Ah the American Educational System. How I love the idea, but hate the outcome. It is a true and unmitigated tragedy, what we have done to our children, but what do you expect when you expect cookie cutter results from people who are all different.
I have four children, and each of them is different. I have to teach them all differently, I have to approach different topics differently, and I have to work with who they are in order to get them to apprehend the material while still engaging the whole of their being, or personhood, in the process. In other words, I need them to figure out HOW to think far more than I need them to be able to regurgitate WHAT to think.
This is the classical approach to education, and it is still the best one we, as a species, have found.
I have identified many separate points where we have failed, but today I am going to focus on only three. These are the biggest stumbling blocks to the American educational system, and as such, they constitute our biggest impact areas. My hope, in writing this article, is for you to make an INFORMED decision about what educational style is best for your child, not to convince you to follow mine.
As most of my regular readers know, I'm a BIG truth in advertising stickler, so I feel it is only fair to do so here. I was homeschooled through High School, and we are a homeschool family with four children. My oldest just had his graduation ceremony the other Sunday and he will be attending college in the fall. My second is on a different track, and we're looking at apprenticeship programs and vocational education to supplement his curriculum education. We STRONGLY disbelieve in cookie cutter education and/or cookie cutter measuring sticks for educational retention. This is said so that you may take my bias into consideration when reading the aforementioned article.
So, without further ado, caveat, or ad hoc blabbering, I present you with three major stumbling blocks to the educating of America's youth:
FEDERAL "OVERSIGHT" IS THE BIGGEST STUMBLING BLOCK
This should not surprise any of my regular readers. Most of them would expect me to lead off with this one, and who am I to disappoint them. Yet, there is good cause for this topic to be the leadoff hitter, as almost every other problem that we are seeing in our educational system flows from this one issue.
Many people say that we simply do not spend enough on education, that is ridiculous. We are the fifth largest spender on education in the world per student, and yet we have educational tests that fall, if I am generous, in the middle of the pack. Why is that? Well, has anyone ever stopped to ask, "WHERE is all that money being spent?"
It started with Jimmy Carter and his establishment of the Department of Education (DOE). Reagan only made it bigger with the "Presidential Physical Fitness Program" and "D.A.R.E." (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) George Bush ballooned the problem with "No Child Left Behind," and Obama's involvement in everything from school lunches to after school programs followed suit.
Federal programs suck up money, time, and resources. They always have, and they always will.
Every school in America is now burdened with an ever increasing need for bureaucrats whose only job is to compile "information" and "report" that information up the chain, eventually to the DOE. By the way, each level up the chain then needs more layers of bureaucracy to deal with it as well. There has to be someone at the district to receive and compile that information, then someone at the county, then someone at the state, then multiple people at the DOE. That all counts as "Educational Dollars Spent" even though it is not being used to actually educate anyone.
Administrative costs have exploded since the 1970s, and yet, since then our results have done nothing but go down. We now have multiple principles, vice-principles, and other "staff" filling school offices, yet we have less and less teachers, and less and less money to afford to pay and keep them. Every one of those bureaucrats knows that they need to "do something" to keep their job, so who has to furnish all of the information for them to keep filing their reports? That is right, the teachers do.
My brother and sister-in-law were public school teachers in Texas for years. They quit last year. Why? They got tired of putting in 60 hours a week, staying after school and filling out useless information sheets, and attending meeting after meeting away from their students so that some guy in a suit can fancy their information up and justify himself getting paid more than they do.
It... is... just... insane...
STANDARDIZED TESTS LEAD TO STANDARDIZED TEACHING
Remember what I said earlier about each of my four children learning differently? My house looks like a homeschool bazaar most days because each child ends up with a completely different, and customized, curriculum that allows them the maximum retention of information while also allowing them to retain their individuality and personality.
Well, you cannot do that when you have teaching standards to meet. I mean, who has time to ensure that Johnny understands WHY 2x2 is 4 when all we need to do is be sure that he KNOWS that 2x2 is 4. Rote memorization has replaced teaching, testing, testing, and more testing have supplanted foundational understanding, and more than 1/4 of all learning days have some type of test preparation for whichever level of testing comes next, with some of them being full days of nothing but how to take a standardized test.
In fact, testing has become so prominent that it has become an inseparable part of American pedagogy (the theory and study of education). It is no longer a means to measure what we still need to teach our students in order to help them grasp the material better, but rather it has become the end goal of education in and of itself. It seeks to quantify the non-quantifiable, and if you do not excel in the ways that the test says that you should? Well, you are a failure, and so is your teacher, and so is your school. How sad, crazy, and infuriating.
It was Albert Einstein himself who said:
And applying that to our system:
We continue to attempt standardize that which is not standard. It is our "one size fits all" approach which harms us most of all. The statement that "everyone should go to college" in the 1990s? We are seeing the results of that today, and they are not good.
A NON-COMPETATIVE SYSTEM HURTS OUR CHILDREN
Now, as a homeschooler, I have an advantage. I know my children, I know what works, I get to hear their feedback and we have fostered an air of open communication where they can tell me that they do not understand and I can try something else to help them. Yet, in a classroom where you have 30-40 kids, that is generally not possible.
So how do other systems deal with the fact that not everyone is an academic? How do they keep their people educated while also spending where it is impactful? Simple, they are competitive.
Imagine if we, like most Asian countries, had to COMPETE to get IN TO High School. If you do not make the cut, you get placed in a vocational training program that still teaches you what you need, but it also teaches you a vocational skill of your choosing as well as practical life skills that you'll need outside of it... like say... budgeting, how to do your taxes, or how to get a job, et al?
What would our schools look like if you had a GPA requirement for continuation in the 9th grade, 10th grade, AA level college, and then a University like Britain? We'd have a lot more people making $23-25 an hour as plumbers, electricians, welders, auto-mechanics, aircraft mechanics, and so many other things than just a bunch of people flipping burgers for minimum wage.
Vocational training helps everyone. It helps the country, it helps the students who receive it, it helps the student who do not receive it (as they can receive more academic attention from instructors), it helps the instructors, and it is a much better system all around. Yet any call for increased alternative or vocational instruction in our country is met with vocal resistance and cries of oppression, poor-shaming, academic-shaming, intelligence-shaming, and even "racism."
Look, I hate to have to be the one to tell you this, but if little Johnny is having trouble doing (A * 5 = 20), then maybe he is not cut out for college. That is not the negative we have made it out to be, but you will have to very hard time convincing people of that.
In the end, the failures of our education system are numerous, but almost none of them are "how much money we spend on it." As usual, we prefer simple answers to the complex yet correct ones. We like answers that make us feel good (such as everyone should go to college). What we do not understand is that it is our desire to do this that has hurt us greatly, and much of that starts and ends at the top.
The greater the Federal involvement, the more bloated things become. Also, the less caring they become because every step you take up the ladder cares less and less about the individual and more and more about the statistics.
It is time for our schools to stop teaching children what to think and to return to its original call to teach them how to think. Students who are taught how to think will come to their own conclusions. Students who are taught what to think never think outside of that box.
Yet, homeschoolers are "narrow minded" while public schoolers are not.
The irony is not lost on me.