American public schools are not broken, they are just obsolete
By C. Fredrick Crum

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I recently attended a high school class reunion. As we were getting a tour of the school, one of the alumni in the group requested that we visit Mrs. Harding’s room, room 210. After the door to the former and current history classroom was unlocked, and we were escorted into the room, this former student moved quietly around the room. He eventually strolled to a particular spot in the room, close to the windows along the front of the building facing Main Street. As he stepped on a specific spot on the wooden floorboards they loudly creaked. He repeatedly stepped on the exact spot causing the wooden floorboards to creak over and over.

He got a big smile on his face and ecstatically declared, “This is exactly how I remember it. The desks, the chairs all set in rows. The blackboards and maps even appear to be the same.” He sat down in a chair behind a desk and said, “Here is where I sat, in back of Amy, in this seat right next to the creaky floorboards.”

Before the group left room 210, this alumnus got out his smartphone and began to take a number of pictures of the room. When he was done, he stated, “I am going to post these pictures on my Facebook page.” Wow, what a trip back to the future!

I was not ecstatic, I was mortified. This was a 50th year class reunion. My first thought was how sad. It has been 50 years since this man had graduated and little had changed in this classroom. My second thought was that this alumnus had more access to technology in his pocket than what was in this classroom. My third thought was, if we could bring back the class of 1927, when this school house was built, would they say “this is exactly how I remember it.” This school should and could easily be converted into a museum.

Our public schools are not broken, they are just obsolete!

In most American classrooms, the teacher is still standing in front of a group of children or young adults all seated in individual desks and chairs placed in rows. The teacher disseminates content to the students for them to absorb. The students are then tested on their absorption rates and graded. This process is repeated daily for 13 to 17 years, depending on if the student chooses to attend a college or university.

Since the original shaping of the American public school system by Horrace Mann and John Dewey, not much has changed. Mann’s influence and the writings of Dewey shaped our current American public school system between the years 1848 and 1916. This system, designed to prepare children and young adults for a post agricultural, industrial age world, is still in use today.

In the same time frame our public education system was being tweaked, the concept of the assembly line was embraced and put into practice by Henry Ford. I am sure that the assembly line of Ford’s day would be considered by today’s standards as too inefficient, too costly and producing dreadfully inconsistent results. The same can be said of our current public school system. Not many of us have model T’s in our garage but we are still trying to use an educational system designed for a past era.

As someone who has dedicated his career to helping others grow both personally and professionally, I want to scream that we can not continue using this antiquated system.

Our American public education system was designed for a world that does not exist anymore. We need to rethink, re-imagine and redesign how students are educated in America. The time is now!

Our schools are not broken, they are just obsolete!

C. Fredrick Crum is the president and founder of Effective Leadership Now.Org. He has spent more than 30 years working with leaders and leadership teams to improve their performance.