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American Education Problem

2006-10-23

Category: politics

October almost always brings a sense of dread in the United States. It?s not because of the thinning of the Veil brought on by Halloween; it is far worse. This is the last full month of political campaigning before the November elections. One of the campaign arguments that bother me is school funding.

It seems that candidates are always complaining that the other candidate will not give an appropriate amount of funding to our schools. One will say we don?t give enough. Another may say we give too much. Yet another will say that we tax people too much for schools. They all point out that kids in other countries are being better educated than American kids. All of their arguments tend to miss a key point and, like most political advertising, never talks about the real source of the problem.

Before anybody gripes at me, I?ll point out that I do think that education needs to be better funded and that teachers need to be better paid. Of course I also am a firm believer in teacher testing. Despite this, I consider the funding issue to be a symptom of the problem and not a cause.

The problem with American education is that very few people in our culture actually want to do the work. Everyone wants to do just the bare minimum to get by and they expect to be otherwise cared for. Reading takes more effort and time than watching a movie. Math is not as exciting to watch as football. People say, ?I just want to go to work to get my pay and get out of here.? It?s a running gag that students ask, ?When will I ever need to know this??

So that leaves us with parents wanting the schools to change the attitude of the children. Well, Mr. Parent, are you willing to brush off your algebra skills to show your child that it is important? You do know that children get their beliefs about things from imitating their parents, don?t you? How about you, Mrs. Parent, do you wish to regale your kids with tales of how you ditched biology so you could go smoke? Do you understand that your kid has access to an education that will make their future better than anything else you can give them?

The really easy way to get the parents to support subject is to change its name to ?football.? Everyone is very enthused about football. There is a huge field with bleachers. The typical high school will stop all other class and require students to report to the gymnasium for a pep rally to get everyone enthused about the next foot ball game. Of course, if it?s Home Coming Week, the municipal streets will be closed off for the parade to, again, celebrate the wonderfulness of football. By the way, how?s the debate team doing?

Critics of my argument will quickly point out that not everybody can do math, whereas football is more universal. Really? So any student can get on the team and go play on Friday night? No, not really, that is reserved for those who have shown talent and skill in that particular endeavor. So, apparently, not everyone can play football at the same level.

?Yea , but any average Joe can go out and toss a ball around on the weekend . They can?t do that with math .? Wrong again, I?m afraid. There are plenty of people out there who do math just for the fun of it. They read the math journals. They follow the latest developments. Some of them win awards for the work they do. The same applies to most other arts and sciences.

?Maybe so , but there isn?t a multi - billion dollar industry built around watching people do fractions .? That?s true. However, it is worth pointing out that the football industry wouldn?t make those billions without people who do math in the background. All the padding the players wear was designed by people who do math. The stadiums, also built by people who do math. Is the game transmitted by satellite? That takes some real rocket scientists.

Of course, as attention as given to the football team, most of it falls onto the quarter back. Despite the fact that it takes a complete team made up of skilled athletes to be victorious, it is the quarter back who is the traditional hero. This leads to another component of our cultural problem. We rely on heroes to fix things.

We like our heroes and yet we hate them because the ?got all the breaks?. We believe in the lone cowboy gun fighter who will come in to town to defeat the bad guy (even though we have always had the bad guy out numbered and out gunned and could have taken him out if we just got off our butts.)

Many Americans will point out that we area very technologically advanced nation. Most of those will not be able to explain how any of the technology works. My degree is in Computer Science. When I started my studies many of my classmates claimed they wanted to be game programmers. They liked games and thought it would be good to create such things. Most of them dropped out when they realized the amount of work (and math) it would require. Do they know any more about how the video game works? I doubt it.

We are not so much of a technologically advanced nation as we are a technologically dependent one. No one needs to learn to spell properly because the spell checker will fix it. You don?t need to eat healthily or get exercise because the doctors will fix you if you need it. Does it matter how any of it works? That depends on whether you want the new technology to come out of the United States or out of Korea.

So, citizens wail about the inadequacies of our schools. The politicians blame their opponents for the problem and promise to make everything better. Parents believe that the schools will educate the children. The school will be our cowboy, though we cannot outnumber the problem when it is ourselves. But this time, we have the cowboy outnumbered.

You may be wondering what we can do. Well, I doubt you?ll do anything. The fix is to give equal praise to all reasonable endeavors in which our children engage. Parents must be able to say, ?I didn?t bother to learn that and I wish I had.? That?s right; you had better make sure your child hears you take responsibility for your education so that he or she will take responsibility for their own.

I know the word ?responsibility? frightens people. That?s too bad. Each individual is ultimately responsible for making choices and each student must take responsibility to do the best possible given the resources available. Some schools have plenty of resources and some are dirt poor. Effort is always available.

We, as a society, must express value for accomplishments in arts and sciences. When a third-grader grows something interesting in a Petri dish (intentionally) we must applaud and say you are on your way to the next level of scientific endeavor. There should be cheerleaders.

Only by changing such that each person takes pride in his or her personal achievements in their chosen fields can we get our kids to accept an education.


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