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June 8, 2018

Several of you undoubtedly recall my various slaps at our education system in the United States. In a word, it is an embarrassment. The United States now ranks 17th in education world-wide with even lower rankings for math and reading. What has happened?

When I was an English teacher nearly 50 years ago, the United States ranked number one. I honestly thought it would be that way forever. Why not? What could possibly change it? Apparently, everything!

It’s not a money thing. When I taught English, I was making a whopping $11,800 per year and that included extra pay for being a credentialed reading specialist. Today, the average high school teacher’s salary is $47,259. While that is not a fortune and surely teachers have been and are still underpaid, the money thing would still seem not to apply. So what’s changed in the last 50 years? A lot!

First, the collective will of America to properly educate their children has diminished. Education is no longer considered the most important thing in a child’s life. Too often, the most important thing is a cell phone with which the average child learns LOL but can’t spell the word laughing. Today’s kids have too much of everything and therefore don’t see the same urgency in learning as prior generations.

Second, education standards have been lowered to accommodate minorities and disadvantaged students. Standardized testing has continually been down shifted to allow minority and disadvantaged students to score passing grades. Kids aren’t held back to re-complete grades as they once were. In today’s world everyone get’s a participation trophy and there is little motivation to truly be the best.

Third, the quality of teaching personnel has greatly degraded. In many locations, people who teach our youth are not even required to be credentialed to do so. It’s like anyone with a heart and some free time is allowed to teach. Background checks are sketchy as well. When I taught in public schools, I was first required to submit to a complete FBI background check and swear my allegiance to the United States in front of a federal judge. Try that today! A neighbor of mine recently told me that their daughter’s teacher simply tells the class to look up things on the internet; the teacher can not be bothered with actual teaching because she is too busy texting her boyfriend with the hope of getting laid.

Fourth, even though there has been a continual cry for more money, schools are not adequately funded. They never have been. Money that is set aside for schools often never arrives in the classroom; it is eaten up and wasted in the bureaucracy of school administration and local politics. New programs are often politically motivated and wind up being a waste of precious money that should be put into qualified teachers, books and computers.

Fifth, the change in curriculum over the years has “dumbed down” our young scholars. Cursive writing is no longer taught, foreign languages still remain an elective subject and even basic reading skills are not taught today. There will always be the need to write a coherent letter or have a meaningful conversation yet our children are not being prepared for these most simple tasks. To be prepared to interact with other cultures who speak other languages is all but out of the question and relegated to fantasy land.

Sixth, there is no real want to be educated on the part of much of today’s youth. They would rather play on the smart phone and see no real need for much formal education. Most can’t look into the future beyond today’s Instagram. With a lack of aspiration on both the part of students and teachers, there is no motivation to be educated. As Pelagius said, “There is no worse death than the end of hope.”

If these six crucial points can be addressed by students, teachers and the public at large, there is a chance that we can once again be number one in education. More importantly, we can regain our place in the world as leaders and innovators. Without drastic intervention very soon, we will be doomed to be a nation of dummies.

PS – Let’s not forget the trades. We have an acute shortage of plumbers, carpenters, metal workers and other trades people. If you want your washing machine repaired, you’re apt to see a guy my age show up at your door. We need more education in these areas as well.

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  1. I agree with most of this. We have some charter school students in our community and very actively engaged parents and the difference really shows. The question is really about parental responsibility, to my view (as a non-parent, I suppose it’s easy to be critical). But I see children who are not given any incentive to WANT to learn. Leaving it up to teachers to motivate students is a recipe for failure.
    The other issue is the dumbing down, which has been going on for a very long time (hundreds of years, I suspect). As more children were educated, the standards had to go down to accommodate them. Still, it is better to educate everyone, and not just the wealthiest and smartest. But then we add AP classes (or charter schools) for the exceptional students and hopefully that helps.
    It’s clear from my delving into family history that for most (but not all) of my ancestors, education for the children was so important that the parents made HUGE sacrifices – and the children knew it, too. They didn’t want to disappoint the parents. Not the same today at all.
    On our tour in the Netherlands, we had a long and interesting conversation with some university students in Delft. They explained that long before college, students were put on one of four different tracks based on their aptitudes. Only some were on a university track. It sounded like it led to more successful, happier students. Don’t know if it’s true, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eilene – I agree about the parental sacrifice in years past. When my grandmother came to this country as a widow, she had lost her considerable fortune during the First World War. (Her brother convinced her to put all of her money into German war bonds.) However, she saved enough working as a cook to send my father to school at the Vienna New Conservatory of Music where he became a concert master. Your points about the Netherlands is correct. We should realize in the USA that not all students are college bound and encourage some to learn trades. My ending point was personal. I called for a washing machine repair and wound up with a technician way older than me. (And that’s saying a mouthful.) We need younger plumbers, carpenters, electricians, etc.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on allenrizzi and commented:

    Thoughts for a Saturday.


  3. Although I do not disagree with anything you have said, when I taught in a K-8th grade elementary school in rural Georgia, kids were held back. But after a kid has been held back twice (maybe the same grade and maybe 2 different grades) he/she has outgrown the desk and is out of step with his/her classmates. We had pregnant 15 and 16-year-olds still in an elementary school (albeit the 7th or 8th grades) and these kids were white, so it was not a minority problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Agreed on that, unless rhetoric counts. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bring LATIN back. It’s essential for everything!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I always thought we’d be the best too.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. In my high school, the majority of the students were considered a minority. Some of these minority kids were very bright and motivated but not all of them, just like us white kids. I don’t think the education standards would have to lowered for the bright and motivated minority students, nor do I think they should be lowered for those who aren’t. I don’t get it.

    Two of my grandsons seem to be getting a very good education, but they live in what is considered a wealthy city. I don’t agree with all of things they’re taught, but their parents do.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for writing this post, I’ve been thinking lately that the US education system is broken and I’ve been wondering if it’s intentionally been sabotaged. Keep the population dumb so they can be manipulated? Oregon’s new law which allows high school students to graduate without reading/math skills (in the name of racial/social equity says it all). When woke politics insists that Abraham Lincoln. Math and proper grammar are racist, the school board goes along with this insanity. Common core doesn’t help test scores, it just confuses students and prevents parents from tutoring their children. There’s a reason why America isn’t the world leader anymore, on many levels we’ve lost our excellence under the guise of inclusion/equity. Merit has become a dirty word.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Agreed! We are now 17th in education world-wide while incompetent “teachers” are being paid to sit on their butts and direct students to the internet. It is shameful and no doubt the beginning of the end for this great country.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My state, California ranks 41st in the nation so it’s especially depressing to think how bad it really is since the US ranks 17th worldwide. I truly think that the best education is one that encourages thinking vs memorizing, but it seems that they don’t want us to think for ourselves, just regurgitate their thoughts. Very sad and shameful.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I do cherish the time I spent teaching English in high school and literature at Cal State Northridge. However, even hen I saw where things were heading. Sad is too inadequate a word.


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