Around the County

An adequate education for all?

By Pat Stuart
Posted 10/22/20

What is an “adequate and equitable education?” More specifically, what did the Wyoming Supreme Court mean when it mandated one? Our state lawmakers can’t seem to decide. Faced with …

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Around the County

An adequate education for all?

Posted

What is an “adequate and equitable education?” More specifically, what did the Wyoming Supreme Court mean when it mandated one? Our state lawmakers can’t seem to decide. Faced with a shortfall of $510 million in the education budget, they’ve been debating what elements of the current educational process rise above “adequate” and can be legally cut.

Curious about this, I assumed a definition of “adequate education” must be available. I also assumed that the writers of the Constitution must have had something to say on the subject.

Wrong! They didn’t even consider the question of state-provided education as part of their deliberations.

That gave me pause. Something we think critical to the democratic process wasn’t on their agenda. They turned their new government over (sort of ... think Electoral College) to the yeoman citizenry and didn’t consider educating them — adequately or otherwise.

It wasn’t that they didn’t believe an education to be important. They’d read their Plato (an early Greek who believed that democracy required an educated citizenry). But these great proponents of We the People wore elitist blinders when it came to education. In their worldview, parents provided for their kids by paying tuition to existing institutions, or banding with other parents to form new schools, or hiring private tutors.

Thomas Jefferson was one American exception to this thinking. He believed the state (not the country) has a duty to provide a universal education to its citizens. Three years should do it, he figured. In 1785, he proposed just that for the kids of Virginia.

Three years. If Wyoming followed Thomas Jefferson’s idea of adequate, we’d save a ton of money.

Well. At this point in my search for information, I was really curious. When did we get this idea/assumption of K-12 as such a fundamental right that the state is forced to not just provide it but to ensure it is “adequate?”

More reading shows that teaching content developed slowly like most such things. Plato had ideas on that, too, 2,500 years ago. By the 18th and 19th centuries, teaching focused on letters and numbers. Beyond those basics and for the privileged, teaching content was supposed to train the brain through exposure to other languages, great ideas and methods of inquiry, which could include higher math, logic and the sciences.

Then, the more we knew, the faster the industrial revolution evolved, and the more important schools became. That old multiplier effect took over. Little schools grew. Teachers became professionals. A workforce with a basic education evolved from desirable to necessary. Local ordinances morphed into laws. Congress got into the act, giving away millions of acres of land under the “general welfare” provisions of the Constitution, some of the profits designated for the “benefit of our children.”

Still, with all of that, the idea of a state-provided, universal K-12 didn’t enter the picture until the 20th century. As for the concept of general standards, they came along in the last 20 years.

In short, this whole idea is something quite new under our sun.

Adequate?

No wonder we don’t know what “adequate” is.

And here’s another thing in play. Thanks in many ways to schools and the multiplier effect of universal education, we, quite literally, now know massively more than our ancestors did — our understanding and abilities growing exponentially. Which brings us to this point.

We now see clearly that the future of our children and our society rests in important measures on not just any old education but at least an adequate one. More, we’re entering eras where adults will need continuing education in order to keep up with economic and social change. This in turn is being brought about by our ever-burgeoning knowledge, leading in turn ... You get the picture.

In short, we’re making this up as we go along. As far as I can tell, an adequate education is whatever we think it is.

I’m wondering what you taxpayers think. I’m wondering what parents want. Here we have this behemoth of a system that has been inventing itself, growing like topsy, multiplying year-on-year into an essential government service, becoming a “right” and a necessity of citizenship as well as an ever-growing and heavy tax burden on all.

As our legislators’ deliberations show, the idea of an adequate education clearly needs defining.

What do I think? For what it’s worth, here’s what I want my grandchildren to study:

• history for lessons in understanding and perspective,

• government so they can preserve and grow our democracy,

• literature because it will teach them to see the world through other people’s optics,

• writing and speaking plus math and economics in order to function in society; and

• the social and physical sciences for a basic understanding of the world.

Mostly, I want them to graduate with critical thinking skills, questioning everything while having a thirst for knowledge and reading that will help them adapt to change.

Spread out over 12 years, that doesn’t seem too difficult. Does it?

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