Sunday, April 13, 2008

Open v. Closed Schools

The raid on the FLDS Compound in El Dorado is fascinating. It provides an inside look into the workings of a completely closed religious sect.

I suspect that there are some people who see all private schools as little versions of the FLDS compound.

IMHO, these people are mistaking the distinction between open and closed education with private and public education. I use the term "open" and "closed" to refer to the extent to which the inner workings and curriculum are open to public scrutiny. The terms "public" and "private" refer simply to the ownership of the school.

These two concepts are mutually exclusive.

It is possible for a private school to have a completely transparent curriculum. Likewise it is possible for a public school to have a completely closed and secretive curriculum.

My direct experience with the teaching schools in Utah is that our public education system is a closed system that is hostile to new ideas. Utah educators may openly seek support from the parents, but it is rare for a public educator to support the parents.

Conversely, the private education system in an open market tends to be a bit more open.

The private schools have to sell themselves. To do this, they must make greater efforts to expose their curriculum and teaching practices to the parents. Because the parents are the buyers, the schools find that they have a symbiotic relation with the parents.

When you look at the Private Schools in Salt Lake you see that they do a much better job exposing their curriculum to the public than the public schools which balk at any substantive discussion of curriculum.

Oddly, the homeschooling world has one of the most open curriculums of all. In this culture, parents run from place to place trying to find quality materials for their kids.

A completely open curriculum may not be a good thing. I've noticed that there is an extremely high turnover rate in web sites about homeschooling. The reason for this is that the web sites are driven by the parent's current needs. Homeschoolers might produce a valuable resource, but they let it slide when their needs change.

It seems paradoxical, but, in most cases, publicly owned education systems produce a less open curriculum than privately owned schools. The reason for this reason for this is that public schools are answerable to a central bureaucracy. The privately owned schools must answer to the buyers, that is, the parents and students.

The FLDS system is not a repudiation of this observation.

One must remember that the FLDS sect is a commune. A commune is a system of absolute public ownership. The FLDS is the ideal of the left where their is a single entity (the public) that dictates one's life from cradle to grave.

The FLDS may have rejected the State owned education system. But they are simply replacing one communally owned education system with another closely held communally owned education system.

As the power that "the public" has over the children grows, the quality of education diminished. The El Dorado compound shows what happens when groups like the FLDS, NEA or NCLB achieve their goal of absolute power.

Regardless, the FLDS is not an example of private education run amok. It is an example of communally owned education achieving its logical end ... an ingorant population that behaves like sheep.

1 comment:

Scott Hinrichs said...

Fascinating. Our public school system continually blames bad parenting for poor student performance. Of course, they don't turn this around when students perform well.

The public system permits no real influence from parents on curriculum and instruction methods. Instead, the system demands that parents accept decisions of the bureaucracy. They go so far as to schedule parents' time and make other unbidden demands on parents.