Why and how is it that the value of a good education has dropped? This isn’t just one snag either. There is a list of individual ways we have allowed our education system to fall to the wayside. The United States of American is suppose to be the greatest country in the world, yet we are portrayed as a bunch of dim-witted jocks. We have given them a fine reason to feel this way.
We could go on to say that many of the problems I will be listing below occur in many places; but that does not defeat the fact that we are viewed as the most powerful country in the world. By that title alone, our quality should be one to set standard by; not laugh at. Many of the problems I will be listing either exist more commonly in lower economical, social, or politically powered countries; and still some of the problems I will address exist almost exclusively here in America. Let’s begin:
When we hear the statement “the US is 37th in education”, it refers to the US spends 5.7% of the GPD on education which places us in 37th place; tied with Austria and Estonia.
Because we have been in a 10+ year “War on Terror”, our budget for the military is roughly 60% of our National Budget. This has led to a number of institutions having very little to spend. To add to this financial loss, we are only 4 years into a fractured and hemorrhaging economy which makes that 5.7% a small piece of a now smaller pie.
The average teacher makes just enough for a living wage… if they are alone. If they have a family to support, that living wage (approximately $25,000 a year for one person) simply isn’t enough. Then compound that with the cost of additional teaching aides. This is what we are paying these people to watch, educate, and prepare our children for entering the world equipped to become a well adjusted adult. It would seem difficult to remain enthusiastic about a task as critical, as difficult, and yet unappreciative.
Religious /Political Agendas and the War on Science
At this point, the two are practically the same. Our nation has become fixated on what our leaders personally give thanks to instead of their ability to lead. Somehow, whether or not homosexuality has become a topic of debate in the school system. Sex education is frowned upon; and as a result, teen pregnancy is fairly common. There is an ongoing battle for what constitutes as science. Not often, but sometimes, this affects education against the will of the majority of parents. In some pious states, this battle for science isn’t even being fought. The forefront of this struggle is evolution, climate change, and stem cell research.
Because political pull has become heavily related to religious influence, there are nearly 100 bills if not more per year that are proposed to House and Senate floors attempting to either downplay or remove evolution, or add creationism. Aside from being utterly disgusted that politicians are banking elections on manipulating the education of our children, more disgust is reserved for the fact we let this happen. We elect them and they try to secure spots for their fellow politicians or ease a path for their own ascension into a higher office.
Rather than making this a theological debate and shifting the conversation away from education, let’s instead take a moment to look at one fact and one statement:
Fact- modern science is only about 200 years old. Science is founded on principles of observation only recently cultivated. Chemistry is really only 300-400 years old, replacing what was once alchemy. Science as we know it begins approximately 1000-1200 years after religious doctrine ends with the exception of Mormonism. Religion actually presents very little scientific context beyond primitive mathematics. Religion, there for, belongs in a science class no more than evolution belongs in a church. To indicate that religious doctrine has authority over an inconceivable practice for the time it was written is akin to claiming ancient Romans knew something about airplanes.
On October 23, 1996, Pope John Paul II made the following statement to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:
” New findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies -which was neither planned nor sought- constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”
” A theory is a meta-scientific elaboration, which is distinct from, but in harmony with, the results of observation. With the help of such a theory a group of data and independent facts can be related to one another and interpreted in one comprehensive explanation. The theory proves its validity by the measure to which it can be verified. It is constantly being tested against the facts; when it can no longer explain these facts, it shows its limits and its lack of usefulness, and it must be revised.”
To account for climate change, that is the revised version of global warming. The hypothesis had solid foundation and only a few inconsistencies. This lead to changing only the most cosmetic details of the hypothesis to produces what, so far, appears to be a solid theory. Even without full verification, climate change presents a plethora of proven facts that aspects of our interference with the environment is actually causing massive negative impacts on the world. Discounting this, even without full verification, is hazardous and misleading.
Regarding stem cell research, there are so many bans on it that we are currently working with copied cells that are as much as 30-40 years old. The research and breakthroughs that we hear about today are from material older than many people reading this right now. This aside, stem cell research is actually a scientifically valid and proven field. The issue is entirely in the spiritual sense, not of science.
Archaic Methods and Medical Solutions
To further elaborate on the need to move forward towards the new instead of back towards the old, our education system is currently outdated. Moore’s Law was thought to hit a wall at a certain point with technological advancement in about 10 years but instead overshoot some of the perceived limits with the advent of the single atom transistor.
What this means is in the past 10 years alone, the stimulus that our kids are exposed to via technological advancements has far outstripped the stimulus provided by the educational system. It has become difficult to keep their attention because they leave this world of modern technology to be taught with tools that have lost their functional use in the 90s. Some schools have struggled to keep up, including email assignments and the like; but we now stand on the brink of what many would view as a setting written for a movie set in the future.
Education has fallen behind by our own technology and consumer demand will not let it slow down. To provide an example of what kind of distance to look forward to between education now and technology tomorrow, consider this: our children are relying on textbooks to learn while being entertained the very life-like hologram of a rapper that has been dead since the personal computer first became popular performs live on stage with another not-so-dead rapper.
This gap has inadvertently given away to another problem that is often viewed as a solution: medicating our children to calm them down. With the enormous amount of stimulation at home, a sudden rise in hyperactivity and poor attention spans became problematic. Taking our children from the amazing technological marvels of our modern world and putting them in a tired, old classroom has had some negative effects. This isn’t actually the fault of the children, but our educational systems fault.
A part of educating children is preparing them for the world as we know it. We are failing miserably. The world as we know it is moving away from books and pictures. Digital media is what they will be dealing with in their daily life now. Instead of addressing this issue, parents (often to the suggestion of the teachers or educational staff) are resorting to a variable medicine cabinet of prescription drugs as an answer. Instead of meeting the advanced demands of the child, we are choosing to pacify this need for more stimulation so that they function in an archaic system. There are genuine cases of disturbances within the psychological needs of the child, but not nearly as many as what are reported.
Teaching to the Test and other Attacks on Creativity
” Teaching to the test” is a phrase coined from the damaging results of the “No Child Left Behind” act signed into law by President George W. Bush. Initially, this seemed like a good idea on paper to many; but in application, it really ended up making the education system look good on paper instead of in practice. Math and English became the primary focus of this teaching method and the measure that the success of a school would be judged.
Instead of promoting what was deemed “necessary education”, many teachers began neglecting science, history, and anything considered an “art” in favor of teaching to the standardized tests. The neglect in educating dropped the standard in which teachers needed to be qualified. This method of teaching and lack of education in some areas created a deficiency in intuitive and creative thinking. When student performance began to drop, teaching to the lowest average student (which leaves smarter students with less of an education while “dumbing them down”) and even cheating for the class became an reoccurring problem. Problems were then worsened by having bonuses hinge on the schools performance. The recent movie “Bad Teacher” actually did a fine job of unintentionally illustrating this if we consider that Math and English (two subjects that don’t have the advantage of being necessary to predict, thus stealing a test to teach by would be pointless) were the only subjects included as we watch the main character “teach to the test”.
Assorted abandoned arts that have plagued the school system for years add to the quagmire. Music is barely hanging on to the need for marching bands for football games while painting, drama, and any other art not useful to the school’s image risk getting cut. Our children are passing in greater numbers now because there is less for them to pass.
Under-Qualified Teachers verses Over-Sensitive Parents and Students
Let’s tally up what we have so far: underpaid teachers, lower standards to teach by, outdated tools, and impatient students. We can imagine any teacher worth their salt is either outraged or had to move on to other employment.
In 2010, there were almost 4 million teachers working in elementary and secondary schools. In 2011, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards reported only 97,285 board certified teachers. Less than 4% of teachers are board certified. There is a certain rationalization that specific tasks might not require certification so much as experience or professional association such as a chemist or historian, but less than 4% below reasonable accountability.
Again, the only real source of blame is between the economy and our willingness to let these standards falter. There is no real excuse to let the rigid criteria of a proper education lower; but it has.
Perhaps because of this notable drop in quality of teachers or maybe adding to the reason for the drop in quality comes the poorly conceived notion that addressing failure is damaging to a child’s development. The idea is that informing a child that they have failed at something has damaging to their self-image and would result in depression and feelings of inadequacy. The concept is apart of the new modern parenting where children are all “mommy’s special little butterflies”. What actually occurs is the child is being protected from knowing that they have failed and instead of protecting their fragile ego. They develop an inability to accept criticism, a lack motivation to seek the correct answer, and if this persists into their adulthood; crushing defeat every time something doesn’t manage to work out for them.
This psychologically damaging practice is then imposed on the teacher. By definition, they are suppose to educate the student on what is correct and incorrect with the technical world while teaching them about the ascetic world. If the teacher isn’t allowed to explain when and how a student fails or even address the failure as such, then the teacher can’t teach. Because of this, a number of schools move away from admonishment and any word that asserts a negative when relating to the student’s performance.
It has been noted for some time that the education of our children has been critically hampered. The most recent financial shift has actually cut elementary and secondary spending by 10% while boosting federal student aide by 50%. An already sub-par education system gets cut while the results of that education system is given financial assistance. By nurturing flaw, we insure it gets progressively worse.
We are in desperate need of domestic repair instead of the prolonged involvement in international affairs. That repair starts with education and then drives upward. A more intelligent country would make a more productive country.
Falling behind in advanced educational tools also seems to be a running issue. Utah is already driving towards the future with digital textbooks instead of the old paper books. A standard science book runs about $80 and needs to be updated regularly to keep up with modern breakthroughs. An open source digital copy of the same textbook runs about $5 and can be updated with little to no effort as science progresses.
We really need to reevaluate the use of medication to “calm” children. It would seem that children diagnosed with ADHD to the point of needing medication is particularly high in southeastern US. If this were truly the problem it was made out to be, then the need to deal with it as such would not be so high in some of the more questionably educated states.
Raise the standards of teachers and the teaching material. We need a broad and evenly distributed range of education, not an education that is just focused enough to permit an effective fast food employee. Teachers need more credibility and with it, a creditable wage. Teachers once taught for the love of the job, and we took advantage of that. Now, teaching is not as difficult of a job to place for anymore and the benefits of certification hardly matter. We should be showing far more respect to the people sculpting the minds of young people. Demand a more stringent quality of teacher, pay them for that quality, and then let them freely do the job they are qualified to do.
The money is there to make this happen. Instead of letting our government spend most of our budget on military and war, demand they spend it education and growth for our future. Once we have a smarter and more capable people, we can then collectively sort out the rest of our problems.