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Education Is A Three-Way Street
What do you think is the number one problem with education in the United States?
Let me just lay it all on the table from the start: I have serious issues with the education system in the United States and, to borrow from the movie “Network,” I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.
Actually I’m not mad at all but I was going for an attention-grabber and that was my best shot.
Before I go any further let me tell you what credentials I bring to the discussion so you won’t think I’m just another Hubber with nothing better to do than randomly write 1,500 words and wait for my Hub score to rise. I was a classroom teacher for eighteen years, spanning three decades, and during that time:
· I taught in junior college, high school and elementary school
· I taught a variety of subjects including history, geography, political science, creative writing, earth science, physical science, algebra, business law, bookkeeping and religion.
· I coached basketball, baseball, volleyball and track.
· I was named one year as one of American’s 100 Top Teachers
· I have served as Social Studies Department Head.
· I attended the National Geographic Leadership Academy where I learned how to teach educators.
The only point to that list is that I have a working knowledge about the subject I will now discuss in some length. Shall we begin?
THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN
According to the latest studies (2009) by the Programme for International Student Assessment, the United States ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math out of the thirty-four countries rated.
It should be noted that those scores (only fifteen-year olds are tested) are higher than the scores achieved in 2003 and 2006 but there can be no doubt that the United States is far behind where they were twenty years ago when they led the world in education. According to the U.S. Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, “This is an absolute wake-up call for America. The results are extraordinarily challenging to us and we have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education.”
Is it a question of investing? The United States spends more per student than any other country tested except Luxembourg, while countries like Estonia and Poland performed at the same level as the United States but spent less than half the amount per student.
I don’t need an international study to tell me what I have known all along, namely that the standard of education has diminished over the three decades that I have been teaching.
SO WHAT THE HECK IS THE PROBLEM?
I know, there are some of you right now who are saying that this study is bogus, that things aren’t as bad as this study makes them out to be, and I guess I can understand that viewpoint. You probably have a child that is self-motivated and has always excelled in school and you just don’t think things could possibly be this bad. I had reservations at one time, but slowly those reservations have been eliminated by witnessing the decay of the system up close and personal. Would you really like to gag on your lunch? Watch the following video filmed at our local high school but be prepared to lose it.
What say you now? Still bogus? Please note that those questions were being asked of students who live in Olympia, Washington, the capitol city of the state, and still there were some who thought the capitol city was Seattle. As the kids like to say…..OMG! I have to admit that I was still skeptical enough to do my own informal poll of some high school students who I know; they could not tell me what the Revolutionary War was about! They had absolutely no idea and claimed they hadn’t had it yet in school. Now please understand that it is mandated that students receive United States History once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school. So what the heck is going on?
This problem is so large that it is impossible to hit upon all that is wrong with it in this Hub. I have my own opinions and I will touch on them now, but this is only scratching the surface, giving you at the very least something to think about as you go about your daily schedule.
We have to look at the very foundation of education in this nation, but we also have to look at the social fabric of this country to begin to gain an understanding of the problems we face in education. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about standardized testing. Each state is required to show competency among their students in certain subjects, and the major emphasis these days is on reading, math and science. The importance of these tests has taken on a life of its own, leading most school districts to teach to the test and ignore anything that does not aid in showing great results in those tests. Do you think I’m making that up? I have sat through countless staff meetings where the subject of the meeting was how do we improve our standardized test results? There is something fundamentally wrong with that approach. Rather than having staff meetings aimed at providing a better education and improving a teacher’s abilities to teach the main concern is on the test results. The focus is all wrong and it continues to be all wrong and will continue to be all wrong until standardized testing is given the perspective it deserves.
From one rant to the next. I was lucky enough several years ago to hear Fr. William O’Malley speak at a teacher conference. Fr. O’Malley is a respected teacher, lecturer and author (https://www.facebook.com/pages/William-OMalley/112972998716704) who has some fairly interesting opinions on education. He proclaims that the advancements in technology have greatly hurt modern education. Let me explain! With the advent of computer games and video games and social sites, education has become boring and meaningless to many students. There are just way too many things to do that are more interesting than study algebra or history or God forbid read a novel. He said that the modern-day teacher is in a battle and the opponent is technology. If teachers cannot find a way to make information relevant and interesting then the distractions that techno gadgets offer will win the minds and hearts of the students. The challenge then, according to Fr. O’Malley, is to find a way to make learning interesting and relevant and fun. To do any less is to forfeit the battle.
And then we turn our attention to the modern American family! We no longer live during the Fifties when dad worked and mom stayed home and ran the household, making sure the cooking and laundry are done and that the kids do their homework. Now we have households where mom and dad both work, often because of economic necessity, or households where there is a single parent trying their best to make ends meet. In either scenario we see less and less time devoted to making sure that the kids prepare properly for school. I am attaching no blame in that statement but rather pointing out how the fabric of American life has changed and how that might have affected study habits at home.
In the latter years of my teaching career most of my students would study in their rooms with the television on and earphones blaring music in their ears, more often than not while writing to friends on Facebook or Skyping while they study. Am I the only one who sees a problem with that? How can a person properly concentrate on an algebraic formula while all of those distractions are going on around them? I have heard all of the justifications and I say they are all baloney! “But my little Johnny concentrates better when there is background noise!” Well then Mrs. Edwards, you are an idiot, and I don’t want to hear you whining when Little Johnny gets a C on his next essay or when he can’t score high enough in those damned standardized tests to get accepted to Harvard!
OKAY, BILLYBUC, WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT THIS MESS?
As the title of this hub suggests, education is a three-way street, and the responsibility for educating our students falls squarely in the laps of the students, the teachers and the parents. I have very little faith in the Federal Government when it comes to handling problems like this and finding solutions, so we will concentrate on the three groups I mentioned.
Parents….Proper learning begins at home. From an early age kids should be encouraged to read and reading should be modeled by the parents. From an early age parents should talk about the value of education and the need for a good education. Your kids respect you at an early age and your words mean a great deal to them. Give their education at least the same amount of importance as you would your jobs or your bowling league or your sewing group.
Good study habits begin at home. At an early age regular study habits need to be established and monitored and they need to be maintained without technological distractions. I wrote a hub early on that dealt with this matter….http://billybuc.hubpages.com/hub/Good-Study-Habits-The-Old-Fashioned-Way….and in that hub I talk about the need for quiet study time and constant encouragement at home.
And while we are talking to parents let me be very clear on this next point: if your child is not receiving the proper education that they deserve then you need to be their NUMBER ONE ADVOCATE! Head on down to the school and ask why your child doesn’t know what the capitol of their state is; I can tell you for a fact that school officials do not enjoy those meetings. If the teacher can’t give you an adequate answer then the vice principal or the principal are your next stop. I have had friends tell me that they hesitate to do that because they fear a backlash from the teacher or administrator and I say to them if you are allowing substandard education because you don’t want to deal with possible backlash then you are not doing a good job of being an advocate for your child. Good teachers deserve praise; bad teachers need you in their face demanding results.
Teachers….It is your job to make learning fun and interesting. I’m sorry if it is a tough job and I’m sorry if you feel you aren’t being paid enough and I’m sorry if you don’t receive the support you think you deserve, but it is your job to make learning a viable alternative to Facebook and text-messaging.
Most teachers I know, and I have known quite a few over the course of my career, went into education because they wanted to make a difference. Little by little many of them have been beaten down over the years, wilting under the added requirements and low pay and longer hours and lack of support. They have fought the good fight but they are now deeper in the hole financially than when they began, they are handcuffed by legalities and they are constantly being called into meetings demanding better test results but at the same time being told their funding has dried up and their class size is increasing next year. The next time Tom Cruise feels the need to do another Mission Impossible movie he should do one playing a teacher as the main character because there are times it seems impossible to achieve results as a teacher.
Teachers, you either need to re-discover the passion that fueled you in the early years or you need to get out of the profession. It’s one thing to be a short-order cook at McDonalds and do a substandard job; nobody really gets hurt if you can’t say ‘thank you’ and mean it. However, if you are a teacher and doing a substandard job the kids are getting hurt and that is unacceptable.
Students…..Nobody owes you a thing! Your education is as much your responsibility as it is anyone else’s. If you truly want to go on to college then you need to earn your grades and that means give school a little more attention than you give television or the social media. If you truly want to be taken seriously as an adult then earn that right by becoming educated. If you want your opinions to be taken seriously then learn how to form an intelligent opinion. If you want the very best for yourself then earn it! I have no patience with whining nor do I have any patience with blaming others for something you could have achieved had you been willing to do the work.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
We have barely touched upon all that is wrong with education in the United States. I haven’t even broached the topic of teachers’ salaries. If you want the best and the brightest to teach your children then you need to pay them accordingly. The best and the brightest will not sign a teaching contract for $15,000 per year when they can make that as part-time computer programmers. Heck, the best and the brightest can make over $20 per hour working for Safeway so why in the world would they take on the burden of teaching? The flip-side of that statement is this: if we are going to pay our teachers what they truly deserve then they need to earn that pay. I believe in accountability just as I believe in fair pay for a difficult job, and I have seen too many teachers over the years mailing it in as they approach retirement or as the burdens of the job wear them down. That needs to end.
And so does this Hub; I have just gone over the 2,000 word plateau and we will have to take a look at other issues regarding this topic in another Hub.
I want our children educated at a higher level. They are our future and I don’t like what I see when I rub my crystal ball. My days of teaching have come to an end and I want to believe my eighteen years meant something, but I also want to believe that there are others out there who can pick up the torch and teach with passion and enthusiasm. Our kids deserve that!
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
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