#9 Education - Where do we stand?
What do we want our educational system to be? That is a question you hear often today and also the comment that our education system is the worse in the world. There is a neat paradox in the United States education system today in that the Americans are all complaining it is pitiful and the rest of the world sends their young people to our post-secondary system.
I hear continuously people saying why can't our education system be like the Europeans. But do we really want it to be, and if so are we even trying to get there? And what really is the problem with our system and where are we failing and where are we succeeding?
The European system has succeeded well for them, but is it for the Americans? There are whole philosophies in place in the two systems. In Europe before entering high school your career and education path is decided. They then train you for that vocation and that is what you will do the rest of your life. The American system is one of universal education, i.e. we want everyone to get a high school education, and one of continuous choice. We believe you may not know what you want to do at the age of 12, 19, 23, or even 40. We believe people can start new careers so as to better themselves. How many people do you know today are doing what they planned to do when they left high school? For instance at 17 I had no idea what computer programming was, at 22 I wanted to be a computer programmer, at 24 I wanted to teach or administer schools, at 26 considered going in the ministry, I am now teaching computer programming, but now past 40 I am considering going to law school. This would not be possible in the European system.
Now to solutions to our problems and I see several items.
First computers and the Internet will not solve everything. Why is it we hear we need universal Internet in every classroom and plenty of computers to catch the Europeans, but yet those are items in the United States classrooms and not in the Europeans. There was an interesting editorial on this in last month's issues of MIT's Technology Review magazine. Yes students need the Internet in libraries and computers as resources, but most students will be users of computers and not developers of computers.
Second we need to expect our primary and elementary schools to teach reading, writing and arithmetic. Arithmetic skills need to go beyond addition and subtraction, but how to do word problems and how to do the four basic calculations in their head without a calculator. I really believe we have become over dependent on the calculator and the smart cash register. Life skills and morals should be taught by the home church and community and not primary by the schools. Something is odd about our schools today when I hear devout Christians wanting to home school children because they believe the wrong morals taught in schools and I hear non-Christians wanting to home school children because they believe the same state's schools are too religious oriented. Look at what schoolteachers spend their time on. You would observe them doing paperwork and administering and preparing for national tests. The Atlanta Journal Constitution just a week ago reported that job descriptions of teachers in DeKalb County in Georgia do not include the word teach or instruct in them.
Third let's control this national testing scheme. Everything is now moving toward this national testing scheme. Teachers and administrators spend all their time on giving these universal tests and training students to do well on them. If it is not on the Iowa test, the SAT, the ACT, or the other national tests then it is no longer important. Third lets not expect all our children to go to college, but lets prepare all of them to continue their education. Every person graduating from high school should be able to read and do math on a level that they do not remedial courses at a technical institute or two-year college. Until we can get this minimum this is where our emphasis should be. For those young people not college oriented or college interested let's train them in vocational-technical areas such as automotive, bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, culinary arts, data processing, etc. To the college oriented or college interested young people lets make sure they get a course or two in a vocational-technical area. After all I have heard that close to half the students who go to a four year college never graduate, so lets have a job possibility for them other than "Fries with that?".
Lastly the whole thing comes down to that our students need to know how to read, write, and do mathematics at a 12th grade level, they need to be trained for today's work world and they need to know working with their hands in a blue collar job is just as important to society as working with their minds in a white collar job. They need to know our system encourages you to switch from one career to another. They also need top learn English, history, geography, science (chemistry and biology), and some knowledge of a foreign language, but beyond that, let's make sure they are learning their three "R"s first.
This is a little article I am doing across the Internet. I plan to write several times a week on a variety of subjects. It may be religious at times, political at times, and at other times just my reactions on something happening out there. It will often be like an op-ed article. If I do what I intend, you will at times want to shout I agree, other times you will want to say Dwight has really lost it now, but most importantly I want to challenge you to think. Feel free to forward this to others. If you don't want to get this e-mail let me know. Feel free to use what you read from me, but I request you give me credit and send a tear sheet. Thanks.
If you would like to receive it and you are not on my mailing list, send me a note to add you. You can find past issues on my home page at http://home.att.net/~dwight-watt/articles/articles.html