Archive for December, 2012

Education: A Closer Look at the United States Education System, Part 1.

Teachers’ strikes, dropouts, standardized test scores as a criteria for judging achievement… funding or underfunding for certain school districts or in certain areas; we are hearing so much related to the education system that it seems a step back and a look from other angles is warranted.

In this case the sooner the better. The education system is experiencing waste of billions of dollars a year and so many hot -button issues that there are obviously flaws, shortcomings and corrupted elements in the system as it now is.

I thought it a challenge to take one of those different angles, one which is skipped around in the news these days in the face of talk of competitiveness, longer school days or more hours added to every day, “learning” goals, test score goals and the like. If the United States education system is of sorts a laboratory to try and get people “standardized”, “normalized”, and put them in the state of losing their individuality and their uniqueness and their special gifts and talents in order to make everyone follow a sort of herd mentality, then I suspect that these failures are part of the grand experiment. There is control and observation in any experiment; there is learning from what goes into the experiment, and then there is how the results are disseminated and whether or not everyone who needs to know the facts is let in on said facts. As observed, the hot -button topics are just that, methods to quickly incite people to strike, to cause other forms of trouble in talking about funding, resources, hazing, bullying, vandalism of campuses, etc. There are part of the problem… and if there is one thing then there is its opposite, there is a solution.

It seemed best to begin at the head, at the top of the mountain, at the crown of the ruling body, naturally, and that is the federal level, the United States Department of Education, and what its goals are. One can gauge a goal from the mission or objective statement, and in this case that of the USDOE is as follows:

(The department’s) mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. Among its other goals are:

Establishing policies on federal financial aid for education, and distributing as well as monitoring those funds.
Collecting data on America‘s schools and disseminating research.
Focusing national attention on key educational issues.
Prohibiting discrimination and ensuring equal access to education.

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Now perhaps to some these goals are well and good and sound complete enough, promoting achievement, preparing the students for the worldly workplace, fostering excellence and ensuring that everyone has equal access… but to what, we must ask. There can be equal access to the lane of a highway, but those who are using those lanes must cooperate to ensure that safety comes first, that it is all right to merge and that there is nothing going on that blocks one’s clear passage down the road. Thus there can be equal access to any resource that deals with providing students with the proper education: paper, school buildings, proper lunches, energy, water, science equipment, books, school nurses, music instruments, band uniforms, bus transport, sports uniforms, etc.

And what are the “key educational issues” spoken to in the goals of the USDOE? Why also are they talking in language that speaks to past failures, such as adding the words equal access, discrimination, financial aid, monitoring funds? Have we not yet become civilized enough to ensure that such issues can be as everyday as breathing and eating, things that can be taken care of without worry and concern clouding every move someone makes when money is an issue or when the idea of proper funding or the right kind of research is brought to the front?

What are we researching, as well; what sort of data are we collecting and for what purpose are the data being collected? The Census collects data regarding national demographics and then what happens with that data? When you gather information on something, what is the intention for which you do that research? Is it to talk up some sort of “diversity” issue and fund or not fund businesses based on the kind of people they are hiring and what neighborhood they are in and what they sell; is it to use the categories we use to separate people (race, religion, marital status, economics, education level, ethnicity) and then give a company or organization funds based on those divisive aspects?

We talk about preparing students to be “competitive”, but what comes before learning to fight someone or get into competition with somebody? Well, before you can get onto the plane that takes you to the battlefield you first have to learn to work with the people you will be in the same unit with. Take the basics from the classic TV show, “Gomer Pyle, USMC“. Before the recruits have any access to weapons or to battle, they must first learn to be a platoon, to drill properly and in step, and follow the clear commands of the leader. They must learn and practice military courtesy, a requisite for working together in a disciplined, civilzed, and respectful atmosphere. They must learn to dress appropriately, to do things at a certain time in the right time of day or night, and to be in the correct place at the ordained time. The point is the recruits must learn to work together and cooperate first. They tackle the obstacle course, take other training, and play the occasional joke on each other, but in the end they cooperate and become an honor platoon.

In later eposides the recruits learn to spar with the pugil sticks, they learn how to clean and handle their rifles, and they do other things to get them in combat readiness. But this process takes weeks, months, even years to achieve. The marksman’s medals do not come overnight; and neither does a proper education come in a week, even to the most aspiring student. Shakespeare, in the play Henry IV, may have touted the battle -ready Prince Hal as one endowed with the spirit of “teaching and of learning instantly”, but that is in an idealized moment when the prince, who in previous scenes was wanton in his ways, carousing, exploiting his rank and having less interest to the affairs of state than his younger brother, shows on the field in shining armor, his cloak flying, his weapons at the ready, his mind and eye set to victory. It takes years to get to such a level of accomplishment. This cannot be done by over -eager parents and officials gathering around the young children and telling them their life history in a matter of seconds, the “please your teachers, please your parents, get good grades, grow up, go to a great university, pass the tests, and get a job and maybe become president, and start a family and get a home and pay your taxes…”

That’s enough to make even the hardiest soul want to reverse course and go to another part of the battlefield to get another view, and that is what this series of articles is going to be about, that view of our education system that takes a challenge to the talk about competitiveness, business, global this and that, and such, and get to what could be considered the heart, the center, the cornerstone, the foundation of the matter.

This is the goal of preparing students in an atmosphere of teamwork and cooperation, that they may become productive and good citizens. Thus what is needed is to explore what it is to be a good citizen and what the USDOE is or is not doing to foster this essential element of what it means to live in any country and practice the duties that come with being a good citizen. Just as it is the duty of a recruit to learn to drill properly, to listen closely to the commands of the drill instructor, to learn to clean a rifle properly, and to learn the general orders, so it is the duty of every good citizen to learn how to get along with others, to follow the law, to keep up property in orderly appearance, to keep up with community issues and participate in improving one’s city/town/village, and other important aspects of being a proud citizen… a proud participant, that is, in one’s national happenings. It is, simply, having what is known as patriotism, or national pride.

Let us get started with a look at what the aspects or principles of GOOD CITIZENSHIP are. I consider that I and my best friends are good citizens, and we:

Are community -minded and work to improve the areas we live in;
Do not use violence against others;
Keep up our properties in neat and orderly appearances;
Follow the law for the safety of ourselves and others;
Do not cause trouble for others;
Behave respectfully in public (in transit, while shopping, at worship, dining out, just walking in the park);
Keep up with current events in order to stay informed on important issues;
Exercising the right to vote;
Respect others;
Follow the principles of trust, accountability, and decency.

We endeavor to live quiet, humble lives, do our work well/ perform our jobs in a timely and orderly fashion, keep up with national events in order that we know what to discuss when an issue of importance arises or when natural disasters threaten our fellow citizens, and we are concerned for the safety of others, and that we respect others. This means the best of what it is to be ‘civil’ and ‘honorable’ and ‘duty -minded’.

You could also tie these facets of behavior, thought, and action into the principles followed by the folks of NASA’s Mission Control. Good behavior is vital the completion and success of any plan and the satisfaction of the participants. The goals of the Moon Program at the outset were twofold: to put man on the moon AND return him safely back to Earth. Had that second part of the plan been lacking, what would have been the point of the first? There is so much tied into ensuring the goals of our education system are proper and thoughtful, so that no more resources are wasted – no more time, money, hours, paper, energy, diesel fuel, food, anything.

Failure is not acceptable (read Gene Kranz’s book, Failure is not an Option). If we are talking up a system that has more holes than a Swiss cheese, more flaws than the worst – quality diamond, and more ruts than the surface of Mercury, a system that plainly has so many cracks that anyone could fall through them, we need to take a reverse course and go to doing the whole system all over again. After all, it would be rather silly to build the roof before you build the foundation of the house. And even then, it would not make sense to start on the house before the ground is prepared to receive the building materials… and naturally one must make a budget before even one order to the builder’s supply shop is placed.

SOURCES: WEBSITES ACCESSED

1. United States Department of Education. Overview and Mission Statementhttp://www2.ed.gov/about/landing.jhtml. Accessed December 4, 2012. Page 1.
2. An interesting site came up during my research: Citizenship Counts, at http://citizenshipcounts.org/index.php/about/vision-statement/.

Divi Logan for EDUSHIRTS, Nashville and Chicago, ©2012.

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