After a week or so of computer woes, I’m back, ready to take aim at the American education model once more. A couple of weeks ago, I observed a few fundamental flaws in the way we teach our kids. Here’s a few more crucial ways we make our kids, and our adults, stupid.
4. Not everyone is entitled to a college degree.
Part of the current incarnation of the economic stimulus plan passing through Congress includes tax credits for students attending a four-year university. This sounds like a great idea, right? Put more people through college, and we’ll have better-educated adults entering the work force.
The problem is, we don’t need more college-educated adults. We need more people with functional educations who can do actual, physical work – not more liberal arts majors who function in some service-based field. Take a look around your house. How many things weren’t made in China? How many of those things not produced by the Chinese were made in Mexico, or Korea? We don’t make a damn thing anymore. What’s worse, you can’t even find qualified carpenters or plumbers or mechanics in this country, because we just don’t produce citizens capable of these necessary jobs.
One of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, had some ideas on education that unfortunately Americans never bought into. Jefferson believed “every citizen needs an education proportional to the condition and the pursuits of his life,” and this couldn’t be farther from the typical American practice. Jefferson’s education model was based on the idea that any student was entitled to a free education… so long as that student continued to progress and excel. If you’re only book-smart enough to be a plumber, that’s okay, you’re just done with school in the 10th grade and spend a year or two apprenticing with a plumber. If you’re sharp enough to be some kind of paper-pushing clerical worker, maybe you get to go through the 12th grade, and on, and on, and on.
Unfortunately, we’ve become a nation too wussy to tell a kid he’s not achieving at one thing, maybe there’s another path; so instead we tell the child a lie, and he ends up wasting years of valuable time and daddy’s valuable money going to college and skating by on a D-average.
5. There are too many levels of bureacracy.
Bureacracies are some of the worst purveyors of bullshit. Anyone who has ever had to deal with a state university registrar’s office, has worked for a state office, or has had to get assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency knows this well. Education is a prime example.
First, you have the school administrators; then you have your local school board – eight or nine of (if the district where I live is any indication) the least educated individuals in town. Then you have whatever state board of education has authority. Then there’s the feds. This isn’t counting whatever idiotic committees exist on all those levels to ‘advise’ these authorities.
With that in mind, it’s no wonder there’s so much bullshit floating around in our educational models. Pretty much any time you see some state board sending schools lesson plans that get passed down to the 5th grade teacher, you’re witnessing bullshit in action. Anyone who has ever taught a class knows that every student is an individual, every class is different, and every lesson plan and pedagogy had better reflect that. You adapt your teaching to each class’s needs. Anything passed down from some board that has never even seen these students will not be effective for them.
6. We completely fail at teaching critical thought.
This is probably the biggest problem facing education. We no longer teach students to think critically, not just in their scholastic pursuits, but in everyday life. I asked a few college student friends how much training they had in critical thinking, and their reply really brought it home; almost every one of them said, “You mean like in English class?”
For whatever reason, critical thinking is something that we’ve associated with text. Sure, students learn how to analyze a poem, or read a book critically and write a response to it. But we don’t teach them how to apply that to daily life. English teachers rarely use items from world events, political rhetoric, or daily life to fuel students’ projects. Why not?
I’ve got an English degree. Certainly I value literature and its contributions to society. Yet I also realize that in the grand scheme of things, being able to read and understand Yeats is probably less important than being able to understand the logical flaws in something the president proposes. This is where we fail in critical thinking training, and it happens, as I’ve written before on this blog, because our school systems to not foster dialogue and dissent.
Our classrooms are designed like little dictatorships, with a teacher who is to remain unquestioned and obeyed. Controversy is stifled. School uniforms are a fine example. While there are many good reasons for implementing uniforms in public schools, one of the bad reasons people use to back up this action is the idea that we should stifle any potential conflict between students. Perhaps this is why they grow up to be passive adults, unable to communicate their disagreements or fight for their beliefs. Adults do tend to reflect the way in which they are raised, and our kids spend most of their day in school every week.
7. Problems start at home.
This issue is, along with critical thinking training, the biggest problem facing education. Unfortunately, it’s also the hardest problem to deal with. Most of the problems in education start at home. When teachers are playing catch-up with students whose parents did not read to them, give them any sense of discipline, or foster any love of learning, they are wasting precious time.
One issue here is that parents are simply too busy to raise their kids. With both parents working all day, how can we expect one caregiver to have the time to read to their kids at night? A family should be able to survive off one income. With fat-cat executives and families like the Kennedys debating whether they’ll take the Cesna or the Mazaratti to work, there’s no good reason why we can’t pay people who work full-time jobs enough to feed their families.
The other, of course, is one of productivity’s worst enemies: television, and all the other forms of entertainment we feed our nation’s children. We’ve all heard it before. The television is not a baby-sitter, nor is the Wii, but they are, unfortunately, used that way far too often. It doesn’t matter how many episodes of Reading Rainbow your kid watches, it’s not the same damn thing as reading a book with your parents.
Unfortunately, what do we do to solve this? Cross our fingers and hope the next generation of parents is more responsible, I suppose.
There are good teachers out there, and good schools. There are students achieving everywhere in America. But what about the rest of them? Those who are not blessed with some brilliant administrator with innovative ideas for running a school are often left behind to deal with old ideas, the pains of bureacracy, and students who just don’t seem to give a shit.
These are not all the problems in education by any stretch, though. These were those that came to mind with very little thought or research. What are some problems you see in education, and what are the solutions? And don’t just tell us on the War on Bullshit. If you’ve ever seen Idiocracy, you may have glimpsed the future of the United States of America, so for God’s sake, tell your local school board.
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