Our schools are stuck on a performance plateau. Even the best of them fail to hook solidly into students' natural curiosity, natural need to know, natural desire to make more sense of the world and their place in it.
Take away the report cards, certificates, diplomas, attendance laws, parental pressures, and community expectations, and the schools would fall apart.
Obviously, when the drive to learn is intrinsic, but attempts to educate the young must lean so heavily on extrinsic motivators, something is seriously wrong.
Equally obvious, merely doing more of what we're already doing isn't going to make what's wrong, right. Raising standards, playing with class schedules, eliminating social promotion, administering more standardized tests, cutting class sizes, extending the school year, concentrating on "the basics," facilitating school choice, setting up alternative schools, installing exotic technology, staffing in innovative ways—such experiments bring marginal improvement but no really significant, lasting gains.
Searching for explanations of the problem, the one place where the educational establishment seems most reluctant to look is where the problem surely lies—in the curriculum. Schooling, finally, is about what's taught and learned. No matter how high the standards, no matter how beautiful the buildings, no matter how advanced the technology, no matter how smooth the schedule, no matter how willing the participants, if the curriculum is poor, the school will be poor.