Why the United States' Education System Is a Failure
The Big Picture
Let me first start by saying this: Not all teachers are bad and not all schools are terrible. However, the majority of government-funded schools are arguably terrible for their students, teachers, and their communities. Throughout this article, I hope to highlight the flawed nature of our educational system and the areas we need to improve.
“We are students of words: we are shut up in schools, and colleges, and recitation rooms, for ten or fifteen years, and come out at last with a bag of wind, a memory of words, and do not know a thing.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Conformity and Its Ill-Effects
As humans, we feel the need to fit in. This can be attributed to our need to work together as communities. Humans are social animals and without our use of communication—which is arguably the most important skill we learn— we can be left feeling sad, angry, lonely, or depressed. We crave the recognition and admiration of our communities, even if it means sacrificing our own individuality. Too often in schools the massive amount of hormones and emotions can lead to less than optimal situations, where students do anything to fit in, to conform.
Students themselves play a massive role in the conformist society that is allowed to penetrate our educational system. If it wasn't for a constant peer pressure to fit in, students may not resort to changing themselves in the name of acceptance. More and more studies are being published about the so called, "Clique Hierarchy", where students are split into groups of friends based on social standing, such as the jocks, the cheerleaders, the nerds, and the emos. This concept seems acceptable on paper. After all, why not let kids have certain groups of friends? Well, because these different groups often fight with each other. In Hollywood, the most common portrayal of high school revolves around the class struggles of the popular group versus the unpopular. This effects our young generations, making them believe that for some reason or another, class struggle is a natural and acceptable thing. Much like our nations fight against one another, so do students "nations".
However, the blame is not placed upon solely the children, or the media. Another place to look is the government itself. By Combining such a diverse group of students into one classroom and giving them the same education at the same rate, the brightest of the bunch are forced to slow down, and those who need extra help are left behind. The notion that education can be given to students in a "one size fits all" format is ridiculous at best, and destructive at it's worst.
By giving only one option and one pace to learn at, the schooling system is at it's core built to have students conform. All students are different, but we decide to have them be taught the same way no matter what. Why?
Standards and Tests
We teach students the same curriculum at the same rate for one simple reason: Standardized testing.
If we eliminated tests like these, our educational system would be on the right track. However, many people support tests such as these, saying that they help raise standards for students. This could not be farther from the truth.
By creating a benchmark, we absolutely raise standards for that particular subject. But, let's imagine a situation where your school only gets funds if 70% of students hit their English and math benchmarks. What do you think will be focused on the most? English and math obviously. This alone doesn't seem bad, but it does cause plenty of issues. Primarily the issue that it doesn't allow for slower learning students to actually grasp the concepts. If 30% of students are really slow learners, then why bother trying to help them understand? It would be a waste of time, and it would lead to other students not learning, which would ruin funding.
Another issue that arises is the lack of focus for subjects that can be easily applied in real life, such as shop, computer programming, or business classes. The focus of schools in the U.S is primarily reading and math, with little focus being put towards teaching students real life skills, such as doing taxes, taking out a mortgage, or financing for college.
Not only does this reduce graduates who are actually productive outside of school, but it also reduces the ability for students to effectively finance their secondary education.
Lastly, our educational system creates a lack of individuality that is unmatched in the rest of the world. Because of peers pressuring students to join cliques, and because of the way our system forces one way of teaching down our childrens throats, we lose ourselves. Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" is a perfect example of how we should feel in our society. In the poem, Whitman tells the tale of different workers in their lives, and his own story. He recalls the different songs of each individual, and he recalls others experiences as well as his own.
Whitman's poem entices readers to sit down and think about these questions: How do you feel at work? What makes you unique? I encourage you to think about these questions often, to see how you change in your life.
We are unique because of how we differ from others. If there were no differences, we would not be unique. This is the issue with our education system. We mold students into one "thing", and we teach everyone as if they are the same student. Needless to say, they are not. Our students are individuals, millions of individuals combined into one education system that treats them all equally.
When the brightest of our nation are not allowed to excel, and those that need extra time aren't allowed it, we can begin to see why almost 20% of Americans experience some type of mental illness every year.
Our education puts every individual student into a box. It confines every individual, and crushes them all into one glob of horrifically average students, unable to work effectively outside of school, and unable to think freely. We need to remain individuals, and our educational system grinds it out of us all.
If the government, students themselves, and our very genetics help to create an awful school system, then what on Earth are we going to do?
We can start by bringing awareness to the fact that our view on education needs to change. America is nowhere near the top educated country in the world, even though we are the richest country. We need to revamp our school systems, and we need to start by bringing this issue to the public eye. You can write a letter to a local politician, or create a petition. Start a movement, do anything you want to bring attention to this issue. Just bring attention to it.
Secondly, we need to set up a plan for what needs to be changed. This however, is pretty clear: standardized testing needs to be abolished or entirely changed, teaching itself needs to be changed, curriculum needs to be changed, and we need to start teaching our students actually valuable and necessary skills.
Thirdly, we need to implement this plan, whether it be through legislation, or through a new wave of innovation in online education, like Khan Academy.
We need to change our educational system. For the benefit of America, the world, and the future.