic power to appreciate, learn and direct their own lives. Student-oriented teachers tap into this power by offering many choices and guiding students to find their own paths of passion.

The teacher’s role in student-oriented schools may be different from what it is in curriculum-controlled schools. Instead of correcting deficiencies, teachers look for assets — the good, the strengths — and with love assist students to grow. Student-oriented schools often have weekly talent shows to help students learn who they are and what they can do. Teachers employ a never-ending curriculum variety to nurture the development of many student talents.

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How much will it be worth to have a system of education that helps every child develop their unique talents and achieve at a genius level? A way to get adequate funding for student-oriented education is to return to what is mandated by the Utah Constitution: “All revenue from a tax on income shall be used to support the systems of public education and higher education.” The Legislature must stop stealing from this fund for highways and other purposes. With the recent failure of the gasoline tax for schooling, this may be the only way to get adequate funding for public education.

When students are freed from the constraints of a fixed curriculum, when they are guided by teachers and parents and when they are supplied with adequate funding, public education will be transformed, with Utah leading the way.