Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Standing on my Education Soapbox

Cameron often tells me he loves how fired up I get about certain issues. When I have strong opinions on a subject, especially if I feel like there is some injustice occurring or satisfaction in mediocrity, I start talking faster and louder. Cameron usually sits back and smiles while I go on and on. Well, I suppose there are lots of things I feel passionately about, but the one that gets me angry every time I think about it is education. I don't believe I am alone in this case, and I am sure there would be many, including parents and teachers, who would be eager to throw in their two cents on the matter. I am often making comparisons of our education system with that of foreign countries, and I have decided that I need to become fluent in French or German, teach my kids the same and move to another country.

I am grateful to live in a place where education is free, but as we say in New York, nothing is ever really free. Last night a friend gave us tickets to see the opera Aida at the Met. We gladly accepted the generous gift and quickly headed out to a night of cultural infusion. The opera was beautiful and full of flamboyant pomp and circumstance complete with ballet, horses and a victory parade across the stage. It was wonderful. But I am a novice when it comes to the opera, and I didn't realize that a "night at the opera" was really a whole night. They have 2 intermissions that are about 30 minutes each, and those tickets didn't seem to be free anymore as they were costing me my sleep. But luckily, it was an enjoyable sacrifice to make. In the case of education, however, free means that it doesn't cost you anything except the quality of what is being taught.

I will be the first to support increased pay for teachers. They should be compensated on the same level as doctors, lawyers or businessmen because they are every bit as instrumental in the development of future leaders and saving lives as the other professions. Yet, we pay them as if education doesn't really matter. Teachers are stuck in a profession that doesn't appreciate them, confines them with discipline restrictions, subject matter restrictions and lack of resources. Those who love to teach try to stay as long as they can because they love the kids and have a genuine interest in their success, but the odds are against them and for many the love they had for teaching is quickly stamped out. It is not an easy job with lots of vacation and 3 months off in the summer because there are always lesson plans to be prepared, papers to grade, tests to write, etc. Our schools have turned into little more than glorified day care centers.

We have become obsessed with test scores and living up to a standard that some ambiguous group has placed upon education. We are divided as states as to what we should be teaching not allowing the curriculum to be standardized across the country but rather left to the states to decide. Text books are written and distributed nationally, which means they have to cover every subject matter possible making them uninteresting and unsatisfying in order to accommodate 50 states different curriculum. One of my co-workers was a former teacher, and part of her thesis in school was comparing curriculum in European countries with America. In Europe, being a teacher is an honorable job and is difficult to get. They are required to have advanced education, are paid handsomely and are well respected. They have a standard curriculum across the whole country instead of allowing each city or area to dictate what the curriculum should be in that area. All the students in each level are learning the same subjects. They take physics, chemistry and biology at the same time for all 4 years of high school rather than one a year never really using the other disciplines as teaching tools or demonstrating their relationship with each other. I understand that in America we get all up in arms about the Federal government imposing laws and regulations on the state, and for good reason in most cases. But I believe that when it comes to education, following this tradition is crippling our youth. It's no secret that students from almost every other industrialized country have tested better than Americans.

Teachers here are so worried about the security of their jobs relying on the performance of their students on standardized tests that all they can do in class is teach what is on the test and how to pass it. Children are not learning anything. Likewise, the No Child Left Behind Act had good intentions, but it's dumbing down the classroom. Why do you think we have all these disruptive students who seemingly have discipline problems? I would venture to say that for most of them it's not because they are bad eggs or dumb, but that they are not challenged in the classroom and therefore are bored out of their minds. I remember my junior year US History class, and it was far from interesting. We read the textbook that had itty bitty writing and minimal pictures or diagrams to support the text and then did outlines. I don't remember a dang thing from that class, and I left it feeling like history was boring. Not so! I love history and read history books quite often, but I definitely think there is a better way to teach history than to require outlines. It's like pushing your peas all over the plate to make it look like you ate more when really you just redistributed them. Ridiculous.

I don't have any kids yet, but I imagine that I will in the future and sending them to school is a cause of concern in any community but especially here in the city when schools are overcrowded and children are probably starving for challenge and real education. Most of us can't afford to send our kids to private school, so what is the alternative? Learn French and German and move to Switzerland? Probably not the most practical idea. Home school? That's a topic for an entire muse. It doesn't seem like rocket science to design an education program that is challenging and a place that respects and takes care of its teachers. Other nations have done it, and as a world superpower, we should follow a good example. We should not let out arrogance and success as a nation trick us into believing we have all the answers and we know how to do everything correctly. We do ourselves and our future generations a detrimental disservice by not striving for improvement and learning from the success of others. We are a young country with heart and determination, but we still have a lot to learn.


Lindsey said...

Let's talk about this at Thanksgiving! I love talking about this issue. This is the very reason we are going to move ASAP. Fred, who has a Master's Degree, works three jobs (soon to be 4) just so we can make ends meet. His school district pays the lowest of all the others, but really it's only a couple thousand less a year. It's appalling.

I love how fired up you get. I get that way, too.

Parker said...

thats so true. i wan't to learn about a lot of things but they are making us take it in so fast that we don't learn anything. the ironic thing about "tests" are that some person may randomly know all the questions and nothing else, while another person know a whole lot about the subject exept for most of the questions. and who gets the better test score? this may sound unbelievable but it happens all the time.

teamkc said...

Amen! As a public educator I agree!