I often start these posts with a question, for I seem to have far more questions than I have answers, but this time is different. I don’t have any more answers, but I do have some solid opinions on our educational systems and the desire to share them for what that is worth.
First, I wish we would stop comparing our test scores with Finland, Norway, or Japan. We are not those countries, and our students are not their students. For the most part, these are countries with a single predominate ethnicity where all the families, all the teachers, and all the administrators share a common expectation. We are a multi-cultural society that is striving each day to accommodate the wants, desires, and choices of a plethora of races, religions, and social beliefs. We will never achieve the standards they set because of the educational choices we make. Besides, Japan has a much higher suicide rate among students that don’t meet expectations, do we really want that? At the end of the day it has nothing to do with how much or little we pay our teachers, or how many hours a week and weeks in a year we send our kids to school. The belief we can be number one is both delusional and unnecessary. According to Aristotle, the purpose of education is to prepare the young to support the state. The question we should ask is are the children being prepared to meet the needs of America? To meet the needs of America do we need debt ridden college graduates fixing our sinks, building our roads, raising our skyscrapers, or building our homes? No. What about the future mandates college? Nothing!
Next is the issue of centralization versus local control. As the federal and state governments control the funding for education they exert greater and greater control of the curriculum. Setting demands and expectations that are based on studies, formulas, and personal experiences of the people writing the rules. I’ve observed that most of these rule making efforts are based on the issues and needs of urban school systems where the political and educational experts seem to reside. How well these translate to rural areas is at best questionable. Each rule, each demand, each expectation takes away from the local teacher and administrator's ability to customize the curriculum to suit the community. Years ago schools could start and end based on the growing seasons, so the kids could help on the family farm. Not that we should still be doing that, but there are times when some district might benefit by starting later or ending earlier, but again federal funding demands a certain number of days or they lose their funding.
Training or education. When I was a Captain in the USAF, I trained young officers on the art of aerial navigation, or how to operate the systems on the aircraft to successfully complete the mission requirements for the aircraft they would fly. We taught them basic dead reckoning, celestial navigation, low level navigation, and global navigation using pressure and GRID. This was training – we didn’t expect them to develop new theories, to think independently, or to translate one technique into a new method. We wanted them to know how to efficiently and effectively use the tools we provided. Education, on the other hand, strives to provide the basic tools so people can solve complex problems and understand complex relationships. Both forms of learning are absolutely critical, but our educational experts seem to have forgotten that. Drivers Education is life critical training, just as are Home Economics and Auto Shop. The study of humanities is, in my opinion, absolutely vital education we seem to sacrifice for this idea that Science, Technology, Engineering and Math are all we need to know.
Speaking of training and education, whatever happened to the idea we should worry about the whole person, mind, body, and soul? Oh right, we can’t worry about the soul because we are just animals and don’t have a soul, or it is confused by the concept of religion. We shouldn’t worry about the body because each of us is unique and may not feel comfortable with exercise. That leaves only the mind to worry about, but of the three isn’t that the most fragile and dependent on the other two? So if we forsake training in those other areas don’t we degrade education in the last?
Children have a lot of energy. We now demand they sit still in class for long periods to learn whatever is being taught. My memories of grade school, granted they are now over 50 years old, seem to focus on the recesses much more than the class work. I read today about a school in Texas that has mandated four recess breaks a day, totaling 1 hour each day, where the kids are allowed to vent that energy. I think this is a great idea, and it should be the standard at least through middle school.
Competition in education is a good thing. Heck, competition is the engine of life. We have created a generation of youth who think they deserve trophies for showing up. The animal kingdom doesn’t work that way, why do we? I read an interesting thing on Reddit today (my first experience with Reddit by the way), where a group of interns thought the company dress code was too strict so they decided to petition the company with their demands for a less formal set of standards. All but one of the interns signed the petition and all but one of the interns was immediately released and told to pack up and go home. The person writing this on Reddit was one of the interns released and thought it terribly unfair of the company since she needed the work experience since she had never worked before. It seems to be a “Special Snowflake” world out there that we of my generation have created, but now we want to eliminate all recognition of superior performance so no one has their feeling hurt. Are our educational administrators and parents’ crazy? Sorry I said I didn’t have any questions so let me rephrase that. If we do eliminate recognition of excellence -- we will destroy this country faster than either of the two Presidential candidates can.