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The Corruption Of The American Dream: Why The Education System Needs To Change

Updated on May 6, 2020

A Little Background

“A basic element of the American dream is equal access to education as a lubricant of social and economic mobility.” —Nicholas Kristof, Journalist

Americans hold dear that anyone, no matter where you are economically or geographically, you can succeed in the United States. That is what the American Dream is about. Yet that ideal is being poisoned by the high school education system. The only way to achieve the highest aspirations and goals that each American dreams of is to have an education system that is built to provide students the skills required to succeed in a service economy, unlike in the former economy where we largely prioritized working in factories.

The high school system encourages obedience. We must go to class before the alarm goes on. When we enter the class we must sit in our assigned seat. When we are in the classroom the teacher tells us “go to page X”. We leave the class when the alarm goes on. We need permission to go to the bathroom, to ask a question, to make a point in a class discussion. All of these small experiences lead us down a rabbit hole we can’t escape from without thinking outside the box. The high school system does not teach us the character skills employers look for such as leadership, discipline, and teambuilding.

When you are in high school you are told constantly that your GPA is important. Parents put an intense amount of pressure on their kids to have the best grades in the school so they can be successful in life. Students sometimes even sacrifice sleep to get the best grades in class. 1 If grades were the true key to understanding who would be successful in life than why aren’t there more valedictorians becoming CEO’s or political leaders? Leaders like Vice President Joe Biden, President George H.W. Bush, John D. Rockefeller, and Walt Disney are a few of the many examples of people who either dropped out or did poorly in school, yet overcame it all to become leaders in their fields.

The working class citizens in America are worried about the rise in automation.Bill Gates stated that by 2025 “two thirds of all jobs in the US will require education beyond high school.”2 Oxford Economics found that since 2000 about 260,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in the US due to the increase in innovation in automation. ­­­3Presidental figures like Andrew Yang argues that we need to give citizens $1,000 to fix this. Is there truly a better solution?

Many minority groups are disproportionately victims of the school-to-prison pipeline. 40% of African American males don’t finish high school. 3In contrast, 35% of Hispanics, and 20% of white men. Many of them are forced to choose a life of crime, drugs, and alcohol. We can do better. We can create a high school education system that inspires Americans to believe again in the American Dream, and this is how.

How To Fix This

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”- Albert Einstein

1. Improve The Family

It doesn’t matter how much we follow the 9 other steps if a student’s family life is missing. Harvard professor of Economics Raj Chetty has found in his research titled “Where is the Land of Opportunity? The Geography of Intergenerational Mobility in the United States” that the biggest factor in a student’s overall projection of life is stable neighborhood families. 1 Tim Carney wrote in Alienated America that “ the best way to predict whether a child might end up better off than his parents is to look at this neighborhood and ask if most of the kids in his neighborhood were raised by single mother or by two parents. In the communities with intact families, the American Dream was alive and well. In the communities where the single mom was the norm, economic mobility was absent.” 2This isn’t to say there are a few exceptional parents that can give their child a great life on their own, but the overall statistics are alarming. Children who don’t have two loving parents are twice as likely to drop out of high school. 3They are 2.5 times more likely to become teen mothers. 1.4 times as likely to be out of school and out of work, as compared to children with both parents. parents. They moreover have lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, and poorer attendance records. Improving the family is the first step to ensure better education for everyone. Before we can fix anything in the education system, we need to start with the family. The mothers and fathers that students go to each and every night.

2. Make Performance-Based Assessment Tasks Universal (PBAT)

This is not similar to a standardized test in which students fill out bubbles on a scantron and call it a day. This as the Washington Post reports it as “an analytic literature essay, a social studies research paper, a student-designed science experiment, and high-level mathematics problems with real-world applications. They have both written and oral components. In the oral component, students respond to questions from a panel of teachers and outside experts, similar to a graduate school thesis defense.”4 How effective was this? Specifically for African Americans and Latinos, 86% and 90% of graduates were accepted to college. This is double the average which is at about 37% and 43%, respectively. Moreover, these graduates had a 12% increase in college retention. The basic truth is that humans learn and take exams differently, and people’s best qualities may not fit well into the standardized test system. This PBATs system requires that students truly show their understanding of the testing material while demanding that they can articulate the material in a coherent manner. Countries such as Finland have already proven this to be possible, and so can we.


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© 2020 Steven A Hall


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