Sophia teaching her Dad how to paint.

Sophia teaching her Dad how to paint
Education is a basic human right, and civilized society depends on providing the best elementary, secondary, and higher education we can. The future of our democracy depends on having educated citizens who care about others. Individuals should be allowed to develop their full potential. This requires more individualized attention, and diverse programs that can meet the needs of the population. Smaller class size translates into higher graduation rates. Lowering stress in the school environment, both for teachers and students is essential. We should encourage charter schools in order to try out methods that spark students' own curiosity to make the learning experience more enjoyable and motivating.

Education is not only about schools. It takes a village – ideally a Pedestrian Village – to raise a child. The structure of society is in dire need of repair. The safety of children should not be about security fences, metal detectors, zero tolerance, and schools that look like prisons. These things are symptoms of a failed social policy. Drug dealers, selling unregulated, potentially dangerous drugs in a market controlled by criminals, are providing our children with more drugs than in the Netherlands – where drugs have been decriminalized for adults. The criminal drug and violence culture is now ubiquitous. If kids hear “gangsta” rappers using vulgar, racist, and ungrammatical prison-talk to describe their contempt for women and the law, this sabotages education and civilized society. Drug use, negative peer pressure, contempt for the law, and a culture of violence and bullying are greatly compounded by the way we structure society and poison our environment. Lead, which is ubiquitous in the environment, is known to cause lower IQs and attention deficit disorder. Chemicals in the environment, like oil-based plastics, affect children's hormones. The noise, stress, and danger of our automobile–oriented cities discourage children from walking, which in turn leads to record high levels of obesity. Unhealthy kids will simply not learn or prosper as well as healthy children.

It is stressful, dispiriting, and counterproductive to teach in this environment. Teaching a child becomes immensely more difficult when the basic social unit of the family has failed or the social network upon which individuals depend is not working properly. Mistakes made in one generation are passed to the next. This is why children of the privileged class go to Ivy–League Colleges and a high percentage of poor children go to prison. We need policies that will correct the underlying social conditions that produce troubled, unmotivated, and violent kids. We also need to pay our teaching professionals wages commensurate with the value they bring to society.

Adult education is also critical, and government policy should encourage life-long learning – especially for those who missed out the first time around. We should do all we can do to divert non–violent offenders to alternative programs that involve education and job training in order to give them a second chance. Prisoners who study and improve themselves should secure privileges in prison. Interactive, online teaching will make learning easier, cheaper, and more effective. We should take advantage of the new technologies, while also improving the foundation upon which our society is built.