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Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Education in America: A Failing Grade
Blokker on Education in America
On the morning of January 14, the Today Show reported that schools in Florida are considering cutting recess times for their students in order to capture more time to train these children how to pass their examinations. 99% of those polled by Today think this is a bad idea. That it is even under consideration clearly indicates what is wrong with education in America. That there is much going badly here is obvious by the study of 63 nations of the world that ranks the United States 36th overall in education, behind Costa Rica. The strangest thing that was said was that there just aren’t enough funds available to add time to the school day.
Of course, test scores are useful as yardsticks both of how well a child is learning and how well a teacher is teaching. But the danger is and has been that our focus in education has changed: we now are teaching our children how to answer questions, but not how to ask them. The test is everything. It secures funding (or loses it). It boosts arguments that we are doing well in education when the reality is that we are doing horribly. It encourages children to learn just what they have to in order to pass the test. It does not express concern that what is learned to pass a test can be quickly forgotten, the job done. And as to studying more deeply, forget about it. It discourages curiosity and independent exploration.
The level of education has been diminishing throughout the Twentieth Century and well into the current one. If you talk to someone twenty years older than me, you will find it common to have been taught classical languages, history, literature, and philosophies. By the time I was in school, the de-emphasis on classical education already had begun to emerge. Studying classical history, literature and philosophy was still encouraged, but studying dead languages was seen as irrelevant. I studied Latin as an elective, but the fever to shrink what I needed to know had taken hold, and I stopped studying Latin after my first year in college. I did study French as well. Given the choice between French and Spanish, in America it might have been smarter to study Spanish – and I would have been able to practice my knowledge daily, which would have entrenched it for me.
By the time my children were in school, classical history, literature and philosophy were being de-emphasized into about two weeks of the school year. They had become irrelevant subjects as the curriculum shrank further. It continued to shrink to the point that many legislators are considering apprentice-like programs to replace a broader education for most people. It would be cheaper and more pragmatic. It also creates more people who do not think to ask questions, or if they do, who are afraid their questions will jeopardize their potential livelihood.
I think it is about time Americans faced the facts and stopped calling the United States the greatest country in the world. She is not. It is not patriotic to insist that she is, against all evidence. It is patriotic to say, she could be. According to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, among 27 highly industrialized nations, the US educational system has a failing grade: we rank 22nd in graduation rates, 25th in Math, 17th in science and 14th in reading. Similar studies show similar results. In education we are average at best. The leaders of the future world will not be found in American schools unless they are exchange students. And I have to ask myself, who benefits from a dumb America?
As to cutting recess time: it has been shown that recess helps refresh the brain and improves social skills. Without improved social skills, individuals become more and more isolated from each other. Without the impetus to think, they will be more easily controlled. But together, placing our youth into pre-ordained pigeon holes and keeping them isolated will lead to massive numbers of socially inept and even socially hostile groups. Such people might find that fighting wars is just the thing for all that pent up aggression. Will all this result from simply taking ten or twenty minutes of playtime away from our kids?
Just give them a smart phone and a new game app. They’ll be fine.
I was born in Holland in 1950. My parents immigrated to the US when I was two. I have many close friends and family on both continents. My wife Diane and I have been happily married since 1974. I have four children and one grandchild (two more are on the way). I love writing and sharing what I wrote most of all..