The Greatness of the American Education System
Previously published on May 10, 2010
Today Americans, especially those in my generation and the next, are faced with an educational crisis. Everyday there is an exponential growth in the information that Americans need to process and incorporate into their daily lives; this is especially true when it comes to employment.
Unfortunately, foreign students constantly out perform American students in testing. The only aspect of our education system that triumphs over other education systems is that we not only educate everyone, but we encourage originality and creativity in our students. On the other hand, even that is being threatened.
As Federal and State leaders continue to move toward addressing education reform, there is opportunity to create American education philosophy. For the most part, the only semblance of a national policy on education we have is the No Child Left Behind Law, which hands down standards to students and teachers who are constantly expected to fill-in the gaps left from a lack of a dynamic and uniform education system. Recent initiatives like common core add to this approach, but do not solve all of the issues.
Unfortunately, over the course of 2008 and 2012 Presidential election cycles, for example, we saw presidential debates, that again, failed to generate new ideas. Not to pick at anyone in particular, but Bill Richardson, who long drop out of the race but probably had the greater resolve to fix education than most, suggests students spent more hours inside and outside of school studying, which could work. Then it is important to remember the old adage, work smart not hard; besides, why should we always place extra burden on teachers and students while our economy and society provide less and less incentive for education.
Our country is in a bit of a conundrum as we have one of the worst K through twelfth grade education systems in the world, yet our colleges and universities are some of the best in the world. This leads me to believe that there are two failing components to our education system; the first is the actual education system.
In a quality school, quite frankly the most important lesson a student can learn is how to learn. Other nations teach their students information, technical skills, and the ability to analyze in certain subjects; we teach our students to be creative and original. The problem with the American education system is that we need to consistently and uniformly support an education system that teaches children how to learn and grow beyond the classroom and the things we already know; No child left behind does not do this.
The truth is that we need to acquire more and more information everyday, we need to compete, and we need kids who enjoy learning; well, the solution is let the teachers and psychologist, who study learning, develop a system, under the authority of the Congress, which educates children on how to learn. In elementary school, children should be taught basic skills including math, reading, and foreign languages along with other forms of communication while they learn techniques which enable them to gather and retain a massive amount of information.
One of the most difficult aspects of learning new information is that people forget too much; this is a fact that is seldom addressed by policy. As students progress through high school, teach them how to learn in narrower and narrower subject areas, so that as they enter college, they are able to effectively learn in specialized fields.
This will mean students are able to learn faster and more independently while building the skills and gaining the knowledge they need to perform in an ever shifting job market, all without the constant need of retraining; not to be mention, they will be more creative, more eager to learn because it will be easier, and be able to compete with foreign competitors who may not be as dynamic as Americans.
The second hurdle in our education system is the job market. If you want students to study science and math, at some point, they will need incentives; this means a good income. Although I studied physics because I love to learn, the job market is lacking, as jobs do not pay as well as they should, are less available, and require a specialized degree and experience before any can gained. Engineers, the cousins of physicists, do have a greater opportunity as they are exiting school with a specialized degree but engineers are not paid as well as they should be and they certainly are not a pure science which provides new theory and research.
On the other hand, if you are say, a communication arts major or a business major in school, you will generally not have to study as hard or as long, have a better opportunity of obtaining a job with decent pay, and you will have more time to do things outside of school and career; sounds pretty sweet, if you're a talented and brilliant student who could go into any field you want. If our nation wants to be strong in education, especially the sciences and math, our government needs to work with industry and business to create new opportunity for the sciences and math.
Furthermore, with a revised and unified education system that focuses on teaching students how to learn, the high school level degree up to the doctorate level will gain greatly in value and our nation will have the greatest education system on the planet which can then better provide for the needs of industry. Essentially, I believe the fault of our education system is that we do not consistently focus on teaching our students how to learn, instead we try to recreate our education system so that it mirrors the rest of the world; we then further fail to provide the incentives we need to promote a dynamic education system.