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By: Wayne Brown
For decade upon decade, the subject of education has been one that politicians on either side of the aisle could hang their hat on as something near and dear to the hearts of the voters. In many cases, a candidate for office could make it the centerpiece of his/her platform for office and know that it would grab a lot of votes. The cry was a common one verbalized in different ways but adding up to the same thing in the end. “We need better schools; We need higher paid teachers; We need better textbooks; We need more equipment; We need a football field, a new gym, a new track, we need , we need, we need.” In the end, regardless of the rhetoric assigned to it in the campaign it came down to need and money. Let the taxpayers step up and take care of the needs of our children and please give me credit for accomplishing the task.
The sad truth of it all is that for all of the times that the taxpayer has stepped forward and nodded in the affirmative; for all the times more money was appropriated; for all of the needs that were answered and satisfied, we still see the same old tired politicians out there yelling the same old tired battle cries attempting to elicit the same response from the voters and taxpayers of America. Unfortunately, we still see cases in which it still works quite well.
I graduated from a small southern high school many decades back in time now. With that experience and with what I see of the current crop of high school graduates, I can honestly say that I do not believe the educational process has improved. In fact, I think the opposite is quite true…it has decayed. America has been milked of billions upon billions of dollars over the past one hundred years in the name of education and what do we have to show for it? We are looked upon in terms of the quality of the basic education that we provide as number 23 among other countries of the world. I would say that is a mighty poor return on investment and a very poor investment in what should be the future leaders of our country over time.
Americans are beginning to wake up to this fact. We likely spend more per capita money per student than any country in the world yet we rank far down the list in terms of the quality of our education. This says to me that there is little correlation between the money spent and the product received. Japan provides higher quality education and does it at a figure far below what we spend per student in the USA. They cite the reason for that as their aggressive focus of hiring high quality teachers and eliminating teachers from the system on a regular basis who do not uphold that high quality standard. In America ,all we have managed to do is create a bunch of teachers unions that demand higher pay and produce fewer results, over time, and, for the most part, heavily complicate the firing process for those who are substandard.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate the teaching profession greatly and I appreciate those who dedicate themselves to it. It is a difficult job and those who overcome the obstacles associated with the work and still deliver a high standard are certainly to be admired. At the same time, I think these individuals would also be the biggest critic of the educational process and the sub-standard teachers who populate almost every school system in America. High quality teachers are heroes for the students and leaders for their community. They are a dedicated lot of people who are in the business for some other factor than just a paycheck.
I also would be remiss if I did not shine the light on the student. In America today, there are far too many students who do not have a home life that is conducive to the learning process. Education is the single greatest deterrent to ignorance and ignorance is the purveyor of stagnation in our communities. Each and every student must have an individual motivation to achieve as much or more than their prior generations. In doing so they must understand that education, both formal and informal, is the key to success in that arena. Without it, we all remain at the status quo. Students must challenge the system and demand that it meet their needs educationally. They must show that they can rise to a higher plane and that the system must rise with them. Parents play an intricate part in making this happen by instilling motivation, desire, and helping to maintain focus over the years. First and foremost, parents owe it to our educational process to send a well-disciplined and attentive child to school each day. This should not be the job of the educator if parents are demanding that educator’s hands be increasingly bound in the discipline area.
In the arenas of math and science, the USA has basically sustained a rather mediocre position in world education standings and gains. This is based on studies conducted on eighth grade level students every four years. From 1995 to 1999, the USA made only slight improvements with a slow upward trending that was barely detectable. From 1999 to 2003, we declined in each successive year and finally between 2003 and 2007, we began a shallow upward climb back toward our previous positions of 1999. Our results by 2007 were almost matched by Russian students who scores have been in a steady increase since 1995. The upper portions of the charts were dominated totally by Asian countries who still take great pride in teaching math and science and turning out engineers. The exception to up chart domination was in the area of science with the Scandinavian countries competing more aggressively with Asian countries for position.
Is education and the quality of education important in America? The answer to that question would certainly be a resounding “yes ” although the solution to achieving that result does not always lie with throwing more money at the process. America is currently a country which has a 99% literacy rate in children and adults over the age of 15 years yet we only have a high school graduation rate of 77%. Does this reflect downstream in our economy? It most certainly does as the 2010 figures for unemployment show that only 4.6% of college-educated people are unemployed while that same figure jumps to 10.8% for high school grads. It is likely even higher for the drop-outs.
America has been a “rich” country and far more capable of spending more per capita student on education yet we are not exceeding the performance of other countries in that process. In fact, in many cases, we are being outperformed by third world and developing countries that have far less resources to invest in educational infrastructure and teaching aids. The difference in our results must then lie within our cultural values versus theirs. America is willing to invest money into the educational process but unwilling to demand the results which should be in line with that investment, yet, we still continue to hear that we need to spend more money on education.
Some might make the argument that a unit of education is far more expensive in America than in some other developing countries thus they get more bang-for-the-buck versus our system. Accordingly, we have to invest more to achieve the same result. While that might follow mathematically in terms of currency values, the truth of the matter is that the American education process is starting to follow the same road of decay the American manufacturing process has followed in the past decades. Much of the cost of education on an annual basis is, like in any business, linked to the payroll and the associated costs of administering payroll such as income tax, SSI, Medicare, and benefits. In fact, that figure could account for more than 70% of the costs. Given that number, how much bang can we afford for the buck? Or let’s put it another way, since the vast majority of that payroll is made up of teachers and administrators, are we getting effective results for the money spent to pay them? I cannot answer that question per se but the numbers tend to speak for themselves. Most of these folks are coming under union protection now just as manufacturing workers did in the early 20th century. Contracts are making it more and more difficult to weed out those who are marginal teachers. Politicians are playing more to the unions for votes as opposed to attempting to bring pressure to bear on performance.
History shows us that money has not and will not fix the problem. Those who want to teach and those who want to learn will make do with whatever resources are available…and they will do it in some highly creative ways. Yes, nicer classrooms are good, more equipment is good, but never absolutely essential to the learning process. The process of education is one person leading another into the realm of knowledge. No matter how much technology changes or the world progresses, this fact will always be true. Education is a function of discipline on both sides, desire on both sides, and focus throughout. When we give up in those basic areas, all the other things that are simply “aids” to the process matter little in the end result.
There is also the aspect of orientation and attitude which plays heavily in the education process. For a long time, education in America’s classrooms was about the basics…reading, writing, and arithmetic and might I say that it was taught to the tune of a hickory stick. Over the years since the advent of LBJ’s Great Society, we have lost sight of the basics. Some where along the way ,the educational leadership of this country decided that it was more important to address the social aspects of life and worldly interaction than it was to teach math, science, and history. Suddenly, we are more worried about teaching political correctness that we are focused on teaching our children their heritage and preparing them to operate in the world of science and mathematics. Somewhere along the way, the school system started taking it upon itself to decide what was important in terms of history, religion, and interpersonal relationships. As the ideology grew, the emphasis on science, history, literature, and mathematics fell by the wayside. Now we produce a “socially-conscious” student who has little ability in any of the basic areas far too often.
Slowly but surely, our approach to education in America, is leading today’s students down a road of social consciousness in which there is little understanding of the democratic process or the capitalist system which drives our economy in this country. The emphasis seems to be more focused on teaching principles of socialism and human diversity. I have no problem with the system teaching a child to respect and honor the flag of another country but I first demand that we teach them to respect and honor the flag of the country in which they are a citizen. History falls in this same arena, we must first know where we came from, how we got here and what mistakes were made along the way as well as what was achieved. In this manner, a student can employ the past to help predict the obstacles of the future.
If we as Americans do not change the course of our educational process and soon, we will have generations who have been educated to mediocrity. Yes we still produce some outstanding students but more often than not these individuals are not created by the educational system, they are self-motivated and demand more and more as they progress while those of lesser focus are left to mediocrity.
It is time to have those discussions about how we can get our school systems back on track and to teaching the basics that students will always need in their journey through life. Don’t tell me that cursive writing is outdated and outmoded by the computer…teach the concept. Teach the person how to exist when all this electronic crap goes away in their life. Teach them how to understand the basics of a concept and how it functions without the aid of a computer or a calculator. Teach them understanding not functionality for a change.
We are rapidly creating generations of “process-oriented” youth who are entering industry with only the understanding that when confronted with a problem one should institute the process. This is normally done by pushing a few buttons on a computer and adding a bit of data. They have no real understanding of how the process works behind the scenes or how the computer arrives at the answer. Too often, they don’t even have a clue as to whether the end result of the process is the correct direction…they just run the process. You might shrug your shoulders at that and say so what? Well, maybe this will help you out with understanding it. The next time you go out to fly on an airliner, I pray to God that the pilots in the cockpit understand fully the basic principles of flying an aircraft when most of the systems are in failure mode. If they only have an understanding of how to operate the computer screens which monitor that process then you no longer have a pilot in the cockpit.
Regardless of what we talk about ,regardless of how much technology has progressed ,regardless of how archaic some things may seem to our everyday world, the knowledge that we possess of them helps us to understand where the centerline of the road is located and that principle in itself helps us to stay out of the ditches and steer back to center line. Without that knowledge ,we operate our world with educated idiots.
Parents and taxpayers must demand that our educational system move back toward the basics of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. Certainly we can include some social interface teaching in the process but it certainly does not need to dominate the educational process. We don’t need Kindergarten classes in sex education; nor history courses that teach that Americans are ugly people who have spent their entire history abusing others in the world. While there may be some in the teaching profession who are inclined to believe such hogwash, I say either keep your personal opinions to yourself or find another means of employment.
Certainly our post graduate education process is heavily populated with those who are in the teaching profession who openly claim to be Socialist, Marxist, or even Communists. Since this is America, these things are possible, especially today in our politically correct society. Unfortunately, we are allowing these individuals to take a classroom podium and use it to spew the poisons which they espouse upon the youthful and somewhat poorly educated minds of our highly impressionable kids right out of high school. If you see no danger in this, perhaps you might like to review the Goals of The Communist Party from 1963 and see what they say about influencing the education process of the young people of America. Perhaps then you will see that we have allowed at least a partial accomplishment of that goal. It is a sad day in America when we are willing to pay people to put down the history and intentions of one of the most generous and caring countries on this earth; yet for some strange reason we allow it to go on. It is no wonder that on that basis we are raising generations of children and young adults who know little of their country's history and consider that which they do know to be an embarrassment to them.
The next time you hear a politician decrying the need for more money invested into our educational process, I want you to think of what I have written here. I want you to think of all of the many things which are wrong in education today that money cannot and will never fix. And, I want you to ask yourself why so many high schools in America have new football fields with synthetic turf, the latest in running tracks, the best computers, and the nicest buildings yet cannot seem to deliver a reasonable level of education in the basics to our students in America today. Maybe that will help us approach the subject in the correct orientation.
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