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Hero For Christ
The Failures of American Education
Most people would say the answer is: Methods, Resources and Personnel.
They think either that
My view is that the crisis in education is not Methods, Resources and Personnel.
It is Vision, Purpose and Morals.
Although admirable in concept, this goal is proving increasingly unworkable in practice. For one thing, fewer and fewer pieces of knowledge can be presented as "value-neutral." Should "evolution" and "creationism" be taught as competing theories in science class? How should subjects such as abortion, the Gulf War, Vietnam, and the 2000 election be treated in history and social studies classes? Should teachers take into account the fact that events such as the civil rights movement and the Japanese internment may have vastly different meaning and significance for members of different cultural groups?
The answers to all of these questions must be carefully calculated to not offend anyone. The result is not merely a tepid, sanitized, presentation of knowledge drained of significance and subjectivity. It is also (and more damagingly) the creation of a worldview with no clear answers to the following questions:
(Note: This cycle is an incomplete Phase-One-and-Two-only version of a Quadrophasic Cycle)
This explains the great paradox of school reform, which is that the schools are always "improving" but the overall trend is a steady decline.
The only exit to the cycle is to realize that any legitimate set of methods can work, as long as they are aligned to stable and viable vision, used consistently over the course of time, and supplemented as needed by other methods. In other words, when the vision comes first, the methods follow. When, however, the vision is bankrupt, no set of methods can be effective.
The answer is:
In essence, those with wealth, power and opportunity (quite naturally) want to ensure those same advantages for their children. So they accomplish that in the following ways:
The wealthier and more powerful parents refuse to believe in the worth of any education that could be provided to all students equally. They demand programs for their children that are visibly different and better than the standard school programs. If their requests are not met, they threaten to abandon the school system entirely.
Under such pressure, most districts elect to pacify their elite students with open or de facto tracking systems, magnet schools, "gifted" programs and enrichment activities, all of which generally draw participation that correlates closely with wealth.
"proficiency test" movement, as were many states across the nation. The reason was that the quality of education at wealthy suburban schools and poor inner city schools had diverged so sharply that a high school diploma no longer gave any meaningful information about the qualifications of the person who owned it. This gave rise to a public outcry from two sources
However, the way it worked in practice was quite different. Although the (poorly- designed) tests were billed to the public as evaluating mastery of basic content knowledge, they were predicated on the possession of a complex range of cognitive skills that heavily favored the methods used in wealthier schools. Therefore, instead of providing a range of results based on content mastery, students in a given school were likely to fail or succeed en masse --a substantial boost to the wealthy parents' subconscious need to validate their own schools and methods.
The poorer school districts also found, to their distress, that instead of gaining additional resources to help pass the tests, the results were used (at least initially) as a way to justify withholding resources and support --putatively as an "incentive" for bad schools to do better.
The tests were also designed to be "unteachable" as a way of discouraging the phenomena of "teaching to the test". Nevertheless, most of the wealthy districts immediately began intensive test preparation sessions to ensure a 99-100% passing rate.
The poorer school districts, conversely, ignored the tests as long as they could, and then eventually capitulated, in some cases overhauling their entire curriculum to center around passing the tests. Of course, since the tests were deliberately "unteachable," this meant making a total hash of the natural learning progression.
Nonetheless, over the course of the next decade, the urban school districts did eventually manage to make progress towards improving passage rates on the tests (which were redesigned and improved to the point where they were no longer as blatantly unfair and as poorly designed). However just at the point when the inner cities were making significant improvements in test scores, Ohio announced that the proficiency test concept was being abandoned, and a new, entirely different kind of test would be introduced.
Ostensibly, the reason was to respond to widespread concerns about proficiency test validity. However, the timing of the changeover suggests a subconscious need to maintain the ability of the testing system to discriminate between inner city and suburban students.
If your child is going to a poor urban (or rural) school, he or she is probably learning the following in the classroom:
Unfortunately these values are substituted for self-discipline and initiative, which are qualities that are subtly subverted and/or devalued in this environment. That, in turn, leads to a hash irony: Once a child has been socialized in this manner, it is difficult to treat him or her in anything but a heavily authoritarian way. One result is that idealistic teachers turn overnight into hardened disciplinarians. Another is that parents who have already been socialized to the same values complain if their children do happen to be guided towards taking initiative and gaining self-determination --because it is seen as undermining the authoritarian parent at home.
Of course, no self-respecting child would swallow such a hostile set of indoctrinations without a fight, so, simultaneous with the moral lessons of the classroom, the child learns a set of counter-lessons and methods of resistance from peers. These include:
As a whole, these methods of resistance are notable in that they mainly harm the resistors themselves, their peers, and their community. They do nothing to alter the system.
The end result is that the child in the poor urban school is prepared for one of the following futures:
However, the tragedy of the system is that children are forced into a false choice between such values and the values of intellectual achievement.
The middle-class child is also being taught a set of values in his or her classroom:
Despite this, there is a tendency towards conformity, an acceptance of the status quo, and a surprising lack of initiative and vision that exists in the middle class. Middle-class students tend to be clique-ish and exclusionary, and they often simply follow their families, in being constrained by social norms. Middle-class rebellion is common, but tends to follow a well-established pattern --a period of destructiveness (in the company of a group) that is subsequently suppressed, hushed-up and ignored.
This group is highly mobile, and while relationships may be formed within communities, these tend to be superficial and based on mutual self-interest. There is a pronounced tendency towards civic responsibility in the middle class, but it tends to be narrowly focused on the middle-class family's own neighborhood or community. The middle class has a tendency to deny, ignore and disavow problems, particularly those taking place elsewhere.
All of this reflects the way middle-class enclaves are established --through flight away from regions of diversity (and the attendant difficulties thereof) and towards a supposed paradise of homogeneity and material comfort.
The middle-class child with an abundance of ambition, but a poverty of vision, tends to end up as a professional, an educator, or a member of middle management, particularly if the child is first generation middle-class. The middle class is the group that keeps the entire system running, usually without realizing that:
The above explains an essential paradox of education --that the same methods which meet with great success in wealthier schools are often abject failures in poorer schools. The children in the wealthier schools enter the classroom with a preparation and a set of cultural norms that prepare them to get the most out of such methods, whereas the poorer children, lacking that foundation, are like non-swimmers thrown into deep waters.
The use of such methods in a setting where students have different backgrounds also leads to an expanding gap in achievement between the prepared and the unprepared students.
The upper class is invisible to most people who are not in it. The values that it teaches to its children are entitlement, self-centeredness and self-indulgence. Although many associate the upper class with jobs such as doctor, lawyer, and professor, members of the real upper class are more likely to have jobs such as C.E.O. (or V.P.), politician, or investor; or to live on trust funds and wealthy spouses as playboys and socialites.
Many upper-class people are actually quite unhappy. However, there is a key advantage to being wealthy. If you have the will and the values to want to do something to help society, you are likely to have the resources and the ability to do it. For this reason, wealthy people in America have traditionally funded many social reform and arts efforts.
However, in general, those with wealth and power learn to use it to their own selfish benefit, the middle class learns that winning is everything, and the poor learn self- destructive behaviors. And while it is possible to move from one category to another, the usual price is to become estranged from one's origins, repudiating the values and the culture one grew up with, and embracing the culture and values of one's new socioeconomic home. The results promise to be disastrous for America.
Strategies for Educational ChangeThis essay has focused on the failures of America and American education. However America is still a society with a great deal of genuine social mobility, as well as opportunities for those with the will and the know-how to access them.
Strategies for teachers and administrators:Particularly if you teach in a poor urban or rural setting, your only way to bring your students a good education is to set a strong moral vision that opposes the status quo. The reason is as follows:
To be blunt, if you are not willing to be a revolutionary, then you should not be in the field of education.
Conversely, if you are willing to teach your students to be self-directed and proactive, and are willing to teach them to fight for what they believe in, then you will be on their side, the way a teacher or administrator is supposed to be, and you will no longer need to spend the majority of your time worrying about classroom management. In essence, you will create a culture of learning and cooperation, rather than a culture of learned helplessness and hostility.
This is difficult to do at the level of a single classroom, because the students will be heavily influenced by the rest of the school. It is more effectively done at the level of a school building. Most effective of all would be to transform a school system at a district wide (or even statewide) level, but this is very improbable due to political pressures.
Methods For Working Effectively in Lower Socioeconomic Schools:
|I enjoyed your article on the failures of American educational systems very much. You have essentially took what I have been thinking and put into a logical and eloquent framework. Keep up the good work!
I could not help but notice, however, that your article makes no mention of home schooling. I was home schooled/self taught through my entire grade school education. It allowed me to graduate from high school a year early, start work on my associates degree at the age of thirteen, and develop solid moral and philosophical constructs (upon which I have based the rest of my life). My formal schooling only took 3-4 hours per day, leaving the rest of the time to work ahead, read, or work (as necessary).
Granted, home schooling opens up some children to harsher forms of parental abuse than they might have otherwise encountered. Additionally, some people have used home schooling as a method of brainwashing their children. On a whole, however, I think it is an excellent way for children to be taught, so long as both the parent and the child are committed to learning.
Also, you may want to peruse this link: City Journal
To quote from it, "The largest study so far, authored for the Home School Legal Defense Association by respected University of Maryland statistician Lawrence M. Rudner, examined some 20,000 home-schooled students from 50 states. These students scored higher on standardized tests than public and private school students in every subject and at every grade level. The longer their parents had home schooled them, the better they did. The results shocked the left-leaning Rudner, who initially believed that home schoolers were a bunch of "conservative nuts." He has changed his mind."
Hi I am reading a entry from your page and writing an essay about it. I am just letting you know and I am citing your website and name. Thank you for the great information. Xinh =)
Well i wasn't able to read the whole essay but in my my own words of concern, our education system is a very big problem in America today. I, myself, growing up in a small town and attending a rather small, simple Church-school believe its because we have left God out of the equation. I believe the only way our Nation can regain its morality is by putting God first. The only hope for our country is to stand up and say, "we need God in America again!" P.S. I was reading this essay to help myself better understand what people really believe is hindering our education system. I am writing an essay myself for my English as I am finishing up my last year of highschool. The information (all of) you have provided will be very helpful in finishing my essay. Thank You, Ashley
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