Those who expect to reap the benefits of freedom, must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it. – Thomas Paine

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Crisis in American Public Schools

by Josh Krab

There is an inordinate problem that has been growing in the United States. Students in our public schools are showing a lack of interest in modern methods of education and high school graduates are starting our in life with a weak foundation in knowledge and skills that will move them forward in life. Most students in the U.S. are manufactured through the factory line of public schools. These schools teach students to obey orders and to respond to the school bell like animals. Students are assigned loads of homework which gives them no time to bond with the family or pursue an interest that they enjoy. All they have learned is to memorize facts in history that really have no meaning to them, use formulas that they will probably never use in life again, and study subjects that they have absolutely no interest in pursuing farther. We must take a new approach to teaching our children by teaching them the skills they are interested in pursuing and that will bring them success in life.

Government officials have tried solving these problems by dumping more money into public education but have failed. The problems have only gotten worse. In 2008, public schools in Washington D.C. spent about $24, 600 per child. Comparatively, total spending per pupil in the D.C. private schools – among the most upscale in the nation – averages around $10,000 less per child (Coulson).  Lack of money isn’t the issue in our public schools. We need a change in education policy that allows for students to pursue topics of interest to them.

There are many things that will help solve the problems in our schools and one of the greatest solutions is for schools to help students to pursue their interests in life rather than to force them to learn standardized textbook materials. Students want to feel that they are learning something worth-while in the classroom and letting them pursue a topic of their interest is the best way to allow that to happen.

Take education in Sweden for example. Sweden is a country known for its quality of life and a nation that beats American school performance in every academic category.  Children in Sweden don’t enter school until age seven and the total length of schooling is nine years. When students enroll in Swedish schools, the authorities ask three questions: (1) Why do you want to go to this school? (2) What do you want to gain from the experience? (3) What are you interested in? They listen to the answers (Gatto).

These are the types of questions we need to ask here in the U.S. schools. We need to get a greater understanding of what our students really want to learn, and help them achieve the education they desire. Education in the United States should not be about conforming to the standards of the government but rather about pursuing your own interests starting at a young age.

Another improvement we can make in our schools is to teach lessons that are relevant to the students’ lives. Learning that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 has absolutely no meaning or relevancy to a student in 7th grade. Yes, the lessons of history are important, but their importance lies in how those events that happened years ago are affecting us today. The dates in history are not important to learn. It is the lessons that we learn from the events in history that are important. We must teach the lessons of history rather than the dates of history in order to provide relevancy to our students.

The public school machine may turn out many graduates but these graduates are hardly equipped for a flourishing start in life. Students are taught many things that they will never use in their lifetime. Knowledge on how a plant transports nutrients from the ground to the different parts of a tree may be useful to a student who wants to pursue horticulture, yet this information will be of no help to the student who wants to pursue music.

Ironically, those topics that all students will use in their lifetimes are hardly ever mentioned in school. Instead of teaching about the geological differences between the Sierra Mountains and the Sahara dessert we should teach our students how to successfully manage finances. Managing finances is something that every student will encounter in their lifetime and the skills associated will prepare a student for success in the world ahead of them.

Life skills are also very important things to learn and should be emphasized in our schools. Teaching life skills is another way to provide relevancy to students. Maintaining a school vegetable garden is a fun and exciting way for children not only to learn the skills associated with working a garden but also the science involved. This allows students to be a part of science rather than just read about it in a text book.

The solutions discussed so far have to do with public school reform but there are steps that parents can take themselves to give their children an education that will be worthwhile and relevant to their children’s lives.   
 Taking your children out of public school and putting them into an alternative is certainly the best way to give children a quality education. Private schooling, charter schooling, or home schooling are great alternatives to public education. Tax credits and school vouchers are available in many states for people who want to remove their children from government-run public schools and place them in alternative institution.

Home schooling is one of the greatest ways for children to get a good, solid education that will give them skills they can immediately use in life. It allows for children to pursue their dreams without having standard education getting in their way. Many students who are home schooled look forward to learning and are very eager about pursuing topics of their choice further than even the high school level. Home schooling allows students to learn at their own pace, not forcing them to memorize things that they will only forget as soon as they graduate. It gives children more time with their family, and enables them to keep a close relationship with their siblings.

There are nearly two million students in the United States who are home schooled. (Stats & Facts) On average, these students out perform public school students in every aspect of schooling. A 1997 study by Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute found that home schooled students excelled on nationally-normed standardized achievement tests. On average, home schoolers outperformed the public school peers by 30 to 37 percentile points across all subjects.(HSLDA)

According to research conducted by NHERI, a parent’s education level did not appear to affect the performance of children in home school settings. Students taught at home by mothers who never finished high school scored a full 55 percentile points higher than public students from families of comparable educational backgrounds. In his 1999 study, Dr. Lawrence M. Rudner found no difference in achievement according to whether or not a parent was certified to teach. For those who would argue that only certified teachers should be permitted to home school, this study suggests that such a requirement would not significantly affect student achievement. (Ray)
 Home schooling your children will enable your children to pursue their interests, supply them with the skills necessary for success in life, and also prepare them for a great start in college. Home-educated students typically score above average on the SAT and ACT tests that colleges consider for admissions.(Ray)
The problem with public schools in the U.S. is becoming increasingly revealed and more and more parents are responding by pulling their children out of public schools and home schooling them. It appears the home school population is continuing to grow (at an estimated 2% to 8% per annum over the past few years) (Fast Facts). This is a step in the right direction and it should be continued. Students don’t need anymore facts crammed into their brains but rather need to learn skills that will bring them success in life. Although school reform is a great solution to the problem in America’s schools, home schooling is even a better answer to this great crisis.

Coulson, Andrew J. "The Real Cost Of Public Schools -" The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines - The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 6 Apr. 2008. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. .
"Fast Facts." National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education. U.S. Department of Education, 2009. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. .
Gatto, John Taylor. "Confederacy of Dunces." A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling. Berkeley, CA: Berkeley Hills, 2001. 64-65. Print.
"HSLDA | Home Schooling Achievement." Homeschool: HSLDA-Home School Legal Defense Association. Web. 18 May 2011. .
Ray, Brian D. "Research Facts on Homeschooling." National Home Education Research Institute. 11 Jan. 2011. Web. 17 May 2011. .
"Stats & Facts." Alliance for the Separation of School and State. 26 Mar. 2010. Web. 27 Apr. 2011. .

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