May 25, 2018
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Lessons for our education leaders in Augusta

By David O. Solmitz, Special to the BDN

A Republican legislator wants to extend the school year by five days. Gov. Paul LePage wants to add a fifth year for students to graduate high school.

Both proposals are not only fiscally irresponsible, but also educationally ineffective. Schools are being forced to cut their budgets drastically at the expense of improving the quality of education.

Real reform will take place only when education no longer replicates standards of special interest groups, e.g. multinational corporations. America, having become a leader for instantaneous, material gratification and consumption, fosters individual and multinational corporate greed.

As a result, unemployment in the United States grows as jobs are being sent to Third World and developing countries. To protect corporate interests, which nurture corruption as well as a rapidly rising gap between the affluent and the poor, our government braced dictatorships including Batista’s Cuba, Marcos’  Philippines, Hussein’s Iraq, Shah Pahlavi’s Iran, Mubarak’s Egypt, and since George W. Bush once again Gadhafi’s Libya. In fact, the recent uprisings in the Middle East that began in Tunisia are spreading as a result of dissatisfied masses rising up against dictators who have oppressed them for years.

As communication throughout the world via the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, and cell phones has become instantaneous, the need to get along with numerous cultures, races, ethnic groups, religions, spiritual practices and lifestyles is imperative for our survival on planet Earth.

Therefore, American education must represent standards that reflect the philosophic and ethical values of our democratic society. To effectively implement these, education should:

  • Provide meaningful careers utilizing their creative ability,
  • Not exploit others through professions or as civic leaders,
  • Uphold the principles of our democratic society,
  • Advance a “green,” self-sufficient economy,
  • Protect our natural resources and environment,
  • Nurture happiness through harmonious relations and encourage worthy use of their leisure time.

To achieve these purposes:

  • Teachers must be sensitive to students’ backgrounds and needs in order to instill and inspire a genuine interest in learning.
  • Teachers need the freedom to be creative.
  • Small classes are necessary to foster trusting relationships with students.
  • Students learn to understand and appreciate one another.
  • Students develop self-confidence and a greater ability to work and live harmoniously with others.
  • An equal balance between the humanities, sciences, as well as physical and emotional health exists.
  • Literature, music, art, personal experience, field trips, theater and film provide students better understanding of their own culture as well as others that exist worldwide. With understanding, students will be less threatened and fearful of events that directly affect them: personal, national and international crises.

Following this model, our youth will be prepared as effective citizens to lead without fear in directions that promote safety, wisdom, harmony and happiness among all. Remember the young, Oxford educated King of Bhutan who in 2005 led his nation from a monarchy to a democracy? He pledged to manage his nation’s well being by Gross National Happiness rather than Gross Domestic Product.  Maybe we can learn from his experience.

David O. Solmitz has been teaching for more than 40 years as a public high school and college teacher primarily in Maine. He now teaches at Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield.   He is the author of “Schooling for Humanity: When Big Brother Isn’t Watching” (Peter Lang, 2001).

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