What is more important than infrastructure, health care, green energy, and foreign policy combined? If you have taken the time already to read the title, you'll know that this goliath of an issue is education. You'll also know that education in the United States is fundamentally flawed. Or at least that's my opinion. Despite the endless number of articles on the topic, I feel compelled to add my own two cents to the billion dollar problem, if only to continue raising awareness.
Why is education so important? Because, like the old advice of wisdom before riches, education creates workers and citizens who are more capable of tackling the other issues. Smarter people lead to smarter decisions. The more information at your disposal and the better you are at finding it, the more likely you are to make reasonable and informed choices. It also means a more intelligent work force with a greater drive for innovation and creativity. The benefits are numerous, but the biggest reason for making education a priority is that those benefits appear in every area of society and politics. It improves all areas of life. So what's the problem?
The statistics have been repeated ad nauseam, the United States appearing anywhere between average and terrible in rankings of elementary education by country. Meanwhile, our literacy rate refuses to rise. Despite the shock value, this does not seem to be a motivator to improve. Harping on these numbers is as effective as reminding a smoker of the risk of developing lung cancer. My concern here is the culture of education. Although the first instinct is normally to place blame on socioeconomic status, recent studies have suggested that this has less of an influence than you may think. The quality of education and the desire to learn are more important. So why aren't we focusing on that?
Unfortunately, school gets a bad rap. It's "boring" and "lame". Kids don't have an interest in school any more than someone has an interest in running a cash register, and that's for good reason. Public schools in the United States are rigid and discourage creativity and individuality. They follow strict curricula measured by standardized tests. They promote rote memorization over real engagement. Additionally, there is no unifying sense of the importance of education. It is merely a prerequisite to acquiring and maintaining a job that can support you for the rest of your life. "If you don't go to school, you can't get a job." But kids don't care about jobs, and they don't care about memorizing. There is a disconnect between today's one-size-fits-all approach and learning for actual growth, and that disconnect fuels the apathy many feel toward applying new and better educational practices.
In defense of the system, it is not easy to adequately educate all members of such a large and diverse nation. However, the current methods have stagnated as technology and globalization accelerate changes in our economy and industries. We are no longer in need of simple automatons to complete mindless assembly line tasks, and likewise, schools should evolve from this archaic style of learning. Instead of incentivizing teachers to push standardized test scores, we should be seeking out the talented ones and paying them higher wages. Those wages can easily be sheared from the funding of useless consultant salaries, extreme technology and gadget budgets, anti-bully training, and other frivolities that have little impact on the core values of education.
Ultimately, it is a chicken-and-egg problem. Better education would lead to a better perception of education, and that would lead to better education. Which comes first? Thankfully, there is already a lot of money being thrown at education, so it should be a simple case of spending that money more wisely. That's easier said than done, certainly, but it has become clear that there is no single solution. We cannot quantify everyone with the same standards, and we must consider the individual interests of different children. There are necessary baseline standards, but those should be incorporated into more personalized approaches to learning. And who knows how best to do that? Teachers. Good teachers, more specifically.
We should be looking for ways to improve standards for teacher compensation and recognition. It is absurd that these people, the guides to knowledge for all future generations, are paid far less than their peers. They enable us in every way to become better and stronger, individually and as a whole, and they should be given that level of respect. Instead, they are left to fight over meager raises based on how many students they pass. Undoubtedly, compensation should be based on success, but the terms of success are inadequate. This has left truly good teachers at a disadvantage in their profession.
It's time to rethink education with an eye for the future. We cannot linger on old principles. Let's stop mindlessly stuffing money into the situation, and instead let's spend it on creating contemporary learning programs, finding excellent teachers, and keeping those teachers happy. I know a lot of this is wishful hand waving, but like I said, I really want to draw more attention to the problem. I have a strong desire for improved education in this country, and it's a topic I'll likely write about in more detail in the future. Perhaps I'll take on the high costs of higher education next.