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The Education System in America
The role that the education system should play in people’s lives is to educate them to be conscious, critical thinking individuals who do not passively accept knowledge, but question the knowledge they are taught. Education should be taught to give students the skills and intelligence they need to understand the world and how the world works to survive in it. However, the American education system is notorious for producing students who are woefully ignorant of the world and different cultures. One reason is because the education system in its current state doesn’t leave much room for critical thinking but trains individuals to be docile, worker bees in a global economy that keeps the status quo rich and the “others” barely getting by. . The problem becomes evident if we look at the various curricula and subjects that are taught. There is a lack of emphasis on academic learning and the only thing that matters is the high stakes tests. Schools in this country have been inundated with fuzzy curricula that assume that through constant testing, students will be prepared for life in a new global society. . . whatever it is.
I recently had a conversation with a colleague and we were discussing how African Americans were treated forty years ago and I was amazed at her naivete on the subject considering the fact that she was a college graduate and African American. From the moment I entered college, I was eager to explore the history of African and African American history from a point of view that doesn’t make them seem subhuman and the college provides students with that opportunity. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of history and sociology classes he’d taken; from his conversation, none. But the sad truth is that when most people make the decision to attend college, it’s to reap financial rewards, not to expand their consciousness.
For the education system in this country to produce students who are unaware of its history and the world around them, it would need to be restructured in several ways. Parental involvement should be mandatory, just as school attendance for students is mandatory for graduation. Lack of parental involvement is a huge contributing factor to the current failing education system. Parents need to instill in their children how bad a lack of education is for their future. Teachers are wonderful people who can take students from the top of Mount Olympus to the cold and desolation of Antarctica, but they are there to teach, not as parents. Many teachers spend a large portion of their classroom time disciplining children and babysitting, two things that are not part of their job duties. Teachers need parental involvement for the education system to work and for education to start at home.
Funding for the education system should also be restructured. Public schools have traditionally been funded by property taxes, resulting in a very unequal distribution of educational opportunities. Wealthy communities have more funding for their local schools than those that don’t. This situation directly affects the quality of education that children in poor urban and rural areas receive. The No Child Left Behind Act will only make matters worse due to required testing and public reporting of results. When parents buy a new home, they want to live in a school district with great test scores. This drives up property values in those areas, meaning that only affluent families can afford to live in the top performing school districts. That means more property taxes in those areas, while underperforming schools lose funding if they don’t meet federal standards. There should be an equitable tax system for education that is not based on homeowners’ property taxes. Government funding is, for the most part, distributed to various schools by state and local governments, and there are huge disparities in this funding based on race. According to the text American education by Joel Spring, there is a more than $1,000 gap per student nation based on race, with large states like New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, leading the nation in their reluctance to fund education fairly (Spring, p. 77). Children should not suffer because of their economic or ethnic background, and public education should not distinguish between rich and poor, or black and white. Every child who attends a public school should receive an equal education. Equal funding would ensure teachers are adequately resourced to better educate students. School selection and privatization of the public school system would not be a factor because, under my plan, the education system in America would be fully and fairly funded by the federal government and closely monitored. With the influx of government money into the education system, schools would change dramatically for the better because this is the biggest problem in most public schools: lack of money.
The curriculum of the education system would be modified to accommodate the nation’s melting pot of diverse cultures and ethnicities. From elementary through high school, students are bombarded with facts and figures about wealthy white men as if women and other minorities didn’t exist or contribute worthily to American history. No wonder so many students hide the historical facts: they don’t care about this fact because they can’t relate to the actors of the story. Students should be required to take courses that will give them a deeper understanding of the world around them, courses that will discuss the history of marginalized and oppressed individuals in this country and around the world. They should be required to read books that make them think, not just process information for the next test. If more students understood the values and cultures of people different from themselves, it would not be easy or perhaps not even possible for the government to lie and use propaganda techniques to lull the masses into believing that all is well and its leaders are competent. High stakes tests would be eliminated because most tests are designed by people who don’t have a clue about the demographics, ethnicity or economic backgrounds of the students being tested and these tests are biased against minorities and of the poor. If students are to be tested, extra tutoring would be available for students, at no cost to parents.
Having competent teachers, board members, and administrators is also a vital part of restructuring the education system. It is important to have qualified directors and board members who know and apply standards and guidelines. What are the requirements for an administrator? Are qualifications required? These are the questions that require answers. Just because someone has a college degree doesn’t make that person the best for the job. Council members shouldn’t be chosen because they play golf with the mayor; all board members should have a master’s degree in education or have an extensive social justice background. With regards to teachers, the education system should ensure that the best teachers are chosen for the positions and appraisals should be given frequently. This would give parents and the education system a chance to find out what is wrong and what is needed to correct the problems. Public education needs teachers and board members who genuinely care about children and their education, not individuals who want the perks of working for the school system: free summers and vacations, steady raises, and a sizable compensation package . American children suffer from the inadequacies of individuals involved in the education system.
The “culture of poverty” theory that has been used by several politicians to explain differences in learning among different ethnicities would be exposed as a blatant attempt by the status quo to “blame” individuals for their poverty if the education system were remodeled to meet the needs of all students, not just the wealthy. Huge educational gaps between poor students and wealthy students occur not because poorer students have adapted to their poverty-stricken existence, but because they lack the resources to succeed in school. If students are dealing with outdated textbooks, lack of toiletries, and late 1980s computers, their opportunity to advance academically is slim, and their chances of dropping out are likely.
In a just and equitable society, the education system I’ve been discussing would have already been in place decades ago, but it hasn’t and most likely won’t be. In a hierarchical society like America’s, there will always be someone at the lower end of the totem pole and the best way to do that is through the bad education of its most vulnerable: children. The abandonment of the education system in the United States threatens the economic well-being of the entire nation. Unless inequalities in education are reduced and its system completely restructured, the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen and the United States will be infamous for being the nation of the uneducated. Spring, Joel. American education. (2006). New York: McGraw Hill
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