Fair warning, this is a long post. I wrote it in answer to a young lady’s questions. She’s very bright, and it’s good to know that there are young people like her around. In case you’re interested, here’s her site http://emmatzeng.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/hay-where-can-i-git-sum-edumacation/
Where did the American education system go wrong?
How can we reform the hiring process to ensure that teachers are well-trained, qualified, and prepared to enter the field?
And last but not least, how can we, as a society, reinvigorate our zeal to learn and rekindle our reverence for education?
So great to see you! It’s been so long since I’ve seen you I almost ( as if) forgot about you, and how well you write. I’m going to take a stab at answering your questions, but please don’t expect the same sort of eloquence in my reply as you used in this carefully crafted and well thought out post. I’m going to take them in order, so here goes:
1. Where did the American education system go wrong?
Emma, as we all know, and inherit in your question, is the reasonable assumption that at one time the American education system was right. You can’t go off on the wrong path without being on the right one, can you? When we look at the beginning when our country was first founded, and our form of government was established we see that there was no Department of Education. Not until 1868 was it even conceived of, and then it wasn’t much, and only began to take the shape and form of what it is now in 1953, but didn’t get its final form until it became a cabinet level entity under President Jimmy Carter who made it so in 1979. Up until then, the education of children was primarily in the hands of their parents and through the local church, and it’s minister. Textbooks, in the way we know them-to my knowledge-had yet to be written. They had a textbook, but back then it was called “The Bible,” and it was the only thing used up until 1836 when “McGuffey’s Reader” came along and was used in conjunction with it. The education of our children up until the 20th century was primarily focused on religion and morality. That’s not to say that other subjects weren’t taught, but other than math, these subjects weren’t widely available, and were not really germane to the position most people found themselves in at the time. Children were taught the Bible, and thus were taught about God, the trinity, and Jesus Christ, but that wasn’t all. The Bible had much to teach about science, history, geography, and astrology, Yet, even more importantly the Bible taught them how to love their fellow-men and get along with others. The Bible was taught in that day in a way that would be completely unrecognizable by today’s standard. Discipline was taught and enforced. There was no such thing as teacher’s unions, or government interference. More importantly children were taught how to think, to analyze, and to create instead of how to conform to an ideal. Children were taught the importance of freedom, independence, patriotism, responsibility, and being self disciplined. Love of God and country were promoted and celebrated and it showed in people’s lives. Up until the early 1960’s this was the standard, and then a number of things happened which dramatically changed the landscape of education for all future generations to come. Among the things that happened were these:
Prayer was taken out of schools
Television became widely available
Rock & Roll
The Vietnam War
The Hippy generation
Illegal drug use greatly increased
The sexual revolution
The Women’s Liberation Movement
Discipline was abolished
Sex Education was mandated
Before the 1960’s, the line between childhood and adulthood was drawn pretty sharply. Children were somewhat sheltered and protected. Schools focused on education such as reading, writing, arithmetic, and other subjects. Another thing that schools did unobtrusively was to reenforce and encourage the identity and role of children in that boys were taught and encouraged to follow in the steps of their fathers and of men throughout history just as girls were. I realize that this probably sounds archaic and old-fashioned, but if you will look back through history you will see that people felt a stronger sense of contentment and satisfaction in their lives, and had a better self-image, than what people, both men and women have today. During the 60’s social issues were introduced into the schools, and instead of protecting and sheltering our children from these things we inundated them with even more. Emma, if you were to go back and look at the statistics, I believe, you would find a steady and consistent rise in almost every category measured in education today. In conclusion, in order for children to thrive in an educational system, we must take the view that every farmer has automatically in that he knows in order for his crops to grow he must provide the right conditions. He fertilizes and rotates his crops; he plants at the right time, and he plants the right crop. Some plants need sunshine in order to grow; some need shade; some need a lot of water; some need barely any. The truly successful farmer knows his land, knows his plants, and gives them all that he’s capable of giving in order to give them the best chance at coming to fruition.
2. How can we reform the hiring process to ensure that teachers are well-trained, qualified, and prepared to enter the field?
There are a number of things that need to happen in order to get the best quality teachers. For one thing, people in hiring positions have to understand that you get what you pay for. You want to know one of the reasons why some industries draw the most creative, intelligent, hard-working, and determined people, it’s because they pay well though money isn’t all of it. Another reason that some businesses draw those kinds of people is because they create a work environment that encourages creativity and outside-the-box thinking. You never get anywhere new by traveling the same road, do you? You want the best teachers then create an environment in which they compete with each other, and make the playing field equal across the board. How do you do that? You base their jobs on performance, on how well their students perform, and you pay them accordingly. If you’re smart, you’ll be loyal to those who deserve your loyalty because of what they achieve, and not just because they’ve sat at the same desk for the last fifteen years. You’ll make sure that your teachers have the ability and the access to continue their education so that they’ll be able to give their students the best instruction possible. You take the federal government out of education all together and give it back to the states, and let them set their own standards for excellence. You do that, you’ll force people to be responsible, to give their best effort, and prevent corruption and laziness on the part of state leaders by voting those out who fail to give our children the best education they can possibly afford. No state wants to lose money (taxpayers) to other states so you’ll give them incentive to work hard to keep them. You have to change the culture of education. You do that by withdrawing social issues out of the system. You put the responsibility for the teaching of values back on the parents where it belongs instead of mandating that students be forced to attend and perhaps go through things that their parents are against. You have to give schools the discretion and the ability to develop policies of discipline that have some teeth instead of just giving kids want they want which are days off and just making it harder on parents who are trying to make a living. You increase the opportunities for excellence in education by providing tax cuts to private schools, and state-supported funding for those who meet rigorous standards of excellence. Private schools competing with public schools forces both to be better, and thus gives every child a better opportunity for a quality education. Another advantage in private schools is that they can determine to teach and do those things which are denied to state schools; meaning that if they so chose they could teach those things that make for better citizens according to their own dictates. Increase funding for schools and teachers by putting a special tax on professional sports for education and nothing else. Do random audits on schools for financial accountability so that they are run well, and cut corruption and wasteful spending. See what happens to education when good people are encouraged to give their best, and those who are aren’t good are forced to go elsewhere because of their own failures and lack of will.
3. And last but not least, how can we, as a society, reinvigorate our zeal to learn and rekindle our reverence for education?
The first thing is to start showing that we value our children and that we value their education. We do that by creating an atmosphere in which we encourage their creative expression and individuality. We reward and encourage independent thinking, we take the time and provide the resources to give each child an avenue to success. We give them that avenue by having well-trained people who can help them assess their skills and abilities, and then provide them with opportunities to develop those skills and abilities. Every child has a talent, a gift, a skill, an ability to do something of worth. We have to make available to them those teachers who can and will help them find their place in the world. When people are excited about what they’re doing; when they’re rewarded for hard work, when they achieve success in their accomplishments then you’ll see the love for education that we all should have.
I don’t know if I’ve answered your questions well, but I tried. 🙂