The way in which we view education has a lot to do with our past; how we grew up, societal influences, and the way we were schooled ourselves. It is the legacy that we pass on to our children. Tragically, the current way our education system is engineered, it appears our children seem doomed to be unsuccessful.
We live in a time where our schools are failing, our children are unhappy and overworked, and the current system becomes more obsolete every year. Something needs to change if we want our children to be happy, and our country to be successful, once again. The system we have now was built on a fault line and it has become increasingly evident that the cracks are growing exponentially. It isn’t too late to change that model.
We could talk about how to improve schools, maybe more money or less political involvement, but in the long run those are not the things that stand in the way of our children’s futures. What stands in the way is an archaic mindset build on false education and an inability to look past the norm. With our country in a dire economic situation with mass joblessness and stifled innovation, it is time to step outside of the box that public education has put us in to find solutions.
1. Our schools are failing miserably: That's not to say that some students do not do well in public school and end up happy, but statistics do not lie. At an annual average cost of over $10,000 per student, the U.S. is lagging behind countries that don’t spend half that much. Money does not appear to be the problem, so throwing more into a broken system is just adding fuel to the fire. No Child Left Behind has been a total failure, where states are suing the federal government over this catastrophe. NCLB puts extreme emphasis on tests -- as if still trying to churn out worker bees -- yet, the U.S. ranks far below most industrialized nations. We seem to be wasting money letting political agendas decide what is best, rather than the parents or teachers who know what children need.
Unsettling Education Statistics
- Students are not faring well on national assessments. The most recent NAEP assessments indicate that less than one third of U.S. fourth graders are proficient in reading, mathematics, science, and American history.
- More than half of low-income students cannot even demonstrate basic knowledge of science, reading, and history.
- U.S. eighth graders ranked 19th out of 38 countries on mathematic assessments and 18th in science.
- U.S. twelfth graders ranked 18th out of 21 countries in combined mathematics and science assessments (Source: The Heritage Foundation)
John Taylor Gatto, teacher for over 30 years, NY Teacher of the Year, bestselling author, and homeschooling supporter, states: “The secret to American schooling is that it doesn’t teach the way children learn, nor is it supposed to. Schools were conceived to serve the economy and the social order rather than kids and their families….that is why it is compulsory.” This is a system set up for all the wrong reasons, and it is a system whose goals were set deep inside of ulterior motives and still are today. Maybe schools are not the best places for our children to gain knowledge.
2. Our children are unhappy: Our children are unhappy, overworked, and not learning what they need in order to be successful. The first thing that needs to change is how we define that word success. We hear it all the time used as a measure of how our children are doing in life, but what if the way we define success has been wrong all along? What exactly are we as parents supposed to focus on? Is happiness even on the radar screen when success is discussed?
It seems most parents these days get so caught up in competition that they can forget that our ultimate goal should be our children’s happiness. Who's to blame them, as we are all conditioned to survive in the rat-race dog-eat-dog economy. But this ultra-competitive model seems to make school an unhappy place, as a record number of children are now on mood-altering drugs to handle their pressure-cooker lives. It is a place where strangers with corporate-government mandates are controlling the minds and bodies of our children.
We cannot expect our children to be free-thinking independent adults if they are kept under lock and key, segregated by age, fully controlled by rules, and forced to learn a federally-mandated curriculum. It is an institutional and cold conditioning of the mind. Americans have been taught to think of the word success as being dependent on excelling at school, but it seems societal success is more dependent on knowledge -- and the two are not synonymous. If we can change our thinking about success then it can equal happiness -- the ultimate human success.
In 2007, for the first time, UNICEF did a study on the wellbeing and happiness of children in 21 industrialized nations. The US and UK, two of the wealthier nations on the list, came in dead last. This alone should raise some eyebrows and prove the point that our children are not happy, and that more money is not the answer to the problem.
Another study was conducted in 2009 by the American Psychological Association to survey stress levels in children; they found some alarming information. To start, it showed that stress levels in adults and children have risen dramatically over the past few years, but even more upsetting is that parents seemed mostly clueless to the fact that their children were stressed at all. What were the main issues causing stress in children? Worry about grades, about getting into college, and family finances top the list. These problems are causing children to experience headaches, nausea, and trouble sleeping. If our goal is happiness, the school system is again, a failure.
3. School has become obsolete: The last 10 years has seen more technological advancement than in the entire century before. All of the world's information is now literally available in the palm of our hands. Almost the entire world’s wealth of knowledge is accessible through the Internet and integrated into our everyday life. Small improvements have occurred to incorporate this new lifestyle, but not nearly enough to catch up with the rest of the world. In fact, some researchers suggest that students would be better off with self-directed learning using the Internet, because we all learn better when it is something that we are interested in.
The current system is repetitive, memorization and test driven, and downright boring. It’s a place that resembles prison where, “Very little of what is taught is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is actually used," as John Holt states in How Children Learn. Couple that with the fact that 50% (technological knowledge) of what is learned in the first year of college is worthless by graduation, and you just have to ask yourself: What is the point? And can’t we do better than this? Our children not only deserve better, they require better in order to compete in a market with nearly 10% official unemployment.
College seems to be less cost-effective every year. Rising college costs put our children in insurmountable debt due to the lack of viable employment. Tuitions have skyrocketed in the past few years (Harvard University is now $60,000 per year). To make matters worse, universities are now making kickback profits from credit card companies, while graduates aren’t even able to find jobs. With over 1/3 of college graduates now taking low-skill jobs, and over 65% graduating with crippling debt, it is now legitimate to question if college is the right path to put our children on.
4. The wrong people control the system for the wrong reasons: “The education system was deliberately designed to produce mediocre intellects, to hamstring the inner life, to deny students appreciable leadership skills, and to ensure docile and incomplete citizens in order to render the populace 'manageable.'" -- Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt, Sr. Policy Advisor for the US Dept. of Education, and whistleblower on government activities to deliberately dumb our children down.
She also notes that the system is set up to make good consumers, as well as standardize people to keep them predictable and easy to control. Does this sound like something you want to support? Do we really want our children controlled and held back in life?
The Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890 were the first steps toward a large government role in education. What people failed to realize was that the money from these Acts became obligations to play by their rules and it continues today. Because the Feds were financially supporting the schools, they could control what was taught, thus bringing another facet of American life under their control. This is proven again and again when we see how difficult they make it for people to choose alternative education options for their own children.
It is clear that the purpose of school has become to serve corporations and government. This is evidenced most recently when we learn that BP played a role in writing the environmental curriculum in California. I think we all can agree that public schools should only serve the taxpayer's families and their children's best interests -- not the corporations that write the curriculum. When the day comes that the people in charge make families (and not greedy corporations) the priority then maybe, just maybe, our children will be learning what is really important, rather than learning how to serve the very people who set up this failing system.
In a time when our economy desperately needs more innovators, how can we change education to expand the potential of each child? It seems we must do some things we did NOT learn in school: Question assumptions about education; think for and believe in ourselves; speak up against what we know is wrong; and challenge what we've been taught to believe is right. It is each parent's right and responsibility to decide the best way to guide their child to maximum human potential.
It seems that our modern world provides all of the tools to support a child's natural curiosity to drive their own education. Homeschooling and unschooling may be the most powerful form of revolt against an establishment which is terrified of individuals that question authority and refuse to be good little worker bees. John Holt said it well: “To trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves . . . but most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” We also must begin to trust our own abilities as parents to guide our children toward happiness and independence, not to blindly trust the failed government standards that have resulted in anxiety and stress conditioning.
It is time for all of us to look outside the box for solutions to our education system to ensure our children's happiness -- this should be deemed the ultimate success.
Author Mary Hickcox is an unschooling advocate, mother, and life guide to three sons (11, 7, 3).
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