Jersey Shore, Party Down South, Washington Heights, Honey Boo Boo. Welcome to America, land of the free, home of the education crisis. The most prominent difference between Homo Sapiens and lower animals used to be our highly developed brains. However, in a country who’s students often score dead last when it comes to essential subjects like science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, Americans today have only themselves to blame for the issues they will most assuredly have to face tomorrow.
The human brain, much like a muscle, begins to atrophy when subjected to long periods of disuse. I can offer no greater example to support this than the people of the United States. We can see the effects of capitalism carelessly achieving its dominance here, as well as the impact that our retreat from healthy thought processes has had on human progress. In a world where diseases have evolved over the millennia to exploit the weaknesses in our defenses, none have been more virulent than the epidemic this society is facing today: stupidity.
Let’s take a look back at proficiency test scores in 1991. In evaluating the results for thirteen-year-old students in the United States, we learn that they ranked 15th in math and 14th in science, just above Jordanian students, who ranked 18th in both categories. Tests taken annually since then have continued to confirm these sad numbers. So where do we begin to point the finger of blame when considering the destruction of millions of Americans’ intellects?
I’m no expert on the matter, but, if asked, I would say the blame needed to be shouldered equally amongst schools and educators, standardized testing, federal and state agencies, billion-dollar foundations, and even parents for not doing more to ensure that their children were being given the benefit of a well-rounded curriculum. If I handled myself professionally the way many people operate their schools today, let’s just say that I wouldn’t have a roof over my head for very long!
The United States is a knowledge-based society that is struggling to compete and succeed in the changing economic and political dynamics of the modern world. But to even utter this country’s name in the same breath as “knowledge” almost feels wrong, unless it were to be in order to describe a lack thereof. How could I say such a terrible thing about my own country? Well, let’s consider the facts:
By definition, a knowledge-based society refers to a society that is well educated and which therefore relies on the knowledge of their citizens to drive the innovation, entrepreneurship, and dynamism of that society’s economy. If anyone is reading this and silently arguing that the United States has done, and continues to do, well internationally in science and technology, then perhaps one critical detail has been overlooked. The U.S. does continue to do well, until it is pointed out that the majority of our scientists come from overseas. Many have referred to this as the “brain drain,” a term which is used to describe this country’s use of the H1B visa, nicknamed the “genius visa,” to gain access to foreigners that have shown they have extraordinarily special talents, resources, or valuable scientific knowledge. Year after year, we have been using these foreign-born individuals to replenish our scientific ranks.
If we compare the ratio of foreign-born Ph.D. students to that of the American-born, the numbers are both staggering and not in our favor. 50% of Silicon Valley goes to the foreigners (most of whom came to this country from India and Taiwan). On a national scale, 50% of all Ph.D. students in Physics alone are foreign-born, the figure for that being realistically closer to 100% foreign-born at the City University of New York! Whenever I read about a congressman attempting to eradicate the H1B visa in an effort to secure more jobs for this country’s citizens, I can’t help but wonder if that person is truly that unaware of America’s inability to fill high-level jobs due to the lack of qualified professionals filtering into the workforce upon completion of their schooling, or if it’s just another politician pandering to the people’s uneducated cries that these H1B visas take away jobs from those native to this country. These people fail to realize that rather than taking jobs away, this visa actually creates entirely new industries for the U.S. But today, as many foreign-born scientists return to their countries as their economies improve, our nation is faced with the harsh realization that it will soon see the “brain drain” come to an end.
This will shift the focus back to our own public schools, which will have to update and improve their archaic selecting and sorting mechanisms, which were designed and catered to the needs of the Industrial Age. Hopefully, then, we will also begin to address the significant problems stemming from our educators. Today, we can still see many of them that have continuously resisted change over the years, protected by their tenure and excessive bureaucracy. Perhaps it would be prudent for educators to take a few pointers from today’s business professionals, who know the value of quality, how to produce it, and who place special emphasis on the need for continuous improvement (both personally and on a business level). But does a low-performing school have only itself to blame when it fails to turn out students that are adequately prepared for the next steps in their lives? The answer is a resounding “no.”
While viewing a school from a business perspective can be very helpful in some areas, it is important to point out that a school is not a business. Schools are unable to control the quality of their raw material. They are dependent on the vagaries of politics for a reliable revenue stream, and they are relentlessly beaten down by multitudes of disparate, competing customer groups that would have even the most accomplished CEO in tears. But if we cannot change what, when, and how we teach to give all children the best opportunity to succeed and prosper in a post-industrial society, then we need to rally our forces and determine the best course of action in an effort to make that happen. Schools and educators cannot do this on their own. These changes can occur only with the trust, understanding, and active support of the communities that they serve.
To say that American education is being systematically destroyed at all levels may seem like an exaggeration, at first glance. However, stop to consider the quality and content currently being taught in schools and universities and you’ll realize just how terribly eroded things truly are. Sadly, the teachers are the ones that, I feel, take most of the blame for this. They are frequently accused of being the primary cause of low educational achievement and are continuously attacked through their unions, in addition to various other ways. However, the issues we are facing with today’s education system extend far beyond the teachers or the schools in which they work. State and city universities, which once used to be free to attend, have become extraordinarily expensive, many pricing out of the market altogether. The price tag on the school system was designed with one purpose in mind: to dismantle it. That is apparently what happens when corporate interests have decided that the public education system is no longer providing societal control and, more importantly, corporate profits. To the elite, education has always been viewed as something that exists merely to serve their ends.
The contribution of public education to the U.S. economy cannot be overestimated. It, more than any other institution, has been responsible for an affluent and growing middle class. So why destroy it? Probably for the same reason we are destroying Social Security. Compare the two and what you will find is that they both have something in common. They both represent mutual support and the spirit of caring. But these are the very things that American capitalism now views as problematic to the objectives of those at the highest levels of power and privilege. By adopting the mentality of “every man for himself,” the elite are able to eliminate the one thing they really fear: oppositional unity. If they can destroy public education at all levels, they will have manifestly increased both their power and their ability to retain it.
Corporate-backed political figures, strategic underfunding of schools, humiliation of teachers, blackmail, propaganda, unelected school boards, irrelevant parent commentary, and unchecked student skimming by charter schools. What more could be done to destroy education in America? Well, since you asked, let’s review some of the issues surrounding high-stakes testing. A quality education exploits a student’s natural intellectual curiosity. Reducing their education to nothing more than test topics is the perfect way of creating a permanent underclass in this country. With prosperity no longer dependent on the investments in an educated people, the wealthiest among us now seek out fortune elsewhere. Rather than long-term prosperity, we now measure success by how much short-term profit is generated. It sounds like what we really have in this country is a problem with greed and our need for instant gratification. Nonetheless, the decision has been made that education for the masses was only useful when commodified and privatized for the enrichment of corporate executives and stockholders. To that end, publicly-funded education is being engineered to fail in order to facilitate a takeover by business interests.
So, if you live in America, the quality of the education system affects you. Without a decent education, students can’t go on to find jobs, buy houses, nor will they have the best quality of life possible. By continuing to allow children to move through the school systems like cattle, and by releasing them into the world without having first armed them with the skills and knowledge necessary for their success, we are impeding their ability to fulfill the American Dream. The only hope we have of ever rebuilding a strong economy is to strengthen our schools. We are clearly aware of America’s education crisis. The question is: What are we going to do to fix it?