Unless you’ve spent the past three years hibernating, you are aware that the state of the United States educational system is troubling…to say the least. For a nation that spends more money than any other country in the world on education, we seem to be doing horrible as 2010 statistics showed that out of 34 countries, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. Countries ranking the highest in this study were Canada, China, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea. It should be noted that most of those countries mentioned in that study have a similar government-funded educational system, and just like the U.S, private institutions provide education as well.
Even though the United States ranks so low in education worldwide, we still spend the most money on education per country. According to figures from 2000, the average spent per student from elementary school through college was $10,240. The average spending among 25 other nations was $6,361. So clearly, the problem is not with the amount of money we’re spending.
Education is not the only place where the United States lags. Healthcare is another example of how we spend double, if not triple than most other countries, yet our quality of living has declined over the last 30 years. While we won’t discuss healthcare, some of the things facing us in the health sector apply to education as well. Thanks to our government and our conditioned mode of thinking, we believe that throwing money at a problem ultimately fixes it. We did that with the bailouts of 07’ and 08’, healthcare, education, transportation and national defense. Sadly, none of the above examples are successful.
Unfortunately, we’re not getting the picture that no matter how much money we put towards education it will not improve. There are countries that spend a fraction of what we spend on education and yet their results are vastly different. Just because we equip our children with iPad’s in elementary school and $10,000 microscopes in high school and college does not guarantee that they will get an A on their next history or science test.
Many have suggested that it’s the disproportionate funding that has led to the educational crisis we see in the United States. Unfortunately this is not entirely true. Yes, there are many school districts where teachers have to take money from their pockets to provide school supplies. There are cases of children and parents being required to bring supplies to school thanks to underfunding. Does this mean the child will not learn well? Absolutely not! There are many examples of children in other countries who have never looked into a microscope but yet passed national science tests with high marks.
By now you are probably getting the picture. Just like with any other major problem in our country, there is not a single cause to our educational crisis and unfortunately we’ve only been treating the symptoms. Underfunding is an example of a symptom. Is it the cause of our educational problem? No! The underlining causes of our educational problem lies in three principles: ineffective education principles, lack of support from parents, diet/lifestyle.
I’m sure the vast majority will agree with me on the first two principles, but many will be puzzled with the last, I’ll dare to say some will claim I’m wrong. We’ll cover principle number three later. For now we’ll deal with ineffective education principles.
Ineffective Educational Principles
Education is more than memorizing. Unfortunately, the vast majority of education that happens in this country centers on memorization. From an early age children are “forced,” and I use that word very loosely, to memorize facts, ideas and theories. The vast majority of children are carbon copies of their teachers. This is a huge problem, even if the child is lucky to have a dedicated teacher. The purpose of school is not only to educate the pupil, but to stimulate them to think and study for themselves. From an early age, children are not challenged to think for themselves. Their analytical skills are not being developed and so they pass a test with an 89 or 98 but still lack the ability to reason through the problems they just answered.
Using the intellect of the brain is something that has to be developed and unfortunately most teachers are not trained to challenge the child to think analytically. Case in point, the vast majority of American students cannot find Iraq on a map. The point here is not the fact that the students cannot find Iraq, but rather the principle. With proper education, a child should be able to pinpoint with close accuracy the location of Iraq by answering a few simple questions even if they had never found the country before. Using the principles of process of elimination such a task should not be hard. Unfortunately, this not only applies to history but politics and math as well. When we have more college students who can identify the winner of American Idol® than the three branches of government, there is a problem. Yes we had record number of college students vote for Barack Obama, but ask the vast majority of those who voted for him to give three solid reasons why they voted for him and they cannot tell you.
Yes we’re spending a great deal on educating our children, youth and young adults, but they are failing simple civics and math tests. Why is this? Students are not being checked to make sure they know their information before they advance to the next grade. Thanks to such programs as “No Child Left Behind” and others, in order for schools to qualify for government grants, students have to pass their grades whether or not they were proficient at work for that grade level or not. If a 14-year-old was struggling with math two grades below his current grade level, he is instantly dubbed autistic or special needs and kicked out of the class room so as not cast a bad statistical light on the rest of the class. That is the worst case scenario. Normally he’s just passed on to the next teacher.
Such educational principles hurt not only our children but our educational position in the world. Classrooms are too large and so teachers are not able to spend individual time with children. The notion that every child learns at the same rate is absurd. We need not go into the many famous and influential men and women in history who were dubbed mentally challenged or slow yet ultimately etched their names in the pillars of history. Many children require special attention. It doesn’t mean that the child is mentally retarded or slow; it’s just that standard principles do not apply. MIT is a prime example of how many students who have been written off by conventional education go on to become mechanics, chemists, engineers and astronauts.
Instead of our educational system consisting of standardized tests and exams that require every child to pass in order to be counted useful, we should have learning and testing principles that can be adapted to each child. As we all know, just because a child passes a test does not mean they understand the information or they are smart. The reverse is true as well.
In order for our educational principles to be effective, we must not be so quick to dub kids mentally retarded once they fail a standardized test. Our classrooms must trim the fat; students should have smaller classrooms. Standardized tests and exams are not effective and if anything do cause more problems than they fix. Standardized testing needs to be replaced with testing that test’s not the kid’s knowledge but their strengths and weaknesses. Not every child will be great at math just like every child will not excel at history.
Lack of Parental Support
Children spend more time watching television than they spend in school. The teacher can teach a kid so much at school but at the end of the day the onus is on parents as to whether their child studies or not. According to other students, 54% of households have no rules concerning television watching. We need not go into the multitude of statistics that link excessive television watching to poor performance in school. Unfortunately, when our children receive a bad grade on a test we’re quicker to get irate at the teacher than the child.
For a child to succeed, the parent must have an invested interest in their child’s education. This does not only apply to elementary school children but highschoolers as well. For what it’s worth, a child has a better chance of succeeding with an ineffective teacher but a dedicated parent than a dedicated teacher and ineffective parent.
Fixing this problem is easier said than done as time is something that most parents never seem to have enough of. Especially now that economic times are hard, it’s common for a father to pull 80 hour work weeks while the mother pulls 40 and 60 hour work weeks just to make ends meet. Of course, this leaves the child unsupervised for the vast majority of time at home. Unfortunately, this is a result of ineffective prioritizing. We need to realize that our children are our most important assets and their education is imperative for their success as well as ours. It is common to see parents who are more concerned with how they’re going to pay for the Cadillac or Infiniti parked in the driveway than the history class their fifth grader is failing.
We need to understand as a country that in order to be effective parents we have to give up certain luxuries. Until we grasp this concept, we will forever be in the shadow of other countries because Uncle Sam can only do so much for our children.
Simple things such as eating dinner together as a family have been proven to increase children’s grades. Make an effort to spend at least an hour a day with each of your children, helping them and coaching them with homework and projects. Not only do you help them excel, but this parent/child bonding time is imperative for their overall success as well as keeping them from the wrong crowd.
Diet and Lifestyle
While it might sound farfetched, even absurd to assume that what a child eats can affect how they perform in school, there have been studies that show a correlation between the removal of junk food vending machines and increase in test scores and drop in disciplinary problems. Other studies have found that by simply walking to school, children can improve their test scores.
This shouldn’t be farfetched as we have come to find out in recent years that the century old proverb is true, “you are what you eat.” As Dr. Neil Medley has pointed out in his book Proof Positive, high sugar consumption among school aged children can decrease their performance in school.
Thanks to millions spent on lobbying, for years we Americans have been brainwashed into thinking that milk, sugar, lean meat and other foods are great for children. The opposite is true however. Children who are fed such foods not only perform a lot worse on tests, but their comprehension skills are decreased.
The idea is not that a child has to be on a vegetarian or vegan diet in order to excel in school. What is being said is that if a child spends their days eating unhealthy food inside and outside of school, their school performance will be negatively impacted. Take a look at some of the countries with the top educational scores in the world and you will notice that a great deal of emphasis is placed on diet as well as lifestyle.
Lifestyle supersedes what a child eats as it incorporates other habits as well. Parents should be actively monitoring how much time a child spends watching TV vs. exercising and or other forms of physical activities. A child who consistently goes to bed at late hours of the night can have a decrease in school performance.
Once again, this is something that the parent has to be involved in. A teacher can encourage a student to get enough rest, but if that parent is not going to make it law, things will almost always remain the same.
In the end, our educational system is the most technologically advanced in the world. However, just like our healthcare system, just because we are ahead technologically, doesn’t mean we’ll remain ahead. If we are ever to regain dominance in the education race, we must adopt a completely different view of how we educate our children. Last but not least, we must remember, that the classroom is just the least of our problems because the vast majority of what a child learns is not inside the classroom, but rather outside.