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The Education Problem

For years now, we have been trying to address the obvious problems that we have within our public education system.  Even with government programs being put in place, our test scores still continue to drop and kids who get to college still end up having to take more remedial courses so that they can catch up to the rest of the kids who were properly educated.  Those children who are “properly educated” usually come from private schools or from school districts that tend to score higher than the national norm, and therefore receive more funding than those that don’t.  The districts that are struggling are the ones that need to be subsidized more than anything, but for some reason we think that it’s a good idea to keep with the current system.

There’s no question that something needs to be done.  The United States is falling farther and farther behind the countries that we routinely compete with for global dominance, and this is showing up.  The workforces of China, India, and other countries to that continue to threaten our partially hegemonic stature are only becoming more educated and prepared for the ever-changing business marketplace, while we have either flatlined or regressed in most categories.  This cannot continue at the rate that it has for the past 10 years or so, or we are going to see huge consequences coming up fairly quickly.

The problem is not that our kids are getting dumber.  One could make the argument that television and mass media doesn’t encourage kids to think for themselves and to solve problems on their own, and therefore they are being dumbed down through consuming mindless media day in and day out.  However, this is only one factor in a process that takes approximately 20 years to complete, and that is the development of the human brain.

My brother is not the best student.  My house has seen a lot of conflict over grades, and a lot of those discussions have actually been centered around my brother.  I used to think that my brother was just stupid and that I was the one that apparently got all the “smart” genes from my parents, while he just drew the short straw when it came to being able to do well in school.  Turns out he’s just not very dedicated, and that he’s actually one of the smarter people that I have the chance to converse with on a daily basis.  It took me a while to finally realize this, but my brother is a small individual example of what’s wrong with our education system.

When I walk into a classroom, I usually can expect to be spoon-fed information from a PowerPoint for the entire class period, with the occasional interruption from the kid at the front of the class asking some question that either has nothing to do with the topic at hand, or just goes way beyond the scope of the class.  The kids who ask the questions are considered to be “try-hards” or “nerds”.  Learning has become something that kids just don’t want to do.  They want to hang out, socialize, play video games, practice sports, or whatever else they find interesting.  Believe it or not, this has been the case for pretty much eternity, or at least since the beginning of formalized education.  Teachers don’t usually like to deviate from a very limited selection of teaching styles simply because they’re easy and they have been proven to be successful…in some situations.

We all know that some kids learn in different ways.  Some are more visual learners, while some are auditory.  Some need to use their hands, some need to just talk about it.  There is no universal way to teach something that will make sense to everyone on Earth, but that’s the way that the education system is operating today.  My brother is brilliant.  He’s an extremely gifted individual, and I would definitely put his intelligence at well above the average person, perhaps even above my own.  However, he has struggled in school from the very beginning and this bothers me.  His teachers have obviously not taken the time to sit down with him and talk to him about why he doesn’t understand a certain idea or topic being covered in class, even though their only job is to make sure that their students (which includes my brother) are successful.

There is no question that public education is becoming extremely overcrowded, with most teachers having to oversee the performance of 100+ students in some cases.  This is a taxing and demanding task, but it’s one that an individual assumes when they choose to become a teacher.  Anymore, it’s hard to find a teacher that is willing to put in the hours that are necessary to truly improve their students and make sure that they are able to get the best grade possible, regardless of aptitude in the subject that they are currently teaching.  Teachers unions and the idea of “tenure” have ruined the education system to the point that teachers who do absolutely nothing all day during class are still being paid and given benefits on behalf of the taxpayers of the United States of America, even though their students end up going through their class without learning a single thing.  These examples are few and far in-between, but they do exist.  How do we fix something that has been so solidly embedded into our national culture?

We have had organized national education for so long now, it would be hard to imagine our country without it.  Rick Perry forgot about it in his drunken interview during the last Republican primary, but the Right has been trying to get rid of the Department of Education for a long time now.  They want to privatize the education system, or at least try and cut back federal oversight of the system and leave it up to the states to decide how to go about fixing the problems.  Privatization is the best option that I can see at this point, just because it would take a huge burden off of the federal government because they wouldn’t have to spend money to try and fund a dying institution.  Private education can be much more diverse and flexible, and would be much better at adapting to a changing job market and also to the individual needs of children who learn better with different methods.  For those kids like my brother who like to be able to work with their hands and do something active to learn about a subject or a topic or an idea, a private education that is not tied directly to curriculum standards and instead decides for itself what the standard is for a quality education would be a much better option than a system that simply requires that kids come to school and sit in a classroom to take notes off of a PowerPoint.

With the privatizing of education, there are other doors that open as well.  Private schools are presently quite expensive to attend, which means that the average citizen cannot send their children to a privately funded institution without the help of the government.  With the widespread introduction of privately funded charter schools and other institutions that may be tailored toward certain career paths, kids can learn more effectively and easily through increased use of technology and one-on-one teaching styles that makes sure that kids actually get what they’re trying to learn before they continue onto the next subject.

I saw a 60 Minutes special within the last 18 months that focused on charter schools that are completely free and offer a science and math-focused education.  The kids that were selected to attend the school had access to technology that made learning more fun, easier, faster, and more comprehensive as well as allowing them to work at their own pace.  They were not given rewards when they did not earn them, and they were punished when they earned punishment.  They were not coddled, not told that they were the most special person in the world, not told that they could be whatever they wanted to…they were taught how to study, how to problem solve, how to work through adversity, how to work hard, and how to triumph in the face of constant strain.  Charter schools like the one that 60 Minutes talked about are the answer to the problems that have begun to plague our nation over the last decade.  A sense of accomplishment that comes with hard work and dedication, the absence of meaningless accolades, and continued interest and attention from teachers can be achieved if we work at it, but it’s going to take a lot more than a blog post to make that happen.

If you have not already, I strongly recommend that, if you are interested at all in the current state of our education system, you watch the documentary titled “Waiting For Superman”.  It follows the paths of select students across the country that are trying to get into high-level charter schools by means of a lottery that each of the schools hold.  These charter schools are forced to hold these lotteries because of the sheer amount of students that apply for entry into their institution, trying to add a hint of fairness into a process that is so extremely unfair for the majority of the children.  In the movie, they make it clear that these lotteries are truly these kids last shot at being able to get a decent education and go to college and be ready for the world beyond the world they’ve always known.  This should not be the case.  A high-quality education for every child in the United States can be made a reality, but it must be done without the “help” of our ever-ignorant government and the idea that throwing more money at a problem will eventually solve it.



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