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An Expensive Education

An Expensive Education

There are few things that Democrats and Republicans can agree on, but one of them is the state of the American education system. Everyone knows, regardless of political agenda, that the system is broken.

The evidence is undeniable. The United States lags behind the majority of developed nations in nearly every measurable category, from language skills to reading comprehension to math and science. According to the documentary Waiting for “Superman”, the only score in which American students excelled was self-confidence.

That’s not surprising to me. We have been on a campaign for decades to raise the self-esteem of children, often to the points of the ridiculous. We teach children that each one of them is special, which of course in the end means that nobody truly is. We try to engage children in activities in which co-operation is emphasized and winning and achievement, not so much. Even when children fail, we tell them that achieving is less important than trying.

That’s insane. The advocates of this kind of thinking should be suffocated in their own granola and their heads and Birkenstocks left on a pike as a warning to others. The world is a competitive place. That competition is a motivation to innovate, to achieve and excel. Without that competition, there is no need to do any of those things.

Why are our children falling so far behind? There are a number of reasons; pointing fingers of blame is easy. Some of it rests with the schools, some with the teachers, some with the parents and some with the kids themselves. A lot of it rests with our society and what we’ve become.

The popular theory is that we have slashed funding for the schools to the bone and they are barely subsisting, but the fact is that we spend more per student than any other nation on earth except Switzerland. The issue is not that we are not spending enough on education, it’s how we’re utilizing the money we do spend. Far too much of the educational allotment goes to administrative costs; school boards and administrators take far too much of the education budget pie, teachers not enough. This inequity needs to be addressed.

We also need to look at the reality of our modern society. There are way too many distractions for children; cell phones, videogames, the internet, the malls. Kids are spending most of their lives with their eyes glued to a display screen of one sort or another. Research indicates when watching a video display screen, certain functions of our brain tend to decrease; we become pacified, lethargic. Our abilities to reason lessen; we tend to accept whatever we are told in this state. In effect, we become more prone to suggestion.

We also have discouraged learning and thinking for ourselves. Thinking requires energy and learning requires thought. Both of them require effort and unfortunately, that’s something that is nearly taboo among our children today. We have become a society of instant gratification; we no longer cook, we nuke. We can’t read a newspaper, but we can skim a sound bite. You can see it in our movies and television shows; the pacing of modern movies and television is much faster than it was 25 years ago; quick cuts and barebones plotting are the standards. Compare what we watch to the movies and television shows in Europe; the difference is pronounced. We want our information spoon-fed to us, rather than having to earn it.

In this kind of environment, what chance does a teacher have of keeping the attention of a student used to iPhones and Worlds of Warcraft? The competition is fierce, and teachers are going to need to adapt to this kind of learning environment. Those who are rigid and think that the only way to educate is the way that they themselves were educated are going to fail as teachers. Those who are able to make learning relatable to their students, who are able to communicate with them, interact with them and see them as individuals will succeed. It’s that simple.

One of the big complaints I’ve heard from friends who are teachers is about the parents. Many take almost no interest in their kid’s education. Others want to micro-manage it. The truth is that we as parents have to take a stake in the education of our children. We cannot afford to abrogate all the responsibility to the schools with a dismissive “well, it’s their job to educate my kid; that’s what I pay my taxes for.” No, nimrod, it’s OUR job too. We are responsible for making our children accountable. We are responsible for seeing that they learn to follow through and take responsibility for themselves.

Children follow the example of their parents. If we don’t show an interest in their education, they sure as hell aren’t going to. That means talking to them, going over their homework, demanding excellence and not just “trying.” That doesn’t mean throwing them to the wolves when they fail; it means teaching them that the only failure is in giving up. As one of the great teachers of all time one said, “There is no try. Do. Or do not.” Failure is not a dirty word. We learn by failing. Most great discoveries in our time came after lifetimes of failure. Failure teaches us tenacity and gives us incentive to achieve. We need to give out kids the freedom to fail, so that they might learn that the cost of success makes it worth achieving.

Unfortunately, we hand too much to our kids that they haven’t earned. It’s easier to give in and shut them up than it is to say no, but we wind up spoiling them. There is a certain value in saying no. Like failure, disappointment isn’t necessarily a dirty word. Disappointment gives us the incentive to earn things for ourselves. The parental urge is to want to please our kids, but sometimes it’s better for our kids not to please them. Give them the gift of self-sufficiency and you give them a chance at success in life. Keep trying to please them and chances are they are going to learn some very hard lessons when the time comes for them to be on their own.

We can talk about the problems of our educational system until we’re blue in the face, but it all boils down to a simple fact; you cannot teach someone who doesn’t want to learn. If the student shuts the door, the best teacher in the world won’t be able to walk through it. Kids have got to want to be educated, and that is something that comes from the parent, and is best set by example. We need to show them that learning is important to our growth as individuals; the more we learn, the easier our lives can become, and I’m not talking about learning superficial things, like game cheats and celebrity gossip. I’m talking about learning about how the world works, the wonders of science and technology, the mysteries of math, the joy of language and reading. If we ourselves have that kind of enthusiasm, it becomes contagious. Our children, seeing how learning and growing fulfills us, will want the same thing for themselves.

It is an economic certainty that if our education is inferior, we will be unable to maintain our competitive edge. Already we can see that in the economies of Asia, where education is paramount, and our own where it is not. This is something that’s very fixable, but it has to start at the grass roots level. We have to start demanding better of our kids, at home and at school. We also must demand better of our education system. We need to explore alternate methods of education that are more successful than traditional means but also continue to go with traditional educational methods that still work. We need to put more emphasis on basic skills and less on elective ones.

Things left to their own devices tend to stay the same, and so it will be for education unless there is an outcry loud enough to force change. Take an active role in the education of your child, and if you don’t have children, take an active role in demanding that the children of your community get the education they deserve. After all, those children are going to be in charge someday; it is in our own best self-interest that we help make them the best leaders we can while we still have the ability to.


One Response

  1. Nice work! great blog

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