Education Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Education goals need rethinking

Despite usually approving school budgets without question, I must admit that, when I walked into the voting booth this Tuesday, my pen briefly hovered over the “no” oval for the 2025 ACSD budget. Tracing the fiscal trajectory out 10 or 20 years into the future, it is exceedingly difficult to imagine that health care costs will subside, that behavioral and special education needs will decrease, or that our hard-working teachers and staff will acquiesce to lower salaries.

For those who believe that our schools, and by extension our communities and our culture are “succeeding,” perhaps the answer truly is just more money. But for those who have doubts — who wonder why we have yawning economic disparities, why our children continue to emigrate to cities, why our natural environment continues to degrade and slough off into Lake Champlain — perhaps it is worth asking this bold question: what is education for?

Is the goal of education to prepare our children for far-away careers in STEM so that they can design products that increase our dependence on distant corporations (or the government)? How much time is spent learning technological literacy or proficient test-taking compared to time spent outdoors becoming acquainted with the natural world upon which our economy is ultimately based (and simultaneously expending energy that might otherwise translate into behavioral problems)? Does knowledge of mathematical proofs trump knowing the statistics and stories behind the increase in our local unhoused population?

Exploring these and other questions may prompt us to reflect on whether we want distant, upwardly mobile careers for the exceptional few, or whether we instead prefer students who value and want to enhance our local places and community. Perhaps we may find that our focus on regimented grade structure and fear of keeping kids “on track” is less important if our aspirations are more rooted right here rather than at elite colleges. We may even find that our budgets can be reduced if students are allowed to more organically follow their intrinsic motivations, even without reducing the resources needed to balance inequities and for special education.

My fear is that, instead of asking these questions, we hollow out our educational system by following the same model but reducing resources and staff to minimize budgetary impacts. After all, the legal schooling requirements are onerous and bureaucratic inertia is hard to reverse. Nevertheless, it seems wise to begin as soon as possible if we are inevitably going to end up in the same place: with failing budgets. We — community members (myself included), administrators, teachers, and legislators — have all participated in and contributed to the systems that have led us here. My hope is that we all can find the courage to head in a different direction and reduce the future temptations of the “no” oval.

Patrick Lawrence


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