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ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN 

(Editor's Note: This article first appeared on December 29, 2008 and was one of Robb's most widely read articles. It is reprinted here.)

Einstein Had His Own Take on Education

May 31, 2011

German born physicist Albert Einstein was asked once what he would rather possess - a good education or a good imagination?

Without hesitation Einstein responded "an imagination."

Einstein felt that knowledge was limiting to what we now know and understand while imagination embraces everything there ever will be to know and understand.

A point well taken as educators and politicians wrestle with the reality of severe budget cuts which will begin to affect many school systems around the country. Some tough decisions must be made regarding which current school programs have to go and which will stay - as tax revenues which support the system continue to erode.

Most school budgets run on a fiscal year beginning July 1. So, as we enter this new year the next six months will be crunch time for many school boards and private learning institutions.

The school money crisis has been brewing for some time. Local public schools are funded through local property taxes and for years homeowners have seen their property taxes skyrocket as the assessed evaluation of their homes has increased in market value. Higher assessments have meant higher tax revenue for schools.

Unfortunately, this has also led to higher monthly mortgage payments (annual property taxes are usually tacked on in advance to the monthly mortgage payment to be collected and paid by the lender when they come due) and is a major factor in the devastating number of home foreclosures we are now seeing.

In reality there is very little in the way of checks and balances on local school districts and school superintendents - most are well meaning – but they are very political and have little experience in managing huge sums of money or overseeing vast important programs. They are process oriented and institutionalized in their thinking and often cannot get out of "the box."

With home values continuing to plummet, it will be interesting to see how these school board members tackle the problem and every resident with kids in school should be paying attention. There are indications that Governors are looking to the federal government for help but that would be a big mistake. Federal money doesn’t come without control - and schools do best when they are managed on the local level.

Let’s hope local officials do not try to scare parents into believing that education will suffer if they don’t have the tax revenue they once did - let’s face it: it won't. Now is the time for smart choices by local politicians and educators and to stop spending money on things that do not relate to the direct education of the child.

Private schools are not exempt from this challenge - as the recession deepens they too will be losing students due to the high costs of tuition and they can expect charitable donations to level off as well. This is not the time for educational institutions to raise taxes or fees - it’s time for schools to use their imagination and provide more with less.

The challenges also present new opportunities – a chance to break from the past and look at things differently. There are many ways to provide superior education - it’s not simply a matter of marking off the number of school days from a calender and calling it a success. Nor do test results themselves tell us everything we need to know about a child’s progress.

But we would do well to remember what one of the greatest thinkers of all time had to say about formalized schooling: "Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one learned in school. The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education."

Einstein, of course, is remembered for developing the theories of relativity and won the Noble Prize for Physics in 1921 for his explanation of the photoelectric effect - which was fundamentally significant in the development of modern physics.

Not too bad for someone who preferred an imagination to an education.