The Eduction System of the United States and its Maladies

The Untied States' Educational System And Its Maladies

No, that's not a typo you read.  Concerning the embarrassing plummet of the national education system, the "Untied" States has been scrambling to find an answer.  I currently tutor four students and will have a 5th for next year. I have tutored for five years come this fall, thanks in part to the National Honors Society requiring community service back in high school. What began as a public service endeavor evolved into a viable business, from which I make incredible money and help students reach their potential. I have been tutoring and working with students from middle school to college for an array of concerns. Based on my breadth of experience, it has become rapidly clear that our educational system has been declining for quite some time.

From an outsider’s perspective, I neither claim to have studied empirical evidence nor possess a great understanding about our educational system. It is an indisputable fact, however, that our national standardized test scores are some of the lowest among industrialized countries here in the year 2009. It becomes more painful when we acknowledge that we have still just crawled into the 21st century. The previous century? Our educational system was lauded as a markedly different system from the rest of the world, encouraging the best and the brightest from all over the world to study as well as serving as the source of jealousy for many others. It seems as though most of the erosion has been sustained at the lower levels of education, as some of our colleges continue to rank among the best in the world despite the aggregate regression of our high schools.

So what happened? Having spoken with several teachers, I can only speculate that what occurred was a confluence of elements. In order to thoughtfully unpack these issues, I should preface my argument by stating that I have great love for the art of teaching. Helping students who are veritable geniuses or slow learners helps society. Our most important resource is unquestionably our human capital, as any economist will tell you. It is, borrowing a metaphor from Karl Marx, the “base” of our “superstructure.” Progress here in America is invariably determined by the intellect possessed by millions of doctors, nurses, teachers, lawyers, scientists, businessmen, politicians and civil servants among others. While more focus needs to be apportioned to the educational system, I do not argue that “more money is necessary,” as that platitude has been tested and failed repeatedly. Washington, D.C. spends the most per student in the country, but still suffers from educational malaise. Rather, this review contends that internal changes and standards must be rigorously applied without exception.

First, the teacher’s union has become adept as a lobbying entity, arguably one of the strongest in the country. The benefits and compensation accumulated through the union have made a large segment of the educational population lackadaisical. I’ve had students tell me that their teachers have admitted to “not feeling like grading or proctoring tests” and “don’t look for the answers to review packets for the finals” of which I just dealt with. Of course, this is not every teacher and by no means do I mean to extend this failure to every educator . I interpret tenure as a deviation of our political system, in which SOME teachers who become “incumbents” or have invested the necessary amount of years to acquire tenure, become apathetic to the student body. Just as we continue to lambast Congress for its inefficiencies, the same “incumbent” effect has gripped the educational system and made it lethargic. Teachers function more towards their own discretion and defy much classroom decorum. Again, my sister has consistently come home with stories about teachers who share their lives, marriages, and divorces with students. While this conceivably could have went on even fifty years ago, the rate at which this goes on has increased, perhaps due in part to the liberal, open classroom atmosphere in which educators have increasingly worked to become a friend of the students rather than mentor. While friendships between students and teachers should be encourage, they should neither interrupt nor impugn a teacher’s ability to conduct class and grade appropriately.

Second, the type of student today has become a corrosive element against the structure of the classroom. Teachers do not wield the same kind of control or power as they did even twenty five years ago. I can recall my high school AP economics teacher, Mr. Accetta, for talking about how when he went to high school, a teacher threw an unruly student against the wall after he had been acting like an absolute ass. Needless to say, the student stopped immediately after that fiasco. My sister comes home with horrific tales (which she finds utterly amusing) of students yelling and even cursing back at teachers. Tenure compounded by the inability to administer effective discipline without the fear of parental repercussions has rendered teachers inept to deal with today’s students. Materialism in this country is at an all-time high, and the ability to own it has shifted priorities for more students than usual. IPODS, cell phones and, for a growing proportion, luxury cars driven by students serve as instruments by which to poke fun at, castigate or ridicule the educational system. Even during high school, I can recall students making fun of teachers who couldn’t afford some of the gadgets and luxuries they enjoyed; this self-righteousness serving to justify their indifference towards subjects or academic consequences. In addition, it functioned as a subversive comparison in which teachers’ status became determinant on wealth rather than intellectual prowess. For lower-income school systems, the compounded failure of inner-city schools to formulate sufficient educational plans has reached a crescendo. While throwing money at the problem is an immemorial panacea for those school systems, it has made administration reliant on aid from the federal and state governments, while innovation has become stagnant. Our capacity for unbridled materialism has infiltrated and poisoned our educational system. The parents of students today have become tolerant of their children, throwing their hands in the air in dramatic confusion when their children misbehave. They resolve issues by purchasing items or allotting ridiculous benefits to their children such as using the car or receiving a brand new one. Parents who place more emphasis on material wealth and half-hearted discipline rather than on intellectual wealth and enforced discipline bear the burden of watching their children morph into irreconcilable brats who shrug off discipline or structure as transient restraints, knowing they’ll eventually circumnavigate them.

Lastly,  our educational standards have been lowered in order to accommodate more students. It has become taboo to hold back a student, as a maelstrom of teachers and administrations will descend on anyone who considers it as a practical option. This academic “sheep-herding” makes it difficult to catch students who are struggling, making it easier on the high school to pass more students, thus giving the impression that the school system has a high graduation rate. Rather than attack the problem at the root and reinforce strict academic standards, to which our parents were held to, administrators have become soft and sympathized with the down-trodden student. Rather than failing, other words are used. Red ink on tests have become frowned upon in many districts, as corrections have been reduced to unsightly marks that may give students more stress than necessary. Requesting students to do work or read “too much” (is there ever such a thing?) has been paralleled towards a violation of the 8th amendment, namely “cruel and unusual punishment.” When did studying become less preparatory and more of a undesirable burden?

Our return to possessing the educational mantle will come only if we raise standards and allow teachers to regain control of the classroom. First, teacher’s performances must be kept track of and held to some standard. Those who have become disinterested, disillusioned or apathetic with the educational system should not be working in it. Holding teachers to a particular standard, just as in the private sector, will force them to reconsider their approaches to teaching. Secondly, allowing teachers to effectively discipline students and hold them responsible for their behavior and performance is crucial to solidify the educational system. Students cannot be allowed to undermine or manipulate the educational system towards their benefits. Educators and administration need to cut down on trying to be “friends” with the students, which has often put them in awkward and disadvantaged positions in the past when try to discharge their jobs effectively. Schools should be seen as serious business; a theatre in which a student can express himself and work to his or her potential. High school’s main thrust is to PREPARE STUDENTS FOR COLLEGE, TRADE SCHOOL AND/OR WORKING IN THE REAL, COMPETITIVE, EMOTIONLESS REAL WORLD! Competition, failure and struggling are hallmarks not just of the working world, but of life itself. The world does not set standards lower to accommodate more workers; if one does not work to his or her potential or to the satisfaction of the company, that person is fired, although this passiveness has seemed to creep into the private sector, too, where companies are much more willing to document “firings” as “lay-offs” or other, cozy euphemisms. If these children are told they can circumvent rules, structure, academics and discipline, what are we really teaching them? That it is noble to do these things? Or that they’ll be met by the indifferent sigh of millions of educators and parents. The educational system should not diminish standards for students to reach; instead the educational system should set unmistakeably, concrete standards, subliminally telling all the students to “jump.” The reply of most students should be a resounding “How high?” If this crystallizes, students will assume more of the burden to educate themselves and be responsible for their own futures.

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