We talk about the importance of education, but do we walk the walk?
The faltering imperative
Whether the United States survives as the beacon it has been will depend on the willingness of Americans to contemplate anew the reasons for its success and to make decisions accordingly.
Balint Vacsonyi, 1936 – 2003
Musician, Immigrant, Educator, Political Journalist
Vacsonyi’s observation, made in 1998, presents a daunting task facing our society today. Failures in public education are eroding our ability to apply logic and reasoning (aka critical thinking) to address issues threatening the health and well-being of our nation and people.
Our founding fathers recognized that public education was foundational to a successful democratic society, and this principal remains crucial today. Recent evidence, however, points to the deterioration of public education in the U.S.
- Inadequately prepared students will not only undermine our country’s ability to serve as a global leader, but also pose serious threats to our national security.
- The high school graduation rate in this country fell from 77% in 1969 to 68.8% for the class of 2007. Although transforming the American high school and “leaving no child behind” have been explicit goals of the G.W. Bush and Obama administrations, the number of low-performing students remains unchanged.
- California – celebrated as a major world economic power and center of knowledge-based industry – ranks 43rd in the US in per-capita educational funding and 30th in Education Week’s annual school ratings, measured in categories such as teacher/student ratios, teacher requirements for ongoing professional development, per-capita spending, and enrollments in preschool, kindergarten, and post-secondary schools.
How have we failed?
Well-meaning educators, researchers, parents and business leaders have initiated projects designed to promote educational reform, with generally flailing results. Misinformation and misunderstandings limit our ability to make decisions and take the actions necessary to move forward:
- Virtually all information about education policy is subjective and selective, reflecting current political agendas and special interest groups.
- Educational reform and innovation does not reach all students:
Needs of children from families with less education are not met
Curriculum is largely taught from a male point of view
The impact of the Information Age is largely being ignored
We don’t recognize and take advantage of real-life learning experiences
- Typical educational reform initiatives begin by deciding how to do things differently instead of first clearly articulating the need or problem.
- There exists a general misunderstanding of the use of language and how it impacts people’s thinking and behavior.
What has to change?
Turning around education in the U.S. is a daunting challenge. We must identify our failures, make fixing them a high priority, and devote the financial resources necessary to ensure our students are prepared to make informed decisions and inspired to participate in our democratic system.
We have to learn to walk the walk … again.