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The Biggest Problem in Public Education

John is a middle-school business teacher, happily married since 1989 and grateful to have been given the gift of life.


America's public school system may be sending students the wrong message, and it is hurting their future success. It is a message of passivity.

While it is true that teachers must provide learning, self-esteem and social recognition opportunities for young people, these “ingredients” cannot just be “delivered” to children as though teachers are the wait staff at a restaurant. Today’s pedagogical consciousness is unfortunately saturated by the idea of "handicap" allowances for the challenged, underserved and underrepresented student. This prerogative is what gives rise to the passive nature of many students in public education; today's student expects their education to be delivered, almost like text messages or pizza.

This delivery posture would be good if it were executed in a balanced system including accountability, but that is not happening. There seems to be a large work ethic "disconnect" among students, their primary educators (parents) and their teachers. This problem must be addressed and not just slathered over with some "damage control" leadership regime.

Often, school takes the form of an attendance recording, needs assessment and equity policing process instead of an engaged learning experience. If school’s purpose is preparation for successful adulthood, then the experiences in which a student participates should reflect the nature of adult society. The creation of value via our free enterprise system, otherwise known as capitalism, is the nature of that society. While capitalism has its flaws, it is also the most successful system of human organization and betterment that we have, regardless of culture, race, gender, politics, geography, or any other differentiating criterion. Sadly, students are not being trained to participate in capitalism, except as consumers in the social justice forum.

Under the current handicap system, teachers are barraged by the "pressing needs" and "diverse learning styles" and "horrible home lives" and "pedagogical misbehavior triggers" and "emotional stresses" and "cognitive challenges" of students and are frantically trying to deal with it like a crash team in an emergency room. The teaching profession, damaged by the ever-popular social justice tsunami, has so focused on "bringing up" the underachiever that the public education system has become more of a social justice "resource distribution menu" for students than one imbued with the responsibility of teaching young people that true learning struggles with mindful goals are essential to lifetime prospering. We have students doing the minimum to get by, cheating like getting fries with the burger and teachers giving out grades not as a report of learning but as a way to avoid administrative and parental sanctions for failing grades. So you end up with students believing that the world is a passive system of "working" the handouts programs to the "qualifying needy," “underserved” and “underrepresented” instead of a place to develop and put skills to use and be respected for it.

Much of the victimhood-support mentality that practically defines public education today has only served to send all students a message that "laziness is okay because the teachers will let me know when my grades are bad so I can then say to the teacher it is too hard and then I will get dumbed-down makeup work so I don't fail." In this way, the public school system incentivizes bad behavior for its students. To many students, school only works when it is entertaining and convenient instead of a meaningful struggle and if it's not fun then it is okay to fail because it is the teacher's fault for not engaging them. This mentality is also shared by some administrators and parents. The school system has removed the whole concept of students being causal agents in their own lives and replaced it with the lowest form of "educational" existence possible: a "needs" focus instead of an "accomplishment" focus. We have young people growing up to be welfare-ready, not career or life-ready. Thanks to the creators of institutionalized racism and other victimhood narratives for perpetuating the passive mentality, "serving up" what public education has baked.

The public school system needs a focus change. Students need to feel a personal meaning in their learning and see it’s usefulness working in the adult world. Students do not need a handicap-based education in a forced system of narrow course offerings. One cannot show up at capitalism’s door with a “food line” mentality. School should be an “active, balanced tour” of the world at large whereby students are busy defining their world views, developing skills which they have chosen, and thus heading to a “place” where they can see themselves as causal agents in our flourishing world. They need to see “path and purpose” so that their daily learning is intrinsically meaningful to them. Therefore, students don’t need the extrinsic motivation of being taught to be at “grade level” on a set of external standards or taught the “critical race theory” dependency mentality. The barrage of state testing, the results of which are unrelated to the workings of the world at large, is a waste of resources. The purpose of requiring coursework which will never be appreciated or deemed necessary by an active learner is wasteful and fruitless.

Teaching students that their race is bad for them, either because they are “dominant” or “subordinate,” is useless if not damaging. Instead, young people need more choices in school and more accountability and more incentives. Just like adults have. Students need to discover that the best teachers they will ever have are themselves! Students should be encouraged along traditional paths of education but given viable learning alternatives if the traditional core subject offerings are too confining. Students should not be repeatedly forced into traditional subjects when they clearly cannot thrive in them. And they don't need social justice "lightning strikes" invading their educations with ridiculous notions of victimhood. The focus of public education should be students, not the politics of its "incumbent" party.

We can’t have a socialist education system in a capitalist economic system any more than we should have dams and skyscrapers built from stacked paper cups. There should still be traditional classroom education but it should stop for all students after a certain, to be determined, age/grade level of literacy, numeracy and citizenship. Students should then get to choose between private-business internships, that is, companies who make tax deals with the government to educate students with skills needed in their businesses. Students would also be able to attend "professional-training" high schools, replacing the traditional high school, which would be more like getting a college education with a major. There would be a variety of these business-internships and professional-training degrees in many industries. There would be company mentors for students and laws about the roles of students in business settings. Normal colleges of today would be for advanced or graduate work. So, on any given day, some students would be at high schools working on professional degrees while others would be doing internship-like work at local businesses. Students would be free to explore both of these arenas, but also held accountable in discovering themselves as productive citizens. They will come to value themselves as active participants in a thriving world instead of as passive consumers in a grab-what-you-can-get world of forced redistribution and engineered equity.

There is nothing wrong with support programs for under-achieving students. But when the student becomes dependent on support instead of learning to use it as a springboard, our society is compromised. “Charity” grading and “social promotion” should not be the operational themes of our public education system. Adult life is about the freedom to “jump in and go without needing a tow.” People can’t truly take advantage of the gift of being a human being if they’ve never been trained to actively participate in their own lives and thus help to create a better world.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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