Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Abyssmal US Public Educational System

A US high school science class.

   When I was a child I attended a US public school until my teens when I spent some time attending what was a British school in Harrow.  Both the American and the British schools did some things extremely well. The American school fueled by that days consummation of math and science, did an exceptional job teaching young students fundamentals of scientific principles, including physics, biology and chemistry. They tried very hard in mathematics as well, even though I think my mind at the time could not always grasp as fast as their honors classes could move. The curriculum of my American school was deficient in history and in geography at that time, and most students there knew almost nothing of the world outside the United States. The US educational system in the 1960s and 1970s bears at least some responsibility for the insular views of many Americans.  The British school was rated as one of the best of its kind. It was exceptional in teaching history and geography, and top drawer in English. Although their math curriculum was much slower paced, I probably came away having learned more from them in mathematics, through endless repetition.  They were deficient in science in comparison to my other school.  The British system of the day,  also made broad reaching decisions about student's futures and the training which will be offered to them. This means that "late bloomers" will not reach their potential in the British system, as these decisions as to their future are made between about eleven and twelve years of age.
              As I grew many things changed.  I realized as a young adult that the American school system I had attended was better than most. In the US, depending upon your school system, it is possible to graduate from high school reading and writing poorly.  This is particularly cruel because a student who comes through thinking that he is a graduate, and that there will be work for him will find that there is little beyond a very basic or low level job he can do with such reading, reading comprehension skills, and basic skills in writing. Some also have very rudimentary math skills as high school graduates. This is also quite a blow to companies who might seek to train entry level workers.  Workers who can't read the Orientation Manual to your business, or the guidebook to the office equipment aren't going to be useful to you. This began to fuel a desire to hire people of higher and higher education.  In my youth, after I went on to college, many people from my original high school went on to entry level jobs after graduation. They went on to buy homes, buy cars, raise children, and to gradually move up in their careers. Of course, they could read and write.
            Today in the US we have some rather complex problems.  Some school systems are quite good. This is less because large amounts of funds are allocated for certain districts, and more that some neighborhoods have parents who send their children to school knowing the alphabet, their colors, basic communication, how to sit still, etc. The parents have spent time readying their child for school, and will continue to show concern and guide them in this endeavor.  In school systems where the parents have not readied their children, these systems must spend a great deal more, and they lose time in having to bring these students up to basic school entry skills.  We also have some racial issues in US schools. In some US schools Hispanic students remain socializing with other Hispanics. African Americans remain socializing with other African Americans, and caucasians socialize with all of them.  In practice, school administration often does not enforce basic standards of education for the minority students because this will often bring charges of racism or preferential treatment from the students and from the minority parents as well.  The result is that depending upon the area, minority students often receive a substandard education.   This is in stark contrast to both the Canadian and the British system where most often, the foreign or minority student is fairly strictly held to the same standard as any other student. The result is that minority students are faring better in those nations, than some of them are here. The perception that a minority student should be slid through because the normal standard is too high for him is actually the most damaging form of racism I think you can have. The student himself will fall into setting a lower standard for himself.
               The US public school system's embrace of computers has also done some damage. I love computers, and I think you would be hard pressed not to find a profession or college major which does not require their use in some manner or another now, but you need to be able to think and to write in order to use one, program one, load software, or reasonably trouble shoot one.  The use of the computer has obscured those students who have no writing or spelling skills whatsoever. They will graduate without these skills, and it may only be detected in college that their skills are not yet developed enough to attend an institution of higher learning. Some of these issues are why home education is flourishing in the US, and why homeschooled students in general, do well when they hit the work world or colleges.
                At the university that one of my sons attended before his graduation,  the professor was telling the students one day that "They are the smartest generation which has ever existed.".  This is incredibly misleading. Yes, it is true that the internet has provided unprecedented access to information within a brief period of time. However, a huge amount of information on the internet is incorrect or misleading.  It is a tool, not an oracle. One also needs to have a certain amount of education in order to know where to look and what material to thin or to disregard. Many students of today do not know geography, history, mathematics, English, the foreign language they took in high school. They do not have good critical thinking skills. They do not write or spell well. Most of all, their educations have not prepared them to think.  They can't listen to a debate and ask good questions. We pile more and more requirements on students, and a few of them get more and more degrees, but the reasoning skills and question formulating skills still aren't there.
              I realize that the British system has also taken a tumble since I attended there. I realize that the result of a small island's taking on of many refugees from different nations has provided them with everything from cultural clashes to a growing crime problem, as well as challenges as to how to educate everyone from Romas to Bosnians to Russians.   However, we must do better than this.  Both Jay Leno and Glenn Beck have segments on their programs where they ask questions of Americans as to things most third or fifth graders should know.  The number of people in the US who cannot answer as to who takes over should the American president resign, is frightening.  So many people function without very basic information that it's no wonder they have little or no understanding of politics, the electoral system, or anything being discussed in any depth.


Dani said...

Jane - I agree. It is scary that more "instant" information is available these days than ever before, but people, en masse, are not better educated nor qualified. Perhaps it is a case of the internet giving easy answers, so why bother to absorb the content - just plagiarize, hand in the work, and get away with it. Oh, for the days of library work and encyclopedia's - even if their information was sometimes dated. Somehow having to summarize the contents of a book or an article, as opposed to copying and pasting, worked and the information stuck :)

In our country the government has reduced the school pass qualification mark to a ridiculously low standard - in order to "assist" those ill-equipped to "advance" through their schooling. The fact that there are a very limited number of "good" jobs, and those in the top positions are being "imported" from overseas, or have achieved their position through fraudulent means, or through knowing the right person at the right time, doesn't occur to the masses. When they can't find work, and must resort to menial employment, the resulting frustration leads to an expectation that they are 'entitled" and consequently demand "more". Short sighted action (or should that be reaction) on the governments part.

Gorges Smythe said...

Excellent post. Hope you don't mind me linking it.

JaneofVirginia said...

Dani, It's funny that what I originally perceived to be an American problem has overtones and varieties in many nations also. Thanks for your contribution ! Best wishes.

JaneofVirginia said...

Thanks Gorges, I would be honored.

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

Quite sadly, I do believe that you are very accurate with your observation of our school system.

JaneofVirginia said...

Thank you, Jerry. I would rather not be. This makes it harder for America to compete globally. It handicaps young people who receive a basic public education, and it impedes their decision making when they try to vote. In the end, everyone loses.