Colleges in the late 20th century and early 21st can be stultifying, especially for highly-intelligent and imaginative people. I do not claim to be such a person, but I’m smart enough to recognize that some brilliant Americans kept themselves unencumbered by formal education and the rest of us benefited. Two well-known examples are Thomas Edison and Bill Gates, but a couple of local examples are illustrative as well: Philo Farnsworth and Rufus Porter.
Rufus Porter was born in Boxford, Massachusetts in 1792, but his family moved to a part of Denmark, Maine that is now part of Bridgton, Maine when Porter was a boy.
|Rufus Porter Mural|
Thomas Edison had three months. Rufus Porter had six months (at our local Fryeburg Academy). Philo Farnsworth went to high school, was accepted at Annapolis but didn’t attend. Bill Gates had a couple of years at Harvard before he dropped out.
|Another Rufus Porter Mural|
From his biography on the Rufus Porter Museum site we learn: “[Rufus’s] sole teacher was the Rev. Amos Cook [at Fryeburg Academy which he attended for six months at age 12], and he never had formal instruction thereafter. He profited from independence of the self-taught, though lacking disciplines of scholars. The narrow prejudices and conventions escaped him and he became the most progressive American of the 19th Century as he developed his ideas from within.”
|Rufus Porter Airship Design|
From Wikipedia, we learn: “When [Bill Gates] was in the eighth grade, the Mothers Club at the school used proceeds from Lakeside School's rummage sale to buy a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal and a block of computer time on a General Electric (GE) computer for the school's students. Gates took an interest in programming the GE system in BASIC, and was excused from math classes to pursue his interest. He wrote his first computer program on this machine: an implementation of tic-tac-toe that allowed users to play games against the computer.”
No schools at any level have a monopoly on learning. As their control by unions and government increase, costs go up and effectiveness goes down. Nowhere is this more true than New York City where they spend more than $20,000 per student per year but, according to CBS New York, 80% of high school graduates are illiterate. Taxpayers should insist on educational vouchers to smash the government/union monopoly.
As an educator for thirty-six years, I believe the US Department of Education should be eliminated but for one function: it should decide on a minimum set of skills for each grade level and develop tests to measure them. The tests should be voluntary for each school district. If people don’t want to know how their community schools measure up, it would be useless to pour state or federal money into them. They have to want to fix themselves before they’ll be any progress.
As long as their children can pass tests of basic skills appropriate to their age level, give parents vouchers for ½ to ¾ of local per-pupil costs to use on any educational strategy they wish. If parents want to home-school, fine. If they want to pool that money and form independent schools, let them.