Becoming Passionate About Public Education Again

teacher standing in front of students in an open classroom

Narrated by Marie T. Russell,

Video version

Having grown up "near literally" in the backyard of the University of Florida, I was very passionate about education for the masses. It was my go-to answer for nearly all the ills that afflicted society. If only they understood.

While finishing my business degree, I was influenced by my father-in-law who was completing his doctorate of education also at the University of Florida and had embraced an Open Classroom approach he helped introduce into the school system where he was a principal.

Ten years later, in the late 70s, while studying at the University of Central Florida in elementary education, I was introduced to the two conflicting ideas proposed by B.F. Skinner and Carl Rogers -- both giants in behavioral psychology.

Skinner considered free will to be an illusion and saw human action as dependent on consequences of previous actions, a theory he would articulate as reinforcement.

Rogers on the other hand promoted a person-centered approach which was his unique approach to understanding personality and human relationships that is now found in wide application in psychotherapy, counseling, and education.

Perhaps Skinners' conditioning approach was suitable for some living organisms but, I was certain Rogers was most suitable for we "evolved" humans.

I lost a bit of my passion for education in the 80s as standards-based education reform took hold in the United States. But that turned out to be mostly a pig in a poke. It didn't take long to see that unintentional consequences were beginning to undermine any benefits that might have accrued. What should have been obvious is that testing became the focus, and learning was otherwise relegated to the back burner.

So as not to blame the educators, let us look to their paychecks and who issues them. Perhaps we can update the Upton Sinclair quote

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it"

to: It is difficult to get a teacher to teach something other than what they are paid for -- although there are many with a burning passion that do.

What Is Our Children Learning?

George W. Bush was widely mocked for famously asking the question : "Is our children learning?".  And later his answer was even more wrong as he failed to answer the important question: What is our children learning? Bushism-style of course.

Standards-based education reform in the United States began with the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983. But this reform can really best be described as the "Back To Basics" movement or teaching "The 3Rs", pushed by mostly conservative political types. It is funny that the 3Rs is actually bad spelling.

Ultimately though, standards-based education can best be described as holding educators accountable, instead of the pass-the-buck politicians lack of leadership and vision. Then again, maybe learning was not really their point after all.

As a society, we have spent vast sums, and expended a great deal of energy, educating many college graduates. Many of them are overqualified in dead-end jobs. Many are saddled with excessive college expense debts that retard their economic progress early in their adult life. This is not to suggest that society should be about a few elite highly educated types and many worker bees. This is to emphatically state that we should be teaching our children The Other 3 Rs: Reasoning, Resilience and Responsibility.

A Nation Of Sheep

Are we, as proposed by William J. Lederer or Andrew P. Napolitano, a nation of sheep? Yes and no. What we are is a nation of individuals more or less influenced by propaganda.

Robert Altemeyer in his book The Authoritarians outlined that there is a minority segment in populations that can be described as authoritarians. They are divided into authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers. I will simply describe authoritarian followers as desirous of "daddy government". They long for the "John Wayne figure" to lead them out of the wilderness, and are unwilling or incapable of thinking for themselves. And, even more troubling, most are willing to vote against their own best interests.

We in the US have just finished our slow dance with Trumpism and authoritarianism. Even still, the ugly face of authoritarianism is trying to reemerge with a different head and different name. There is still much to be feared by this, as nearly half the US population was willing to have a second dance with the one who wouldn't even bring them to the dance to start with. They mostly vote against their own best interests and ooh and aah the obvious lies being whispered in their ears as they scratch off their vote.

But that is not the worst of it. The Covid pandemic has pulled off an even bigger ugly scab. These authoritarian followers are willing to die a miserable painful death to prove loyalty to a man who has none for them.

The Proper Educational Choice

In a previous issue of InnerSelf Magazine, Alan Cohen, in Inspiration or Motivation: Which Comes First?, writes about The Sudbury model of schooling where the goal is to inspire students rather than motivate them.

Sudbury schools are based on:

The educational belief that children are extremely good at (and therefore do not need to be taught) the main behaviors they will need as adults, such as creativity, imagination, alertness, curiosity, thoughtfulness, responsibility, and judgement. What children lack is experience, which can be gained if adults guide students in open ways.

The sociopolitical belief that having full democratic rights in childhood is the best way to become an adult who is comfortable functioning within a democracy. - Wikipedia

Whether it be Open Classroom, Sudbury Model, or any other model, it is student centric rather than teacher centric we should strive for. What the goal of education should be is children learning to operate in a world of moderation, a world that is neither too restrictive or too "anything goes". For it is in that world of moderation that we enjoy both physical and mental health. It is in that world that we balance the creative with our willingness to follow necessary rules and help enhance a civil society.

We are almost all lucky to have someone in our lives to encourage and motivate us and show us the way. But ultimately, we have to live the choices we make. We are even luckier if we have someone who not only encourages us but inspires us to make our heart sing our own song. Because of this concept, I am passionate for education once again.

About the Author

jenningsRobert Jennings is co-publisher of with his wife Marie T Russell. InnerSelf is dedicated to sharing information that allows people to make educated and insightful choices in their personal life, for the good of the commons, and for the well-being of the planet. InnerSelf Magazine is in its 30+year of publication in either print (1984-1995) or online as Please support our work.

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This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 License. Attribute the author Robert Jennings, Link back to the article This article originally appeared on


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