An article by Sam Dillon in today's NYTimes describes an education panel's proposal that there be a uniform set of academic standards in all the nation's public schools, without regard to the state in which they happen to be situated. This is a concept that is many decades overdue. Too many states and too many school districts are clueless concerning what constitutes even an adequate education, much less an excellent one. The decision-makers-that-be too often have an extremely limited education themselves. This is like taking your car to someone who only knows how to change the oil, and asking that person to replace the engine. Except it's our children we're talking about, and their children, and theirs.
The proposal in question falls far short, in that it only addresses standards for language and math. Dazzlingly absent is science. The panel, like most school districts, wimped out rather than face controversy from those ignorant and misguided souls who feel threatened by any knowledge which might cause them to question their irrational religious beliefs. Creationists cannot even hear the word "evolution" without foaming at the mouth. Since when do we allow those without knowledge to dictate what knowledge will be taught to our children? The religious far right are a direct threat not only to rational public discourse, but also to our nation's ultimate place among the community of nations. Already U.S. children lag far behind their peers from other countries in science and math. It is a national disgrace. I'm a firm believer in the separation of church and state -- if you want your kids to learn creationism, let them do it in church, or start your own church-based charter school. Tax-funded public schools are no place for teaching religion.
I would take the panel's proposal one step further. There should be global standards for the education of all the world's children. Why should those who come from poverty be penalized? Naturally, a nation's particular history would receive special attention in that nation. But the quality of teaching and the content of classes in language, math, science and the arts should never be up for regional or local debate. There are too many small-minded people with parochial axes to grind.
If you have any doubt about this, please take a moment to view a video called "Did You Know?" A five minute investment of your time will leave you speechless at how rapidly human knowledge is expanding and being refined, so much so that in technical realms, what is taught is obsolete by the time a student graduates. The rate of change may not be quite as startling in math or the humanities, but it is cause for concern. Buckminster Fuller was the first to observe that the rate of change (not just change itself, but how quickly change accelerates) began to increase at an exponential rate (see green line in the graph below) with the Industrial Revolution. Every information revolution since, from the advent of the space age to the arrival of the computer age, has further intensified how quickly our knowledge multiplies.
It is no time for a Luddite return to the "good old days" (they were never really that good), or for hesitation. The future is now. In fact, the future was yesterday.