Education Problems in the United States

  • by Gitabushi
527px-Education_in_the_United_States.svg
Education paths in the United States via Wikipedia user https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Harej

Lately, I’ve had cause to mention a few times that students in the US, in general, aren’t just poorly educated, they are mal-educated.

I’m sure you are familiar with many of the complaints I’m about to list.  This article won’t be anything new to anyone.  I’m writing it as an attempt to put a bunch of thoughts in one place, and somewhat organized, and in some overall context.

First and foremost, I think schools do not prepare children for life. But that’s the parents’ job, you say? I disagree.

It is the parents’ job to teach their children their values: what children should think about religion, politics, the environment, taxes, etc.

The *sole* purpose of schools is to prepare kids for life.

There are skills and knowledge common to a successful life, regardless of your IQ, career path, marital status, sex, etc.

These are the things schools should be teaching.  Instead, schools seem to be more than happy to teach your kids their values, and to prepare them to do well on standardized tests that may help them get into college if their other abilities, academic record, and financial situation are appropriate for that option.

But what about those who don’t or can’t go to college?

I really think that school was a colossal waste of money and effort for the vast majority of students, and our education system has failed them.

Here are some of the skills and knowledge schools should teach:

  • Logic, reasoning, and how to think
  • Civics, including the structure of govt at all levels, the US Constitution, and other founding documents (like the Federalist Papers)
  • household finance basics, to include credit card interest, mortgage/car loans, how credit ratings work, tax rates, how insurance works, and the dangers of predatory lending like pawnshops and payday loans; there is no reason that people should freak out about payroll taxes when they get their first paycheck: they should be freaked out about how much they earn gets taken by taxes just from Finance Math at school
  • How to run a small business, like being a plumber or opening a restaurant; perhaps few kids will become entrepreneurs like this (and yes, a plumber *is* an entrepreneur), but they should understand the costs and risks businesses face, so there would be less of the financial illiteracy blaming corporations for charging for the goods/services
  • Emotional resilience. But, wait! Isn’t that dangerously close to teaching values?  I don’t think so. I think you can talk to kids about how to deal with problems, or how to cope when things don’t go the way you want them to.  Basically, this is the opposite of “everyone gets a trophy”, eliminating the stigma of letter grades, and grade inflation trends.  So, in a sense, this is *already* happening, but in a negative way: schools are teaching emotional fragility.
  • The path to a good life: get an education, get a job, get married, have kids, don’t get divorced, and do it in that order.  Again, people might object to this as teaching values, but it really isn’t.  The govt has no problems teaching the false and ruinous Food Pyramid, and is eager to tell us to conserve resources and recycle, so why can’t they teach the concept that overwhelmingly lifts people from the cycle of poverty?  Sure, there are some concerns that some people will not be able to marry, or stay married, or will still have children outside of marriage (deliberately or not), and that some stigma will be attached to these actions.  But nothing is perfect, and if kids are taught emotional resilience in school, they will be better able to cope with potential stigma if their life doesn’t go as planned.
  • Career choice. This is such a simple one, I can’t believe it isn’t a cornerstone of education.  I’m not sure when we should start, but I seem to remember being asked in school what I want to be when I grow up from as early as age 5. I understand that is an attempt to inspire kids to chase their dreams, but no attempt really seems to be made to give them the skills to achieve those dreams.  Kids need to be told: most jobs aren’t fun.  Even the exciting jobs like firefighter and police have moments of drudgery, and the exciting moments aren’t fun when you are doing them.  Not all scientists find the cure for cancer. Celebrity comes with loss of privacy and the need to satisfy a fickle audience. Maybe there should be less focus on career at all, and rather, lead kids to think about what kind of life they want: big city vs small town, north vs west (climate/temperature), coastal vs interior (population density), etc.  It would be a great way to teach kids about how people in other areas live…it might even reduce the disdain the North and the South has for each other (east of the Appalachians), or the big cities and rural areas have for each other.  Make it part of social studies?

There are probably some other things that should be taught.

Instead, children are taught many unnecessary things.  They are taught math, but despite some attempts to add context, I think math is taught simply as math.  How often does algebra come up in daily life?  Geometry comes up some…perhaps more if you are a carpenter than if you are in HR.  Certainly no trigonometry or calculus, unless you are specifically going into STEM, and even then, only some STEM.

I understand that math is taught because it is supposed to also teach logic.  That is perhaps what I still use most from Geometry: how to think about things, how to prove similar things are actually similar, etc.  But that was a case of me applying the logic to life on my own, there was no attempt to teach that connection in school; based on my twitter interactions, few have made that same connection I did. The connection of math to logical thinking needs to be made more explicit.

I had a civics class in Junior High, if I remember correctly, focused on Montana. We had to identify the major passes, major rivers, the State govt structure, and the history.  In my senior year, I had another civics class, but focused on the national level.  All I remember was memorization of the Amendments and general federal structure.  I think a deeper discussion of the purposes and implications of the 1st and 2nd Amendment would have been more helpful than trying to memorize the Amendments.  Then again, that was a decade before the internet, so maybe making us memorize them had some use, since at that time, there was no expectation we would soon have that information as a reference at our fingertips anywhere we have cellular or Wi-Fi connections.

One handicap I have in discussing this topic is the fact that my kids have lived with my ex- for the last decade. I don’t see their homework. I talk with them about school, but I am not fully familiar with their curriculum, beyond a general idea of what classes they are taking.  So maybe I’m making some incorrect assumptions.

Moreover, every state has different standards, and there can be a huge difference between what is taught in big city schools, magnet schools, small town schools, inner city schools, charter schools, private schools, etc.

So maybe I’m wrong in everything I’ve said.

However, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

You don’t have to look very far to see educated professionals demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the function and reason for the Electoral College.  Recently, someone who can be assumed to have a college degree made a claim that Californians are the least-represented when it comes to Senators.  In the past, people have complained that Wyoming has more influence than it should in both the House and Senate, due to their lower population.

The continued existence of predatory lending institutions prove whatever effort is made to teach financial literacy is insufficient.

My kids attended a magnet school in Spokane, and then a top high school in Silicon Valley, but were taught nothing about how insurance works or how to make a monthly budget.  Before my divorce, I remember my son bringing home materials regarding recycling, global warming, and environmental protection that bordered on religious tracts.  The paeons of praise in school to Obama when he was President are well-documented.  I realize those represented a minuscule of a fraction of schools…but along with all the other Leftist ideology taught in schools, I’m sure the general level of partisan approval for Obama and his policies permeated most schools with a miasma of Progressivism.

Heck, at the very least, schools should teach the failure of Socialism everywhere it has been tried, as an introduction to the dichotomy between theory and practice, due to the perversity of human nature.

I’d like to see math taught in the context of personal finances.  Perhaps one semester is Household Math, with the later years being focused on running a business, and one semester of Pure Math.

I’d like to see Civics being a yearly requirement, just like English and Math.  There is so much that can be taught regarding civics, including the fact that Socialism never works, and how International Socialists specifically exploit liberty to gain power with the intent of dismantling freedoms once they gain power.  Of course, this is just a pipe dream: there are too many Progressives who believe in Socialism as their most cherished religion for this to happen.  We need to start shifting *that* Overton Window now; we should have done this decades ago.

Break break.

Another problem I have with education in the US is the lowering of standards and grade inflation.  It isn’t uncommon now to hear of a school graduating 17 Valedictorians, all with perfect grade point averages, to include 5.0 grades from Advanced Placement classes.

This should not be possible.  If even one person gets all As, then grading is too lenient.

This ties into emotional resilience and life preparation. Grade inflation is the result of parents refusing to accept their child didn’t deserve an A, combined with parental panic that anything less than an A will harm their child’s competitiveness to get into a good college, or to get a scholarship that make school (slightly) less unaffordable.

It’s wrong, though. And it not only doesn’t prepare kids for life, it actively teaches them attitudes and expectations that will cause them to fail at life.

One thing I learned a while back is that the proof of what you learned can also be watered down.

The exact same course, taught with the exact same information, presented exactly the same way, is much tougher if you give only essay tests, vs T/F tests.

You can often guess your way to passing on a T/F test just by how the questions are worded.  Just understanding the military mindset, I was able to guess my way to a 70% on all my Professional Military Education tests, and so only had to study enough to get that extra 10% or so for a passing grade.

You can do that, to an extent, even on SAT tests. I don’t think I’ve taken a test that I didn’t learn something from, meaning, at least 2-3 questions that I got right just from knowing how tests are written.

There is a skill to taking multiple choice tests that can be learned.

So the easiest grading is T/F, then multiple choice, then fill in the blank, then short answer, then long answer, then essay.  Perhaps there are a few other options, but as you can see, standardized tests are basically just short of being the easiest test to take.  This is because multiple choice is also the easiest to grade, which is necessary when you have to grade thousands of students to an objective standard.  Even “fill in the blank” requires some subjective judgment from the grader, which it comes to handwriting and spelling disparities.

This is one of the ways I think education has been watered down.  I think that as the assumption that college is necessary and good for all students has become more prevalent, the pressure for grade inflation, grading objectivity, and preparation for standardized achievement testing has caused all schooling to move away from actual education to merely enhanced daycare, where kids are watched during the day, given a chance to socialize, and cold-bloodedly allowed to sink or swim for college and/or future career.

That pushes all the actual preparation for life back on the parents.

I think this is wrong, because if school doesn’t prepare for life, then why do we pay so much in property taxes (and federal taxes for the DoEd) for it?

Civilization is based on the advantages of specialization.

I don’t have to know how to make shoes. I don’t have to know how to build a house. I don’t have to know how to repair my car. I don’t have to know how to deal with a neighbor being noisy. I don’t have to know how to deal with someone who drives recklessly. I don’t have to know how to force people to contribute to national defense, or resolve conflicts.  I could go on and on and on, but the point is we all specialize in our different roles, and then use money to exchange goods and services.

Schools are supposed to prepare our children for life, so that we don’t have to stop working to teach them (unless we home school).

That schools only teach kids how to pass standardized tests means schools are a complete failure at their primary mission.

Who is to blame for this?

  1. The Department of Education.  Anything with bureaucrats drifts Leftward. Bureaucrats also water things down, so they can still claim success even as performance declines.
  2. School administration, for the same reasons as the DoEd.
  3. School boards, because they make all sorts of decisions in disregard of parental opinion, and at times, even try to do things on the sly so parents don’t hear and object.
  4. Parents, for expecting schools to be merely enhanced daycare, for not teaching their children to behave in school or value their education, and for pushing for the benefit of their own child to the exclusion of other children.
  5. Teachers, in that they overestimate the difficulty of their jobs in comparison to other jobs, and in that they support teachers unions that, like bureaucrats, make things worse by pushing for the interests of teachers to the exclusion of the interests of students.

Okay, come at me and tell me where I’m wrong.

 

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