Friday, June 8, 2012


The US educational system has been degrading over the years. What was once the greatest system in the world (debateably) has become something of a joke. We have classrooms stuffed with kids who, while they may start off wanting to learn, have come to realize that their education doesn't really begin until they hit college. Our educational system is so test oriented, and provides so few real world skills, that the smartest students work their butts off to keep their grades up. And nothing else. Do the work, ace the tests. Move on to a school that will actually teach them what they need to know.

But what happens to those students who don't make it in college? We have a, rather large, sub-set of the population that never makes it through college. Or, if they do, do it in their late 20's or later. After they've had a chance to go out and flip burgers for a few years. What part of our current educational system actually helps students SUCCEED in life?

Our teachers are constantly under attack by government and private entities that insist that they are to blame for lower test scores. We have a national budget for education that either cannot or WILL not standardize what is being taught in our k-12 schools. We have parents who are happy when their kids are old enough to go to school because they no longer need to pay for day care. And then there are the kids who, if they aren't in the top of their class, just don't care if their grades dip because they know they are going to be working in the local market ANYWAY.

I've admitted in earlier posts that I'm not really that old. So what I have, is my own personal experience. From the elementary school who's principal purposefully undercut a program designed to challenge students who were bored in the normal classrooms, to the day we were no longer allowed to bring peanut butter cookies on campus because it might cause another student's peanut allergies to flare up. I remember the weeks of teaching dedicated to how to score well on the (insert current acronym here) standardized testing. These tests changed every couple of years! How 'standard' can they be if they keep being changed and adjusted? And how does teaching students how to fill out a scantron sheet qualify as teaching us life skills?

Some of these problems have to do with internal politics. The top positions in our educational system are not held by educators. Or even former educators. School boards and the superintendant of schools? Elected offices. His assistants? Hired by him, or his predecessors. And let's not go into too much detail on my opinion of principals and vice-principals. But actual teachers come in pretty low on the decision making ladder. They have a curriculum that is often dictated to them by people who have never tried to teach in a classroom full of kids. They have budgets that are set by people who don't know what their classrooms need. While beaurocrats and managers DO have a place, I do not believe that they should be the only ones deciding how our children should learn. Or what it takes to teach them.

Of course, all these teachers are people as well. So there is a lot of variance in the quality of teachers that can be found in the schools around our nation. Some are in it to help out the next generation. Some thought it would be a comfy job that they would never get kicked out of. And some...  well. Their reason for becoming teachers is not polite to mention. Many of that first sub set are the teachers that can inspire their students. They go the extra mile to encourage those who have an interest or aptitude in a subject to pursue it. But even these wonderfully intentioned teachers can make mistakes. Or get burned out by the political infighting that goes on when any group of people get together. As with all things, I'd rather not blame one whole set of people for all the problems in an institution. But rather, I'd like to see WHO the problem people are, and find ways of removing them from a position where they can cause damage. We already have a shortfall of teachers in various subjects. Math and science teachers seem to be in high demand at the moment. So removing the problem teachers isn't always a viable solution, unless they do something truly dreadful. What can we do, as a nation, to encourage those who want to teach to step up and start doing it? It may require more funding so that teachers will actually be paid WELL, rather than being near the bottom of the ladder for jobs they can get with their math and science degrees.

Unfortunately, the shift towards charter schools has not helped our public education system. The wealthier families no longer send their kids to the public schools. These same families are the most likely to encourage and assist their children in their academic endeavors. With these "higher achievers" (note, I did not say smarter) children moving into private schools, the public education centers are looking worse and worse by comparison. It is a constant push from those who want to send government money to private institutions that are encouraging the charter schools. Forget the fact that many of these charter schools are religious in nature. Forget that they have more money available to them by dint of being paid by the parents themselves, and not subject to government (local and federal) budget changes. These schools get to teach ANY curriculum they want. No fact checking. No standardization at all. How does this serve our cultural interests? It is bad enough that
different counties in a state can have VERY different curriculums. But to have a situation where every single school can do that? It leaves our colleges and universities to catch up any student that came from one of these schools on what they SHOULD know prior to entering higher education.

With the globalization of so many of our manufacturing industries, we need to step up our education system. We need to start at the bottom. Implement a standardized curriculum starting in the first grade, and working its way up through high school. A curriculum that will prepare our children to both head to college, and for finding that crappy part-time or full time job right out of high school that will allow them to AFFORD college. Pitting our schools against each other for funding does not help our students to grow and prepare for life outside of education. It forces our schools to teach towards what they will be paid for. And that isn't what the real world is expecting.