Wednesday, March 9, 2011

World-Class Education

Every few years someone decides that we need to fix our education system. I don't understand this phenomena especially since many of the "fixes" end up creating more of a mess. I have an idea that is quite simple - pay teachers more than stock brokers and CEOs . . . or maybe pay stock brokers and CEOs the same salary as teachers.

I started to think about the issue when a message from the White House requesting input on education landed in my inbox yesterday:
"The state of the American education system today is unacceptable. As many as one quarter of American students don't finish high school. We've fallen to ninth place in the proportion of young people with college degrees. The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations. 
For the sake of the next generation, and America's economic future, this has to change. Providing our nation's students with a world-class education is a shared responsibility. We can't out-compete the rest of the world in the 21st century global economy unless we out-educate them."
While I agree that we should be concerned about our education system, I find the wording of this message disturbing. Shouldn't we provide a "world-class" education because it is the right thing for a democracy to do? Is the only reason to out-compete? Are math and science the only areas that lag? What about preparing young people to be creative and compassionate world leaders?

The email provided a link to a "tell us what you think" page - so I did (click here for the link). As usual, I colored outside the lines a bit in my response.
"First of all - we should provide a "world-class" public education because it is the right thing for a democracy to do not because it gives us a leg up on the world stage.
I am the parent of three remarkable and highly creative young adults in there 20s who would not be where they are without my constant advocacy and support within an education system that would like to think “one size fits all.” Until we stop treating students like cars to be loaded up with standard parts on an assembly line, we will keep losing the young people who possess the vision and compassion to shape a better world.
Testing does not teach. The emphasis on standardized tests in recent years has more to do with the breakdown of our education system than any other single factor. Money that could be spent on creating a positive and challenging learning environment staffed by talented and enthusiastic teachers is wasted on expensive tests; time that could be devoted to engaging students in both the arts and sciences is wasted on preparation for tests; students who would be inspired by innovative programs and individual support are lost in the battle over test scores; and we are all deprived of the limitless potential of our youth.
We cannot solve the problems of our country or the global society by just producing more mathematicians and scientist. Technicians without a balanced education in history, literature, and the arts are useless and lack of support for young artists and deep thinkers will result in our downfall. The contributions to society by my three children, an independent filmmaker, a high school science teacher, and a budding costume designer are as valuable as those made by researchers and engineers. 
There is no quick fix for education and no easy way to assess the outcome of our efforts. We cannot leave education to the educators or the politicians.  If children don’t succeed, it is as much the due to the lack of parental support and lack of an investment by the individual student as it is to the educational institution. My children have succeeded in spite of the roadblocks placed in their way by our education system."
I suppose this was an exercise in futility, but it made me feel better to express my opinion about an issue that is perhaps the most critical one we face in this country because our democracy will fail without an educated citizenry.

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