Education has been under attack in this country for at least 50 years. That’s right, 50 years! Public education in the U.S. was one of if not the best education you could get anywhere. That is no longer true. We have slumped to under the top 25 in the developed world. This fall can be traced back to the 1960s.
When I was in college, there was a lot of talk about ending the grading scale and just use pass/fail. It was determined that children shouldn’t have the burden of getting higher grades put upon them. It was considered too much of a strain laced with pitfalls with a feeling of low self-worth if the child got Cs or Ds on their report card.
This philosophy is based on the theory that the real important factor is that a child be able to regurgitate lessons and information so they pass the class they are taking. However, that is a false premise on which to base education. Education is not just rote memorization, it is supposed to be a tool that gives the student the ability to critically think. Former Secretary of Education Richard Riley said, “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist, using technologies that haven’t been invented, in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”
That statement from Mr. Riley is true and accurate. Just look at the technological leaps our society has made in just the last 50 years. When I was in college, computers were large behemoths that needed data cards to input the information. There were no desktop computers in those days. Now we have desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets, and cell phones that are really computers. New innovative products are still coming out and more are on the drawing board. This basically proves that Mr. Riley was right.
Unfortunately, at the same time some were proposing pass/fail grading, others were planning on slashing the education budgets. Many, mostly Republicans but not all, even wanted, and still want, to eliminate the Department of Education. Many states have slashed taxes thus causing cuts in local budgets that have severely hampered public education.
Rand Paul has a big plan to reform education. He is “planning a major push on education reform, including education choice, school choice, vouchers, charter schools, you name it.” As one specific example for improving education, Paul suggested that “if you have one person in the country who is, like, the best at explaining calculus, that person maybe should teach every calculus class in the country.” He allowed that “You’d still have local teachers to reinforce and try to explain and help the kids, but you’d have some of these extraordinary teachers teaching millions of people in the classroom.” As an example, Paul lauded the work of Salman Khan, the creator of Khan Academy, a growing vault of education videos aimed to comprehensively cover a wide variety of traditional school courses and other topics as well.
This all sounds good if you believe that education is only rote memorization. You see, this is not teaching students to problem-solve. It is merely teaching them to remember something we tell them, and come up with something similar. When we consider that science, technology, engineering, and math are used to problem-solve problems that may not even exist today, how is rote memorization going to help? We need to teach our children to think for themselves and give them the tools they need to be more productive at problem-solving.
The attack on education is an ongoing thing. And, it is always based around money. Budgets need to be cut in order to afford the massive tax cuts Republicans want to give their contributors. Just look at Kansas and North Carolina if you want proof. Both states drastically cut education budgets and their schools have fallen to the depths of poor performance. Cutting education budgets is not an answer. It merely makes public education worse than it was.
Yes, there are socioeconomic issues involved as well. Family participation in the education of children is necessary for the child to succeed. But, some families are better equipped economically than others to take part in educating their children. Some people need to work two jobs just to support their family. That makes it very hard to be a full participant. These factors need to be considered as well as budgets.
However, the real issue is with our understanding of what teachers actually do. Unfortunately, most people think that teaching is easy. We all remember our days as a student, but we never saw behind those doors to the faculty lounge and saw what teachers are required to do before going into the classroom. There is a lot of work involved in teaching children. But, it is not a profession that is the same as others. Teaching is an art form. It takes very skilled and dedicated people to educate our children.
No two teachers handle their classes the same way. The best teachers even teach differently depending upon the current student base in their class. They need to moderate their plans to accommodate different types of children and how quickly they are learning. Being able to interpret the feedback from your classroom is critical in becoming a great teacher.
If we truly want to improve our education system, we need to attract the best and brightest to the education field. We cannot do that without paying teachers better than we do. Yes, there a those who will say that will only “reward” those who are considered “poor” teachers, but there are “poor performers” in every profession. So that is a lame argument.
By increasing teachers pay, we can attract more of our brightest young people to become teachers. There are plenty of people I know who would have been great teachers but passed on the field because of the low pay. It will cost more money in the short-term to do this, but it will more than pay for itself when we have more critical thinkers coming out of our public schools. These critical thinkers and problem-solvers will be our future growth potential.
There are many fields that pay more than teachers. I am not taking anything away from any of these professions, but are they really as important to our future than our teachers? How can expect our public education to improve if we continue to demonize our teachers? How can education get better when teachers need to buy supplies for their classroom out of their own pockets because the budget doesn’t give them what they need? How can we improve education when we cut budgets so much classroom sizes increase rather than decrease?
Public education is definitely under attack. It has been under attack for at least the last 50 years. Until we come to remember that it was our public education that gave us the scientists who put a man on the moon and return to properly funding education, we will continue on a track that will lead us to third world status. Education of our children is too important to be a pawn of budgets. It is too important to be used as any type of political pawn. It is the future of our children and our country. It should be our highest priority.