BATH – America is transforming into an aristocracy, thanks largely to an obsolete educational system that blinds us to the human-development support our democratic society absolutely requires.

America’s reverence for the individual and equality created a “melting pot” nation, yet we continue to mindlessly educate this diverse population with a “one-size-fits-all” system. Consider the goal of the No Child Left Behind law to make 100 percent of American children academically proficient by year 2014 — thus treating them like a herd of beef cattle.

We know this system discriminates against blacks and Hispanic students and favors those of Asian descent. Further, it increasingly favors the rich and discriminates against the poor. According to the research of eminent Harvard social scientist Robert Putnam, roughly one third of America’s children are now growing up with limited opportunities, while feeling “pessimistic and detached.”

Also, do we realize it favors girls over boys? Why else are only roughly 40 percent of college students today males?

The competitive nature of this system feeds the worst instincts in our kids. Consider the cheating, cliques, bullying and school shootings.

The basic problem reflects putting the cart before the horse. By focusing on test scores and how our students compare with those of other nations, the system’s primary concern is not our children, but a particular and questionable construct of America’s future.

It says, prepare children to out-test peers around the world and that preparation will take care of America. I say: properly prepare America’s children for life, and they will properly take care of America.

If we were to truly put the growth needs of our children and their preparation for life first — granting that this more individualized approach would be a revolutionary challenge — an amazing transformation would occur. Kids are not stupid; once they realize we are seriously committed to their lives and growth needs, we will begin to get their trust and their motivation.

This also means dealing with their parents and family — the primary teachers and primary classroom of kids. This comprehensive individual attention to each student can sometimes be very difficult work, but it is ultimately more effective than much of the work presently being done in schools.

As one reaffirmation, consider that the top academic students in America by far are home-schooled students. Clearly, they are not motivated by competition, but more by a focus on their individual preparation for life. This reflects the school focus I’m proposing.

There is a lot going on with growing kids. If teachers can effectively help them deal with their lives — and they can if they learn to listen and show concern as they help kids realize some of their unique skills and abilities — they can take on a mentoring role with students, which kids desperately need.

Right now, no matter what a child’s unique potential, background, home situation or environment, our “one-size-fits-all” system basically seeks to mold him/her into an academically proficient adult. This system simply ignores the greatest skills and potentials of the vast majority of American youngsters, as well as the major growth issues they are experiencing.

In essence, adults have built a system that fulfills their needs and what they believe are society’s needs, not the needs of kids and developing their vision for America’s future.

The tragedy is, if we constructed a system that truly addressed the lives and growth of each student, academic growth would become a natural part of the process. As the great educator Horace Mann wisely said, given a year to teach spelling, he’d spend the first nine months on motivation.

As a teacher in 1951, I set out to make a difference in the lives of kids. In 1962, I realized both we teachers and students were stuck in a system that made this very difficult. So I founded the Hyde School in Bath to find a better way to prepare kids for life.

Today, there are seven Hyde private and public schools serving 2,300 students, with 97 percent matriculating to college. Teachers are trained to work with individual students and their parents in preparation for life. It’s a more rigorous process, but it pulls students, parents and teachers together into a team — and it works.

America has become a very unequal and divisive society. Creating the educational system I propose will be a challenge, but one we are capable of meeting, and one that will fulfill America’s exciting promise. Kids are not stupid; once they realize we are seriously committed to their lives and growth needs, we will begin to get their trust …

Joseph E. Gauld (email: [email protected]) is the founder of Hyde Schools.