By Roger Guffey
As a student of evolutionary ecology, I always found the study of dinosaurs fascinating.
For more than 200 million years, these wondrous creatures dominated every habitat and niche available. We have substantial evidence of considerable intelligence, social behavior and even parental care, especially among predators like Tyrannosaurus Rex.
Still, dinosaurs hit an evolutionary ceiling. Why?
Certainly an egg-laying reproductive strategy imposed severe limitations, but the real problem is that the atrophied forearms of the more intelligent bipedal species precluded the development of opposable thumbs. Without the ability to handle, explore, develop and use tools, dinosaurs could never achieve a culture like ours.
When an asteroid devastated life on Earth 65 million years ago, it leveled the ecological playing field. Our mammalian ancestors then had the opportunity to take center stage, and evolution took a new direction that eventually led to primates whose bipedal posture was complemented by forearms and hands that could make and use tools.
By now, the reader is wondering where I am going with this meditation. It is very simple: The American education system is in dire need of its own asteroid.
The agrarian-based educational system of the last two centuries has reached its limit of usefulness. For the past 28 years, I have observed the effective destruction of American education. The black hole of testing has absorbed finances and personnel and, more important, morale while returning absolutely nothing in exchange. The upheaval and disruption of basic family and social units that underpin our society, coupled with a sense of entitlement and a growing reluctance to accept responsibility and consequences have ruined our schools.
Faced with violence, drugs and anti-social behaviors, schools can rely only on suspension as a disciplinary action; but rather than minding suspension, too many students welcome it. A growing sense of entitlement among students and a pathological aversion among school officials to let students learn from failure makes aspiration to excellence nearly impossible. And always there are tests, which hold everyone accountable but the students.
Add in the fact that schools are trying to retrofit an exploding 21st century technological revolution into a 200-year-old system that has lost its relevance. Job markets are in such flux that whole careers rise and evaporate in a few years or months, while educational programs that made employees suitable for the jobs a generation ago are obsolete.
Just as the dinosaurs reached their evolutionary apex due to their inability to use technology, we have reached ours for a similar reason. As Thomas Friedman has declared in his book The World Is Flat, we are facing a world so foreign to conventional thinking we need to start from the ground up with a completely new educational paradigm.
If we do not, it will not be an asteroid that causes our extinction: it will be our own inability to adapt to the changes we ourselves have made to our environment and society.
Roger Guffey is a retired math teacher.